Universal Basic Income

There is an article in the July ’17 issue of Fortune Magazine extolling the virtues of a Universal Basic Income.  The premise is that Artificial Intelligence, AI, will put millions of people out of work and so those people will need a basic income.  That basic income will lead to more consumer spending and that demand will be met by the increased efficiency and productivity of robots.  It speaks of experiments in different parts of the world where people are given money with no strings attached to see how it changes their lives, i.e. do they become more productive as the proponents of this idea claim or hope, or do they become lazy because they are getting free money?  Aside from some anecdotal evidence, there is no real data to support this idea one way or the other.

What the article neglects, and so states as well, is where is this money coming from.  Mark Zuckerberg promoted the idea in his speech to Harvard graduates this year.  I wonder if he is willing to donate his billions to the cause?  I haven’t seen any evidence of that yet.  Or, while Bill Gates is a great philanthropist, is he going to be giving out free money just for being born?  The National Debt keeps growing and they are talking about giving away even more.  Just where is all this money coming from?

I think it’s a great idea.  Who wouldn’t want to retire at 18.

I’ve read a number of articles lately extolling the virtues of AI but I wonder what will become of the human race as we become more and more dependent on machines.  While I don’t see a machine takeover like in the movie Terminator where machines try to wipe out people, I think we are losing some of our humanity as we let machines do the thinking for us.  Could it be that we will atrophy into helpless blobs or even as science fiction has postulated, brains in bottles?  Or as Zager and Evans sang in the song “In The Year 2525”: “In the year 5555 Your arms hangin’ limp at your sides, Your legs got nothin’ to do, Some machines’ doin’ that for you.  I think the proponents of this Basic Income idea, all of which seem to be Tech Billionaires, have this idea of a Utopia where we all sit around all day looking at our phones and when we get bored we go buy a new phone.

The problem is that humankind needs to struggle.  We need adversity to satisfy the human trait of conquering something.  Without that drive to succeed we become little more than biological units just staying alive like any other animal, or ameba for that matter.  It’s a Yin/Yang sort of thing.  One cannot know good without experiencing evil and one cannot know pleasure without experiencing pain.  If we lose the struggle to survive we lose the desire to better ourselves and we start to devolve.

And then there is the possibility that AI will advance to the point it reaches consciousness.  If everyone is receiving a Universal Basic Income, what they are proposing is the development of a slave workforce.  We all become like the stereo typical Southern Plantation owner sitting on the Veranda sipping our Mint Julip and directing our robots in what to do.  When do the robots stop being robots and become conscious slaves?  The majority of people extolling UBI are the same who denigrate our past for accepting slavery.  Will the future look like the movie Blade Runner or will it look more like the movie Bicentennial Man?  Both of which are about robots (or constructed people) seeking freedom.

The bottom line is I think we have taken the wrong fork in the road.  We have become so dependent on our phones and tablets that we are missing the big picture of what being human is all about.  As technology advances creativity is being concentrated in small pockets while the masses develop a service economy where the majority of people are not involved in building but just serving other people and those jobs will be the first to go to the machines.  We see some of this already with the cry for a $15 minimum wage taking jobs and giving it to self serve kiosks.  Perhaps the threat of socialism with an oligarchy ruling over the equally poor will in fact be an oligarchy of creators ruling over lethargic non-thinking Eloy.  Of course the argument is that people will become more productive if they have more time to be so and don’t have to worry about failure.  I surmise that these experimental pockets where UBI is being tried are more similar to Gilbreth’s Hawthorne experiment than what will actually occur in reality.  It will be impossible to conduct such experiments in isolation from the rest of the world and would have to be done through several generations to measure the true effect.  That just won’t be possible.  I believe what we need is a sort of Back to the Land approach.  Back in the ‘70s the Hippy movement spawned a movement of many people leaving the urban environment and returning to simpler ways of agriculture.  We see much of that today with people wanting to live Off the Grid.  We don’t need an anti-technology movement, but we need to be smarter with technology.  We need to recognize that there is a life outside of our phones.  We need to stop creating technology for technology’s sake.  Just because something is new doesn’t make it better.  Raise our children in an environment where they experience failure, struggle to succeed, and yes, even pain.  Recognize that there is more to life than having the latest gadget.  And, proceed cautiously with AI and not go overboard looking for Utopia.  Shangri-La was not all it seemed.

