artificial intelligence

Independent Audit of AI Systems - FAQ

This article was a portion of ForHumanity’s response to the NYC Economic Development Corp’s Request for Expressions of Interest regarding their proposed Center for Responsible AI. The submission was a joint submission with The Future Society and Michelle Calabro. Independent Audit is offered, as the solution for the framwork, guidelines and governance functions of the Center. The proposal has neither been accepted or rejected at the time of this publication.

1.0 Overview

Independent Audit of AI Systems is a framework for auditing AI systems (products, services, and corporations) by examining and analyzing the downside risks associated with the ubiquitous advance of AI & Automation. It looks at 5 key areas: Privacy, Bias, Ethics, Trust and Cybersecurity. If we can make safe and responsible Artificial Intelligence & Automation profitable whilst making dangerous and irresponsible AI & Automation costly, then all of humanity wins.

The market demand for a comprehensive, implementable, third-party oversight and governance solution is enormous. There are regular and consistent calls for this type of comprehensive oversight, on a global scale. The words, ‘Trust, Assurance and Audit’ are frequently used to give humanity the comfort we need with these currently opaque and ungoverned systems. It will not only impact the world of AI in New York City, but around the world, thrusting New York into the center of all debate on Responsible AI.

Creation of the framework will be an industry-wide effort from the Audit/Assurance/Trust industry, and they will conduct an iterative, open-source, crowd-sourced dialogue with anyone who wants to engage in the process. The result will be a fully-implementable and dynamic set of rules by which companies can not only know they are being Responsible with their AI, they can prove it with an independent audit.

1.1 What is it?

A framework for auditing AI systems by examining and analyzing the downside risks associated with the ubiquitous advance of AI & Automation. It looks at 5 key areas: Privacy, Bias, Ethics, Trust and Cybersecurity.

1.2 What can get audited?

Products, services and corporations.

1.3 Why should it exist?

If we can make safe and responsible Artificial Intelligence & Automation profitable whilst making dangerous and irresponsible AI & Automation costly, then all of humanity wins.

1.4 Does the market want it?

The market demand for a comprehensive, implementable, third-party oversight and governance solution is enormous. There are regular and consistent calls for this type of comprehensive oversight, on a global scale. The words, ‘Trust, Assurance and Audit’ are frequently used to give humanity the comfort we need with these currently opaque and ungoverned systems.

1.5 Why must this happen in New York City?

Independent Audit of AI Systems is the audit/assurance/trust industry’s answer to AI governance and oversight. It is logical that it should reside in New York City, which is home to each of the Big 4’s global headquarters. Furthermore, it is crucial that an industry-wide initiative is implemented to maximize the impact of the audit rules.

1.6 How will New York City benefit from this?

We expect these rules to be adapted to local jurisdictional law in NYC and globally. This will thrust New York into the center of all debate on Responsible AI. Jobs are likely to be created as the audit process is deepened. New York City will be viewed at the leader of Responsible AI; the place to go for the most “cutting-edge” discussions. The place to go for answers.

1.7 How will humanity benefit from this?

Currently AI is generated to benefit companies, through increased profit. We are not criticizing this point-of-view, but we are suggesting that there needs to be a more balanced approach — one which considers the overall welfare of humanity. Through oversight and third-party independent governance, via Independent Audit of AI System, humanity will have a greater assurance that their interests are being considered. People can be assured that ‘best practices’ are being followed, which will increase peoples’ trust and confidence in AI systems wherever they impact people’s lives. Markets and systems will be more fair — not just in one country, as the audit rules will extend globally as well.

1.8 How will individuals benefit from this?

Individuals will benefit from better, safer products and services. They will benefit through increased education and awareness on what SAFEAI and Responsible AI mean. Individuals will be able to identify SAFEAI goods and services and increasingly have choice and control over how they manage their interactions with AIs in all facets of their lives.

