Robots are most certainly taking jobs. In the U.S., they’ve taken about half a million jobs already–mostly replacing assembly line workers with predictable machinery. But some economists agree that the next wave of AI will only accelerate this trend: Researchers estimate that by 2030, we could lose 800 million human jobs globally. By 2040, we could lose half. By 2060, we could lose them all.
In truth, a world in which no one works might not so bad–if we build it right, at least. Bill Gates thinks AI will turn humanity into a leisure class, free to pursue their passions at will. But even if you agree with Gates in how this AI story ends, the next few chapters will be very rough for workers who find themselves obsolete in a global economy that embraces AI, but is still structured to reward human labor alone. People will have no jobs, they will have no money, and robo-utopia could still be decades away. How do we help these families lost in the cracks of progress?
A new Gallup poll from Northeastern University asked 3,297 U.S. adults just that. Surveyed by mail, they were questioned about their concerns and hopes for AI.
One particular line of questioning caught my attention. It asked whether a universal basic income should be established to help Americans who’ve lost their jobs to AI. In this chart by Column Five, you’ll see there’s about a 50-50 split between those who support the idea and those who don’t. But look closer, and you’ll find the outlier: Only 28% of Republicans polled support the idea, while 68% of Democrats do.
Of course, Republicans have long made the argument that people should pull themselves up by their bootstraps, and that social welfare programs only breed apathy toward hard work. And we can see those sentiments bleeding through here.
But it’s a sad snapshot of the state of human affairs, isn’t it? That even when people are replaced by a robotic intelligence beyond our wildest dreams, one political party will continue to insist it’s constituents’ own fault that their brains aren’t capable of computing calculus on the fly and their arms aren’t capable of lifting a car windshield. Perhaps they’ll just continue to promise they’ll bring all those extinct jobs back . . . one day.