Automate Now? Robots, Jobs and Universal Basic Income

Issue date: 09 December 2015


A robotic sorting arm

A public debate on the issue of how technological advancement could affect jobs will take place in front of a packed audience at the Watershed in Bristol on 9 December.

Led by philosophers and roboticists, the event is sponsored by UWE Social Science in the City and part of the Bristol Festival of Ideas and is organised by Dr Darian Meacham, a Senior lecturer in Philosophy at UWE Bristol.

The debate will focus on questions such as: Are technological advancements threatening to make human labour redundant across broad swathes of the economy? If so how should we respond politically? Should automation be resisted or should we look for new paths toward a future where the link between labour and flourishing or even survival is severed? Is a Universal Basic Income the way for us all to enjoy the gains made possible by automation?

Philosophers Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams co-authors of Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work, will discuss these questions with a panel of roboticists, philosophers and politicians including Tony Dyer, Sabine Hauert, Darian Meacham, Matthew Studely and Alan Winfield. Audience questions and participation will be encouraged.

Dr Darian Meacham, says, “There is a lot of buzz at the moment about the 'threat' to jobs posed by automation; a frequently cited 2013 study claims that 35% of jobs in the UK and 47% in the US are at risk of automation in the next two decades.* It's understandable that people are very apprehensive and even scared about this. But what if automation were not seen only as a threat but also as an opportunity? Automation may open up a path toward Universal Basic Income, where all citizens are given a cash payment to spend as they see fit. This could not only offset the loss of work caused by automation, but also free people to engage in activities that are fulfilling, like caring for others. In the 1930s John Maynard Keynes wrote of a future in which, thanks to technology, we worked less and lived better, we need to seriously think about how to make that a reality.”

“The radical changes in the world of work that may be brought about by developments in robotics and artificial intelligence are something that we all need to be thinking and talking about, that includes, philosophers, politicians, and importantly robotics engineers. This event is about getting encouraging that discussion here in Bristol.”

The debate is held in association with UWE Social Science in the City and the Royal Institute of Philosophy

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