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Coming Home to Roost

We have chickens.  We got the first ones two years ago.  Mostly red, but a couple of grey with a little white on them, a grey with more white, and a black with white spots.  All hens of course.  I don’t try to keep track of the breeds – this chicken thing is my wife’s hobby.  Out of the 10 we originally got, there are 6 left.

This year we got 6 more chicks.  Two white, two brown, and two black. After they were old enough we introduced them to the chicken house with the older hens and they now consider that their home and all go in when it starts getting dark every evening.  But they still stay segregated.  The older chickens are on the roost but the younger ones like to crowd together on top of the nesting boxes.  There doesn`t seem to be any animosity between the two groups, but they just don`t mingle.  The same is true during the day as they roam around the farm.  All the chickens are free to roam wherever they like during the day – what most people call free range chickens.  But, the older ones form a loose band that will stay in the same vicinity as the other older chickens while the newbies stay pretty close together as they forage for bugs and seeds, etc.  It`s an interesting dynamic to watch. Two diverse groups of chickens staying in their own little clique.

So, white, brown, and black stick together while red, grey, and black stay separate.  This reminded me of our country.  The U.S. is racially diverse and yet (up until recently) we all stood together with pride in what our country has accomplished.  Without a doubt, the greatest country in the known history of this planet.  Not just in power, but in empowering the people in it.  And, as a people, we have stuck together despite our differences.  I see the new chickens fighting over a bug or some other treat one has found and there is inevitably a winner and a looser, but they stay together.  This staying together, despite our differences is Nationalism.  But there are those now who decry Nationalism as evil because it excludes others who are not as fortunate as us.  They would destroy geographic borders to make the whole planet into one large country – a New World Order.

The first problem with this is that it is against human nature to be so inclusive.  Just as the chickens prefer to be with the others they have grown comfortable with, people like to be with those who think and act the same as they do.  Yes, people are considerably more evolved than chickens, but the natural world order is for like to be with like.  The next problem with this all inclusive vision is that people take advantage of each other.  No matter how magnanimous we may feel or act, there will be a percentage of those we are helping who look on it only as an opportunity to help themselves.  Greed and envy will continue to rule the majority of humans for a long time to come.

As many attempts at socialism and communism have shown us, collectivism always fails due to the greed of an elite few who feel themselves smarter and better than everyone else, placing themselves above the masses and the laws that they use to rule the masses.  Because human nature is what it is, collectivism always becomes an oligarchy.  But, as we here in the U.S. have shown, individual freedom and self rule through representation along with a strong sense of equality, can provide every person with the chance to succeed in their own way rather than work only for the benefit of a ruling class few.

And yet, there is a movement in this country, inspired and led by those elites who fancy themselves smarter and wiser than the masses, to do away with the system that has done more for the betterment of humankind than any system in history.  Beware those who claim to be “the smartest person in the room”.  Under the guise of kindness and inclusivity, many people are led to believe the only motive of these people is benevolence.  But as history has shown, benevolence on a large scale can only lead to criminals who take advantage of the system and lead to its eventual downfall.

The Democrat Party in our country has been hijacked by these so called “liberals” whose overriding goal is to rule over the forced economic equality of the masses.  They view themselves as Robin Hoods who will tax the rich and give welfare to the poor, leaving plenty of tax loopholes for themselves to remain rich.  It is a flawed vision for the world if humanity is to continue to evolve and better itself, for only through individual freedom can individuals become motivated to excel and reach their full potential.  That greed that is inherent in all humans can be harnessed by each individual when they are struggling to better themselves but is stifled when forced to work toward the betterment of those who do not work.  Humankind can grow with each individual striving for success, or humankind can languish in a morass of a few working for the success of many.

The chickens aren`t going to start roosting together anytime soon, no matter how hard we try to make them.  People are not going to give up borders even if those imaginary geographical lines are erased.  People will bring borders with them as they move into new lands and then countries will be conquered and sent to the dust bin of history without firing a shot.  We are facing an invasion force using numbers and ideology to conquer rather than using bullets and bombs.  I can’t force the chickens to roost together but many out there are trying to force us people to roost together.  We can be black, brown, and white and live together peacefully just like the chickens do and still maintain our separate places in the roost.  Where will you be coming home to roost?