What Will We Do When AI Takes All of the Jobs?

David Pulcifer
11 min readFeb 3, 2023

Either we will lament, or we will rejoice. It depends on what we do today during this critical time in AI development.

The AI genie is out of the bottle, and there’s no way to put it back in. Entire industries will soon be revolutionized by robotics and AI. This may leave you and me in a place where there just isn’t a job available. If having a job is the only way to survive then we’re in big trouble if we can’t find one.

Sounds bleak, but what if there was a win-win here?

What if you didn’t need a job to survive?

And heads up, this isn’t about Universal Basic Income. I’m not against UBI by any means, but I have a couple other ideas that I’d like to get your thoughts on.

AI Could Allow Us To Be Human Again

The Industrial Revolution tried to turn us into mindless worker bots on an assembly line, and the AI revolution could help us get back to being human.

Maybe you agree and maybe you don’t, but I think in the struggle to function as an interconnected multi-billion person society, we have lost a lot of things. We may have it easy compared to those who lived during the Industrial Revolution (They had an average work day of 14 hours and 6 days a week) but for nearly 300,000 years before that, life was much different.

For 95% of the time humans have been around we only worked 15 hours a week, with the remainder spent with our family and friends, pursuing activities of our own choosing. That free time is something we lost only a few generations ago but if we do it right, AI could allow us to get it back again.

https://www.inc.com/jessica-stillman/for-95-percent-of-human-history-people-worked-15-hours-a-week-could-we-do-it-again.html

https://www.ft.com/content/8dd71dc3-4566-48e0-a1d9-3e8bd2b3f60f

Beyond Universal Basic Income

Let’s have a hypothetical for a moment (and maybe this isn’t a hypothetical for you). Suppose you’ve been struggling to land a job. Maybe there isn’t one available, or maybe like many you spent your entire life training for a job you were told would always be in demand, and now those jobs are gone or going away. You’re hungry, and a carrot sounds amazing right now — but you have no money. (Ok, maybe a carrot doesn’t sound amazing, maybe pizza or a sandwich sounds better, but bear with me for just a bit.)

Under a Universal Basic Income system you would receive a stipend to pay for your carrot (and your other basic needs). But how do we decide how much that should be? If you live in Los Angeles, the cost of basic necessities is very different than in Albuquerque or Des Moines. What happens when prices go up and your UBI won’t cover necessities anymore? It is unlikely our current government would be able to keep up with these changes considering how poorly minimum wage has kept up with inflation over the last 60 years.

https://www.forbes.com/advisor/personal-finance/minimum-wage-vs-inflation/

This is not an unsolvable problem, but it is a problem, with a potentially more elegant solution.

A New Kind of Commerce

Back to our hypothetical, what if you could go into the grocery store and “buy” a carrot but no money ever exchanged hands between you and the store? The grocery store still got paid for that carrot, and the farmer who grew the carrot still got paid for growing it, but you didn’t have to spend money to eat it.

What if instead of getting money for basic necessities, they didn’t cost anything at all?

(Quick reminder that I am talking about a world where there aren’t enough jobs to go around, so we have to figure out some way to feed and shelter people without requiring them to have a job. This reality may happen sooner than you think.)

Decoupled Commerce could make this transaction possible without having to subsidize anything with taxes, without the logistical problems presented by UBI, and without the frailty of relying on a central agency to plan it all out.

Decoupled Commerce

What if we had private transactions that didn’t require trading?

The buyer spends money and gets a product or service. And the seller gets money for providing that product or service, but the buyer doesn’t give the money directly to the seller. The transaction could be said to be decoupled, or separated, so they aren’t directly connected.

Decoupled Commerce would be a way of exchanging goods and services without having to directly trade for them. There are a lot of ways you could implement this, but I imagine a decentralized transparent-box* marketplace that connects buyers with sellers and facilitates these transactions in the background. Much like modern e-commerce, with a subtle but important difference.

*Transparent-box — the opposite of a black-box system. A transparent box system is open, and everyone can see how it works and what it is doing.

An Example of Decoupled Commerce

Providing basic necessities for free while still paying the sellers and producers, requires the money to come from somewhere. In our case, it comes from other transactions for luxury goods and services that aren’t needed for survival. Let’s consider an example based on my decentralized marketplace idea.

Let’s say you want to buy a new car using Decoupled Commerce. The car you want is $50,000. You have $50,000 in your account, so you spend it, place the order, and the dealer receives a notification that you have paid. The dealer delivers it and after looking over the car you confirm that it was received in new condition. Once you confirm the transaction the dealer is paid $48,000.

Behind this transaction is an AI algorithm. It tracks how many of that model car is available, how many people are trying to purchase one, and various other factors to come up with $48,000 and $50,000.

What happens to the $2,000 difference? Nothing. (More on why later)

The algorithm calculates the demand for the vehicle and uses an auction system that bids a price for the vehicle and increases the bid until a dealer agrees to sell at that price. In this case the dealer agreed to $48,000.

That $48,000 is digitally “minted” at the time of the transaction and given to the seller. It is new money, not traded money.

Most of you can already see the red flag.

If we keep printing money, then inflation is bound to happen. There must be a mechanism to take money back out of the economy to keep it balanced.

And that’s why the buyer digitally “burns” $50,000 to initiate the transaction. And that is also how Decoupled Commerce can solve the basic necessities problem.

