Deep questions confront us as society moves toward autonomous vehicles

Fleets of trucks currently driven by humans are likely to be among the first vehicles taken over by computers, often driving in convoys to save fuel.

The same is likely to occur simultaneously or shortly thereafter with buses and cars, with the potential to throw millions of drivers and others even loosely associated with the nation’s driving economy out of work.

Yet this is only the first wave, as burgeoning robots – augmented by advances in artificial intelligence – take over or alter more and more jobs, from accounting to newspaper reporting to teaching.

How do we make sure that our robot overlords are not actually overlords, but servants enabling a better life for all of us?

In Rise of the Robots, software developer and author Martin Ford notes, “In the world that Google envisions, robotic cars will be concentrated into fleets. Maintenance, repair, insurance, and fueling would likewise be centralized. Untold thousands of small businesses, and the jobs associated with them, would evaporate.”

Of course, truckers and other drivers would be hurt first and worst. “Taxi driving jobs would evaporate,” writes Ford. “Bus driving might be automated, or perhaps buses will simply disappear, replaced by a better and more personalized form of public transportation.”

Social disruption will likely be intense. As Ford puts it, “The first place where self-driving cars make serious inroads might be exactly the area that directly impacts the most jobs.”

Rather than rushing forward and letting the largest and most innovative (or most disruptive, however you want to look at it) companies make changes – and reap the accompanying profits – at the pace they want, it is best to think through and prepare for these changes.

The drastic solution, advocated by Ford and many other thinkers, is the guaranteed basic income (GBI). As automation and artificial intelligence take over, this would reward people simply for existing, recognizing the worth of every human life simply for being who we are.

While the appeal of GBI is obvious for the political left, the concept also has long roots among the libertarian right, as simpler, fairer, and much cheaper to administer than the existing maze of needs-based programs, such as food stamps, Medicaid, and low-income housing. Notably, both libertarian godfather Friedrich Hayek and neoclassical guru Milton Friedman advocate GBI as a basic insurance mechanism enabling an otherwise capitalist system.

04. Januar 2018

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