I love Panera Bread. They have great sandwiches, the atmosphere is comfortable, and I appreciate all the bread artwork. The best thing about Panera Bread, though, is that so many of their locations have digital kiosks, so you can get your sandwich and avoid any social interactions while you’re at it. It’s great – you don’t have to awkwardly explain to someone the intricacies of your order, there’s no room for human error and you can take all the time you want. Undoubtedly, this is a job computers can do better than humans.
Fortunately for us humans, computers aren’t good enough to take over most of our jobs just yet. That being said, it’s not hard to imagine that this could change in the future. In the context of human history, computers really haven’t been around for that long. How competent will they be in 100 years? What about in 500? You’d be naive to conclude significant replacement of human labor might not happen by then. While we’re okay for now, we absolutely have to start planning ahead, considering the consequences of computer-caused unemployment in the future.
The first jobs to get automated are the ones that involve simple, repetitive tasks – menial labor, so to speak. While repeating the same thing over and over again every single day might not excite a human, it’s right up a computer’s alley. Design the algorithm once, and set it off. The problem, though, is that when these jobs get eliminated, the unemployment caused is going to cripple the most vulnerable social strata. It would take social inequality to an entire new level. By eliminating blue collar labor, lower social classes would be basically eliminated from the economy altogether, as what use would the billionaire have for workers in a workerless world?
I don’t even think there’s a way to avoid the mass unemployment that advancements in computing and artificial intelligence would cause. You can’t stop technological progress; we’re going to get there at some point. For now, we absolutely need to leverage the time we have before that to solve this problem before it gets here.
How do we solve it, though? Maybe it would be simpler for an economist, but in my view the problem of mass unemployment for millions seems hard to address when creating jobs isn’t really an option. In my view, the only real solution is some form of universal basic income (UBI).
If you’ve never heard of UBI, the gist of it is that everyone who is unable to get a job would get some sort of income from the government, at least enough to live. This would eliminate the need to work to be able to survive, and in conjunction with automation, would eliminate menial labor altogether. No one needs to work unfulfilling jobs (and if unfulfilling jobs can be done by machines), it’s a win-win situation for everyone. Maybe I’m overly optimistic, but I feel like this would create a pretty beautiful society to live in. Without being shackled to jobs, people would be free to pursue their passions without having to consider whether or not their dream would put food on the table. Purpose is a great thing, and a world where everyone can find theirs is a world I want to live in.
Contact Caio Brighenti at [email protected]