Thursday, January 4, 2024

OpenAI Is Looking At Universal Basic Income For Workers Displaced By AI (plus Henry George stops by)

The unemployed, and unemployable, will always be with us. Or at least until people begin turning to what pension researchers of a few years ago dubbed the "Silver Bullet Plan", when Lives of Despair meets Canadian medical practice and folks opt for the final exit.

First up, CNBC, March 17, 2021:

OpenAI’s Sam Altman: Artificial Intelligence will generate enough wealth to pay each adult $13,500 a year

Artificial intelligence will create so much wealth that every adult in the United States could be paid $13,500 per year from its windfall as soon as 10 years from now.

So says Sam Altman, co-founder and president of San Francisco-headquartered, artificial intelligence-focused nonprofit OpenAI.

“My work at OpenAI reminds me every day about the magnitude of the socioeconomic change that is coming sooner than most people believe,” Altman, who posted Tuesday. “Software that can think and learn will do more and more of the work that people now do.”....


Again, here's Altman's white paper, "Moore's Law for Everything", March 16, 2021: 

My work at OpenAI reminds me every day about the magnitude of the socioeconomic change that is coming sooner than most people believe. Software that can think and learn will do more and more of the work that people now do. Even more power will shift from labor to capital. If public policy doesn’t adapt accordingly, most people will end up worse off than they are today.

We need to design a system that embraces this technological future and taxes the assets that will make up most of the value in that world–companies and land–in order to fairly distribute some of the coming wealth. Doing so can make the society of the future much less divisive and enable everyone to participate in its gains.

In the next five years, computer programs that can think will read legal documents and give medical advice. In the next decade, they will do assembly-line work and maybe even become companions. And in the decades after that, they will do almost everything, including making new scientific discoveries that will expand our concept of “everything.”

This technological revolution is unstoppable. And a recursive loop of innovation, as these smart machines themselves help us make smarter machines, will accelerate the revolution’s pace. Three crucial consequences follow:

  1. This revolution will create phenomenal wealth. The price of many kinds of labor (which drives the costs of goods and services) will fall toward zero once sufficiently powerful AI “joins the workforce.”

  2. The world will change so rapidly and drastically that an equally drastic change in policy will be needed to distribute this wealth and enable more people to pursue the life they want.

  3. If we get both of these right, we can improve the standard of living for people more than we ever have before....


And here's Metaverse Post with an August 8, 2023 update:

OpenAI Sponsors Major Study on Unconditional Basic Income: Insights from Sam Altman’s Thesis 

  • OpenAI has sponsored the largest-ever study on unconditional basic income (UBI), with the results expected in early 2024.
  • Altman’s thesis highlights the potential benefits and challenges of technological development on wealth distribution and societal welfare.
  • He proposes the American Equity Fund, funded by taxing companies with valuations above a certain threshold and 2.5% of the value of all private land.

OpenAI has sponsored what is being considered the largest-ever study on unconditional basic income (UBI). The study’s results are eagerly anticipated for early 2024, as reported by Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI, on Lex Fridman’s podcast.

Sam Altman has been contemplating the implications of AI on socio-economic changes for quite some time. His interest in the subject dates back to a blog post he penned in March 2021, titled “Moore’s Law for Everything,” available at this link. In his thesis summary, Altman underscores several vital points that deserve attention.

  1. Technological Advancements and Wealth Creation: Altman emphasizes that the development of powerful AI will likely lead to a reduction in the cost of labor for various goods and services. This decrease in cost is predicted to result in remarkable wealth creation.
  2. Welfare through Cost Reduction: By reducing the cost of essential goods, ranging from food to entertainment, technology can significantly enhance societal welfare. Altman likens this phenomenon to Moore’s law, where computer chips have historically doubled in power every two years without increasing in price.
  3. A New Economic Model for Inclusiveness: He stresses the importance of growth and inclusiveness in a stable economic system. Inclusiveness ensures that every individual has a fair chance to obtain essential resources, leading to a more just society and potentially fostering further economic growth.
  4. The Inefficiency of Progressive Taxation: Altman acknowledges the traditional economic approach to solving inequality, progressive taxation, has not been entirely effective and may become even less relevant in the future.
  5. Taxing Capital, Not Labor: Altman proposes a shift in focus from taxing labor to taxing capital. By doing so, the taxation system can directly distribute property and wealth among citizens. This shift would enable every individual to directly benefit from capitalism, in turn improving the system itself.

Sam Altman’s thesis is rooted in the understanding of the significant socio-economic changes that AI can bring. The insights drawn from his writings are well-grounded and focus on the practical implications of technological development on wealth distribution and societal welfare.

In connection with this thesis, the ongoing study on UBI sponsored by OpenAI takes on additional significance. The research, expected to be unveiled in 2024, will undoubtedly contribute to the discourse on how unconditional basic income could act as a mechanism to achieve some of the societal improvements outlined by Altman.

The study and Altman’s reflections provide a valuable perspective on the future of economic systems in the age of AI. Rather than speculative or utopian views, these insights are built on concrete evidence and practical considerations, offering a sober examination of the potential benefits and challenges that lie ahead....


Henry George was a best-selling economist, sort of the Piketty of his day in that respect, who championed the land tax. We have quite a few posts on Henry, here's one from 2016:
Back in 2012 there occurred one of those eruptions of comment* that seem to happen for no discernible reason other than some combination of network effects and echo chambers.

The eruptions peak and die away as the crowd moves on leaving almost imperceptible ripples where there had been much thunder and fury.

This is a reflection on one of them, Henry George and the land tax, updated for current values and valuations....
*Even by the time we posted "The Economist Calls for More Taxes on Land" in July 2013 the commentariat was moving on:....