Date Published: August 2018 (5 Min Read)

Our last newsletter explained how the current bout of disruptors were redefining the ways in which we buy goods and access services. Examples included shopping with online retailers like Amazon, and using the taxi service Uber rather than the London cab. Both services offer the consumer greater convenience. On the High Street established businesses are closing, and jobs are being lost. What are governments doing to stem this impact on society?

Robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) will also significantly reduce the availability of existing jobs for humans, and the outlook for employment will be very different and significantly more competitive; some suggest that one in every three jobs is vulnerable to automation. A widening of the gap between rich and poor is a likely result of this.

As with most disruption, there is time to react, but some innovative thinking is needed, and inactivity must be avoided. The idea of a Universal Basic Income (UBI) is a potential solution to this tighter job market and is an idea that is supported by ‘thought leaders’ including billionaires, trade unionists, employment specialists and socio-economic think tanks.

UBI is the payment of a regular sum of money by the government, independent of any other income and irrespective of a person’s employment status. Other social security benefits and means-tested income supplements are paid in addition to this basic income.

It is not a new idea and has been trialled in Brazil, Finland, Canada and parts of the USA; Finland is currently reviewing the results of a UBI experiment. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg is an advocate, suggesting it is a way to ‘inspire entrepreneurial creativity’ and says that it can act as a ‘cushion to try things’. Elon Musk, a driving force behind sustainable energy, Tesla’s electric cars and future space travel sees UBI as a necessity over time.

Others say that an affordable UBI is inadequate, and an adequate UBI is unaffordable. Either way it implies another claim upon the national budget.

AI and robotics are, and will increasingly be, disruptors in our work, rest and play. As a result some suggest that a mechanism should be found to tax the robots! An interesting idea!

We will enjoy some changes and others will be more of a challenge, but we shall need to react and adapt. It is highly likely that many new jobs, which we cannot imagine today, will emerge as businesses and people’s needs change. Disruptors may undermine and end old ways, but they offer opportunity as well. We just cannot predict how.

Article written by
Oliver Findlay