In a recent interview with CNBC, SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk discussed the future of work, where many of us may not have jobs at all. As more and more positions become automated by software or robots, Musk says, world governments will eventually have to step up: “There is a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income, or something like that, due to automation. Yeah, I am not sure what else one would do. I think that is what would happen.”
The idea of a universal basic income is not new. Earlier this year, Swiss voters were asked whether or not all citizens should receive 2,500 Swiss francs ($2,578 US) per month. Ultimately, the plan was rejected at the ballot box, but the fact that it was brought to a national level has many considering the idea.
Finland, for instance, is already gearing up to test a universal basic income experiment involving 8,000 people. The sum these citizens could receive is far shy of what was proposed in Switzerland – only 800 Euros per month – and during the trial period the amount will be even lower. A similar test in planned for the Dutch city of Utrecht in 2017 will provide 250 residents with a flat sum of 960 Euros monthly.
While the idea is gaining traction in Europe, American politicians have been more cautious. President Obama addressed the idea in an interview this summer, saying it was a debate that would be had “over the next 10 or 20 years.”
While it’s easy to get swept up into a sense of doom and gloom at the idea of robots stealing our jobs, Musk goes on to elaborate in the interview that there are benefits to this type of increased automation: “People will have time to do other things, more complex things, more interesting things. Certainly more leisure time.”
Though tech CEOs like Musk may see complete automation as the ultimate outcome of their work, others disagree. Blogger Eve Peyser at Gizmodo writes, “Sure, jobs will become obsolete, but we can utilize the technology we invent to create new jobs. Especially in the United States, we define ourselves by our labor; your labor and its fruits determine every aspect of your identity.” In the end, it’s impossible to say exactly what the workforce of the future will look like, or what it will mean. For now, anyway.