European Parliament Building Strasbourg, France

The European Union’s ‘The European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies’ (EGE) has analyzed how the labor market will change with the advancement of artificial intelligence and their conclusion is that basic income may become relevant.

Two hundred and fifty years ago the Industrial Revolution replaced our arms and legs at work. The Fourth Industrial Revolution (artificial intelligence) is now replacing our brains. Autonomous systems and artificial intelligence (AI), will have a big impact on how we work in the future, that is certain. The EGE, an expert group commissioned by the European Commission were therefore tasked with the analysis on how the future’s labor market will change.

At the opening ceremony of Europe’s largest interdisciplinary conference, ESOF, Christiane Woopen says it may be time to disconnect social protection systems and the labor market. Since the labor market of today leaves many important social functions and tasks outside traditional remunerated work.

European Ethics Group issued a statement on AI and autonomous systems back in March. The group’s fifteen professors find that A.I. redefines working conditions for people and may reduce the need for human labor.

As a response to some of these challenges, some scholars and policy-makers have argued for the need to delink social protection from employment by creating a universal basic income that would provide a flat unconditional benefit to all citizens or residents of a country, regardless of income. Proponents argue that a sufficiently large benefit can eliminate absolute poverty, is easy to administer and less prone to leakage or corruption.

The European Commission then requested a report on ethical aspects of the future labor market. This report is expected in September. The high-level group of 52 people from academia, society and industry with the job of developing guidelines on the EU’s AI-related policy, including ethical issues such as fairness, safety, transparency and the upholding of fundamental rights.

The debate regarding universal basic income has just begun. While some communities are piloting a version of this scheme, there is limited information so far to evaluate its impact on individuals, inequality, social
protection systems, economies and on work itself.

The launch of the group follows other recent action the Commission has taken in the AI space these last few months, including the publication of its “Artificial Intelligence for Europe” communication. That basic income is now being evaluated in several nations across the world, with experiments in India, Finland and Canada, for example. There have also been several polls about basic income, investigating the public support for the idea in different countries, and in 2016 a basic income proposal was rejected in Switzerland by 76.9% of the voters in a national referendum. And that basic income now being assessed in the European Union is another signal that shows the concept might just prove relevant soon rather than later.

Worries are expressed about driverless cars taking all the driving jobs. A recent MIT Technology Review article pointed out that 3.8 million Americans make their living driving, including 1.7 million who drive trucks. Goldman Sachs estimates that self-driving vehicles will eliminate 300,000 jobs a year, once the technology matures.


Proceedings of the round table on the future of work