This week, as world leaders meet in Davos for the World Economic Forum 2016, the Swiss bank UBS has released a report aiming to forecast the effects of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. For the uninitiated, the Fourth Industrial Revolution will be the period of time in the near future when robotics comes to the fore and irrevocably changes how we live our lives, just as the first three Industrial Revolutions (which followed the innovations of steam, electricity and electronics respectively, in case you were wondering) dramatically changed the lives of previous generations.
The UBS report states that while the richest in society will do very well out of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, those who perform low and medium skilled jobs will be badly affected. While we have become quite used to machines taking over from humans in areas of manufacturing, the Fourth Industrial Revolution could see mass job losses in administrative and white collar occupations, as artificial intelligence becomes so sophisticated that robots can carry out jobs in areas as wide ranging as hospitality and healthcare. Women are set to be the biggest losers of the Fourth Industrial Revolution; in total, 35% of the British workforce could lose their jobs. Work will become more flexible and more insecure for just about everyone.
What to do with such mass unemployment and insecurity? Smash the robots? Sit tight and hope it’ll all be okay? Or give people the security they need to go out and find a job, and one which is fulfilling, challenging and rewarding? By giving everyone a Citizen’s Income (a.k.a. a Universal Basic Income — a universal, nonwithdrawable sum of money paid to every person in the country, that is high enough for them to live on) they would be able to sustain themselves in the low periods when work is not available, and build on this basic income to gain skills, start a business and improve what they have to make a better life for themselves.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is a challenge and an opportunity which we should meet head on. Unleashing robots and artificial intelligence into all the different worlds of work will make the economy more efficient and liberate humanity from some of the more boring occupations which we have to slog at to scrape by. But doing so while preventing an unprecedented level of mass unemployment is quite a conundrum, and the only answer is to give everyone a Citizen’s Income. Will we hear anything about it at the World Economic Forum 2016? Unlikely. But no doubt it won’t be long before we all have a Citizen’s Income in our pockets, giving a warm embrace to our robotic chums.
Jon commentates on the ways culture and politics interact.