That $2,000 is what I call an “inflation adjustment” and is the difference that accounts for basic essentials. The extra $2,000 is destroyed and goes nowhere. The algorithm took the cost of the car and added an “inflation adjustment” to the transaction for the purpose of deleting some money from the economy. Now, when we go to pay a carrot farmer for $2000 worth of carrots, we can digitally mint $2000 new dollars to pay her for them and still balance the amount of money in the economy.

That’s how we can provide carrots (and other essentials) without costing money from the people who need them.

Feeding People with Decoupled Commerce

When an individual goes to the grocery store using decoupled commerce, they pick up the items they want, put them in the cart, and checkout like normal. Instead of paying money for the food, the store logs what is being taken so they can get paid for it via the decoupled marketplace.

Even though the individual doesn’t pay for the food, the grocery store still gets paid for every item using this system. The algorithm assesses the demand for, say, carrots and pays the store enough money to make it worth keeping up with the public demand for carrots. This means that the stores order more carrots from farmers and the farmers produce enough carrots to meet the demand.

Reasonable Abundance: An End to Global Hunger

The UN has already established that there is enough food produced globally to feed every person on Earth.

https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/10/1048452

The hunger problem experienced worldwide isn’t scarcity: it’s distribution. Decoupled Commerce seeks to incentivize businesses to solve this distribution problem and end food shortages and hunger.

Like any system, loopholes are possible. What’s stopping someone from taking 20 years of groceries from the store? Or, stockpiling on toiletries, like we saw at the beginning of the pandemic?

This issue could be controlled in Decoupled Commerce with the concept of “reasonable abundance.” The principle enables each person to take a “reasonable abundance” of food and necessary supplies. This system rewards farms, grocery stores, and real estate developers enough to make sure there is a reasonable abundance of basic necessities such as food and shelter, measured against the existing and predicted future demand.

Reasonable abundance is a critical idea and very different from the concept of a “fair share.” In decouple commerce, we aren’t talking about a fixed-sized pie that must be split up. Instead, if we need a bigger pie the system pays the bakers more money to make a big enough pie for everyone to have a nice big slice. This is the crucial difference between the two terms. We are hacking the factors of supply and demand to make sure there is an abundant supply for everyone.

Handling all potential abuses of Decoupled Commerce goes beyond the purpose of this article, but just like we have laws against theft, society would need legislation to define what reasonable abundance is and the consequences for someone who takes more than a reasonable abundance. It is no different than how we handle theft currently.

What is the Incentive to Work?

At the end of the day, I expect we will always need humans to do some work, and there is still so much room for innovation and creativity. So in a world where basic necessities are free, what is the incentive to do that work?

The incentive to get a job or start your own business is that you will earn money that you can spend on improving your quality-of-life above baseline survival. Buy your own house, luxury amenities, and other non-essentials. There would have to be very careful legislation on what qualified as a basic necessity and what qualified as a luxury. It is something we would decide collectively.

Encouraging Innovation with Resources

Imagine there is no job available for you, but you want money, so you decide to start a business. That would be impossible if you had to buy materials, but had no job, and therefore no money. New businesses entering and competing in markets is vital to innovation. If the only people who can start a new business are people who have a job, that is a huge problem in a world where there aren’t enough jobs.

We handle it exactly like you handle the basic necessities problem. The raw materials and equipment you need to start the business do not cost anything, but the people who make them get paid through the decoupled marketplace.

This is where Decoupled Commerce allows us to solve a lot of weird faults in our existing economy, because you aren’t requiring someone to directly trade money for the materials they need, but you are still making it possible for the provider to get paid.

There may need to be legislation to smooth out the logistics and loopholes to make sure this system is not abused. It’s the same as how we use legislation to patch up the holes in our current system (which still has its own problems with fraud and corruption).

The Post-Work World

Technology and automation have created a far different world than the one we lived in just a couple of decades ago. The workforce has been transforming rapidly, and it’s challenging to predict where it will be 50, 20, or even 10 years from now. While Keynes was wrong to expect society to work less than part-time currently, he is not wrong that the need for labor has shifted and even been eliminated in many areas. How many businesses have typing pools nowadays?

In the face of such rapid and drastic market transformation, it is worth diving into the possibility of a world where traditional labor is no longer needed. Large parts of the population would be left without employment, putting their entire livelihood in jeopardy. It is important to discuss this issue and formulate solutions now, so we can be prepared when it happens.

Decoupled Commerce is one such solution. It takes UBI one step further by eliminating the need for money to survive. Individuals are still incentivized to work, innovate, and create new businesses in their field of interest; maintaining the motivations of early-stage capitalism while also providing for those unable to work due to the severe job shortage.

Back to Being Human

Going back to where I started, the point of bringing up Decoupled Commerce is really just a potential solution to a much larger problem. Our ancestors used to have something that we have much less of now. Something that was siphoned away with the advent of Industry.

Time.

And much of our humanity has been taken with it, wasting away at the daily grind, doing unfulfilling work because we have no choice but to do otherwise. With systems like Decoupled Commerce we can survive without having to dream up boring jobs for people, and reclaim that time instead of forcing ourselves to conform to an economic model (the work for pay so you can live model) that may becoming obsolete.

Let’s focus the AI Revolution towards reclaiming the time we used to have before the Industrial Revolution stole it from us. You can have that time back to spend doing things you love, pursuing goals you love, and spending time with the people you love. Instead of being a cog in the wheels of society, you can go back to being human.

The most important thing we can do about this problem is start the conversation. Let me know your thoughts. I’m honestly interested.

--

--