Could A.I. redistribute wealth for us?

Artificial intelligence and automation stand poised to put millions out of work and make inequality even more pronounced. Is it possible to solve one problem with another?

A robot dollar.
In AI we'll trust? (Wikicommons/Pixabay/Big Think)

Wealth inequality is one of the great moral issues of our time. In an era when the world has more money than ever before, billions still live on less than $3 a day. The disparity becomes more striking in the light of studies that show most income inequality comes down to luck, with people of average talent able to shoot to the top of the ladder by being in the right place at the right time.


Making the problem even more severe is the specter of automated unemployment, or the so-called AI revolution. As countless jobs have been lost to automation already and 30% of American jobs are at risk of being automated out of existence within the next thirteen years, it may not be long before mass unemployment caused by automation intensifies the difficulty and urgency of solving the inequality problem.

But there is hope. 

Could AI be used to redistribute wealth justly? 

Feng Xiang, a professor of law at Tsinghua University and a Chinese legal scholar, thinks so. He argues that the notion that digital capitalismwill place a high value on social welfare is afairytale and reminds us that between the dangers of technological unemployment and the oligarchic control of AI technology we face a future with higher inequality than ever before.

­He proposes that technology could be used to prevent this through central planning. 

"The more AI advances into a general-purpose technology that permeates every corner of life, the less sense it makes to allow it to remain in private hands that serve the interests of the few instead of the many. More than anything else, the inevitability of mass unemployment and the demand for universal welfare will drive the idea of socializing or nationalizing AI."

"If AI rationally allocates resources through big data analysis, and if robust feedback loops can supplant the imperfections of “the invisible hand” while fairly sharing the vast wealth it creates, a planned economy that actually works could at last be achievable."

He tops off his proposals with a reworking of Marx for the 21st century: “From the inability of an AI economy to provide jobs and a living wage for all, to each according to their needs.” 


While he states in his article that "socialism with Chinese characteristics" is uniquely able to carry out this idea, he clearly supposes that every nation could do something similar. 

The idea is intriguing, as a machine would be far superior to a human in crunching numbers, weighing factors, and offering solutions to problems independent of its interests. All we would need to do, hypothetically, is give it data and instructions on how we want the numbers to be crunched. 

That is precisely the problem.

Chinese communism has historically had an issue with the accurate reporting of economic data. During the Great Leap Forward, human planners were told more grain had been produced than truly existed. Using this data, they ordered more food to be taken to the cities than the countryside could afford to give. 50 million people starved to death as a result. There is no reason to think that an AI working with bad data would do much better.

Furthermore, while professor Xiang’s ideas are theoretically possible for a communist state, other societies would have to first agree to nationalization to enact his proposals. In the West, privatization and deregulation have been the hallmarks of economic policy for the last few decades. His idea would have a while to wait before many countries would even consider it. 

Even if there were the political will to have a machine guide us in reorganizing the economy, we would then have to agree on what the ideal distribution of wealth would be. Should we organize the economy to give everybody exactly what they produce back to them and nothing more, or should we try to maximize the income for the poor no matter what inequalities result? Perhaps we’ll go the Marxist route and divvy it out equally? In our current political climate, any agreement on this matter seems farfetched.

If these problems could be solved, a sufficiently advanced artificial intelligence might be the perfect economic planner. However, before we can give that machine instructions on what to do, we must agree on how we want the economy managed.

Are there ways to apply this idea inside of our current model of capitalism?

Machine-based unemployment has led many people, including Martin Luther King, Elon Musk, and Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes to support the Basic Income. This could be a way to harness the work saving potential of artificial intelligence inside of a capitalist system as it allows for both the private ownership of the machines and provides for those left unemployed by them. Ideas on how this system could work abound. 

There is also the model of the Alaskan Permanent Fund to be considered. Alaska receives a portion of the revenue from oil production in the state and deposits it in the fund, alongside other income sources. A yearly dividend is issued to all long-term residents of the state from this fund, and the legislature can also use the money for public projects. It is not difficult to imagine a similar system that uses Bill Gates’ proposed tax on robotic workers as the income source for a similar dividend paid to everyone.

It should be said, however, that neither of these solutions would solve inequality, as the people who own the machines could still collect massive amounts of money from their use. These solutions would merely guarantee that everyone has some form of income as more and more occupations are taken over by machines.

Humanity has been inventing machines to make work a little easier for thousands of years. The advent of artificial intelligence offers us more freedom from work than our ancestors could have dreamed. Will it be harnessed to reduce the work week and enrich us all? Or will it only further aggravate the problems of inequality we currently face?   

Were the ancient Egyptians black or white? Scientists now know

This is the first successful DNA sequencing on ancient Egyptian mummies, ever.

 

Ancient Egyptian Statues

Getty Images
Surprising Science

Egyptologists, writers, scholars, and others, have argued the race of the ancient Egyptians since at least the 1970's. Some today believe they were Sub-Saharan Africans. We can see this interpretation portrayed in Michael Jackson's 1991 music video for “Remember the Time" from his "Dangerous" album. The video, a 10-minute mini-film, includes performances by Eddie Murphy and Magic Johnson.

Keep reading Show less

Why professional soccer players choke during penalty kicks

A new study used functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) to measure brain activity as inexperienced and experienced soccer players took penalty kicks.

PORTLAND, OREGON - MAY 09: Diego Valeri #8 of Portland Timbers reacts after missing a penalty kick in the second half against the Seattle Sounders at Providence Park on May 09, 2021 in Portland, Oregon.

Abbie Parr via Getty Images
Mind & Brain
  • The new study is the first to use in-the-field imaging technology to measure brain activity as people delivered penalty kicks.
  • Participants were asked to kick a total of 15 penalty shots under three different scenarios, each designed to be increasingly stressful.
  • Kickers who missed shots showed higher activity in brain areas that were irrelevant to kicking a soccer ball, suggesting they were overthinking.
Keep reading Show less

Changing a brain to save a life: how far should rehabilitation go?

What's the difference between brainwashing and rehabilitation?

Credit: Roy Rochlin via Getty Images
Mind & Brain
  • The book and movie, A Clockwork Orange, powerfully asks us to consider the murky lines between rehabilitation, brainwashing, and dehumanization.
  • There are a variety of ways, from hormonal treatment to surgical lobotomies, to force a person to be more law abiding, calm, or moral.
  • Is a world with less free will but also with less suffering one in which we would want to live?
Keep reading Show less
Surprising Science

How to fool a shark using magnets

A simple trick allowed marine biologists to prove a long-held suspicion.

Quantcast