AI and Preserving Humanity
In the disruptive economic and technological benefits of AI is a threat that Dr. Kai Fu Lee claims may bring a “new caste system, split into a plutocratic AI elite and the powerless struggling masses.” According to him, if we allow AI economics to run their natural course, the geopolitical tumult of recent years will look like child’s play.
In his upcoming book “AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley and the New World Order”, due out on September 25, he claims that AI will lead to a feeling of worthlessness of people who have lost their work to machines and “question their own worth and what it means to be human.”
To avoid being blamed for this mass societal dislocation, many Silicon Valley leaders had fostered the idea of a UBI, a universal basic income. This is an unconditional, government –provided cash stipend to allow every citizens’ basic needs to be addressed.
A form of guaranteed income may be necessary. However, instead of resting on a “economic painkiller like a universal basic income, we should use the economic bounty generated by AI to double down on what separates us from machines: human empathy and love.”
The private sector can create new jobs by seeking out symbiosis between AI optimizations and the human touch. Powerful examples come from wellness, health care and education, where AI can produce crucial insights but only humans can deliver them with care and compassion.
THE SOCIAL INVESTMENT STIPEND
At the center of Lee’s vision of reorienting the social contract between government and their citizens, he calls for a “Social Investment Stipend, a respectable government salary for those who devote their time to three categories of activities: care work, community service and education. These activities would form the pillars of a new social contract, rewarding socially beneficial activities just as we now reward economically productive activities. The idea is simple: to inject more ambition, pride and dignity into work focused on enhancing our communities.”
The participation requirements of the stipend wouldn’t be designed to dictate the lives of citizens. There would be a wide enough range of choices for all workers who have been displaced by AI. The more people-oriented could opt for care work, the ambitious could enroll in high-tech training that trains them for new AI-oriented jobs, and others could take up community-service work.
Dr. Lee makes it clear that “by requiring some social contribution to receive the stipend, we would foster a public philosophy far different from the laissez-faire individualism of universal basic income. Providing a stipend in exchange for participation in community-building activities carries a clear message: Collective effort from people across society allowed us to reach this point of economic abundance, and now we must use that abundance to recommit ourselves to one another and to our humanity.”That carries the seeds of reinvigorating our world with greater compassion for each other, something the world greatly lacks.
Needless to say, there are many thorny issues to be tackled before we could consider such a “sweeping and idealistic”policy. Just think what it would take to get the two major U.S. parties to agree on such an effort. AI’s economic dislocation would probably have to get so severe that all would align around the Social Investment Stipend.
“But,” as Dr. Lee notes, “the humanistic values it embodies can serve as a guide while we navigate the treacherous waters that lie ahead. We may yet be able to harness the full potential of both machines that think and humans who love.”