1.9 Will Independent Audit of AI Systems be a self-sustainable system?
Independent Audit of AI Systems is designed to be self-sustaining over time. The SAFEAI logo will be licensed as a “seal-of-approval” to any/all companies that wish to license it. The choice is theirs, as there is not a fee to ForHumanity for the audit framework and the audits are not conducted by us.

As we develop the Independent Audit of AI Systems framework, we will spend considerable effort to build the brand as well. We want to facilitate people using the logo to impact their buying decisions for products and services. If successful, this will drive demand for the logo from those who pass audits. We will ask a licensing fee in return, with the justification being both the promotion of the brand and the ongoing maintenance of the system. The primary goal and thus the driver of licensing pricing will be the sustainability of the Independent Audit of AI systems process. It is expected that our initial donors will backstop the organization until it is self-sustaining.

2.0 Who will create it?

Creation of the framework will be an industry-wide effort from the Audit/Assurance/Trust industry, and they will conduct an iterative, open-source, crowd-sourced dialogue with anyone who wants to engage in the process. In order to be successful, it will be global and inclusive of many interested parties.

There will be a dedicated full-time staff of Core Audit Silo Heads whose responsibilities will be the following:

  • Research new ideas/concepts/contributors

  • Suggest possible rules

  • Solicit specific feedback on proposed rules

  • Track and manage dissent, striving for broad consensus

  • Manage discussion for decorum

  • Present proposed rules to Board of Directors

  • Hold public office for 2 hours daily, during global time zones

  • Facilitate dialogue on Slack with all interested participants

The Executive Director will have the following responsibilities:

  • Create partnerships with many like-minded stakeholders

  • Facilitate the quarterly update process and Board of Directors votes

  • Release the board votes and new rules

The Board of Directors (maximum 21 members) will consist of a diverse collection of industry professionals and academics who are experts in determining if a rule passes audit criteria.

2.1 How will the audit framework be developed?

Independent Audit of AI Systems will be a comprehensive set of best-practices covering the ‘Core Audit Silos’ of Ethics, Bias, Privacy, Trust and Cybersecurity.

Core Audit Silo Heads will host global public office hours during pre-announced, varying time slots to meet the needs of experts all around the world. They will also conduct an iterative, open-source, crowd-sourced dialogue on an ongoing basis (on a platform such as Slack) with anyone who wants to engage in the process. Corporations (who will be subject to the audit) have the opportunity to raise concerns and objections with the proposed rules. Independent Audit of AI Systems will walk the tightrope between maximum benefit for humanity and practical implementability.

Audit rules will be:

  • Implementable

  • Binary (complaint/non-compliant)

  • Open-Sourced and Iterated

  • Unambiguous

  • Consensus-driven

  • Measurable

The cohort of experts in each ‘Core Audit Silo’ will conduct micro-experiments, use-case experiments and applications to iterate and eventually achieve these standards and best practices. We will improve Responsible AI incrementally, and eventually arrive at consensus-driven rules by examining word choice, definitions, and boundaries.

The result will be a fully-implementable and dynamic set of rules by which companies can not only know they are being Responsible with their AI, they can prove it with an independent audit.

2.2 Hasn’t this been done before?

Yes. In fact, there are many precedents to learn from. The Independent Audit of AI Systems is a collaborative process designed to enhance the magnificent work already being done by experts and thought-leaders around the world.

We are seeking an outcome similar to that of the FASB and IFRS efforts in the early 70’s: the financial services industry came together and created standardized rules that were adopted by the SEC et al within a few short years. The growth comes from a level playing field, like we watched with financial accounting in the late 70’s and early 80’s.

Many groups are doing Ethical Guidelines work; the IEEE’s ‘Ethically Aligned Design’ remains the gold standard. With a singular mission to leave the world a little better today than it was yesterday, we will translate high-minded ideals into smaller, more practical baby steps toward implementing new rules. Our goal can be achieved with extensive collaboration from IEEE, NIST and others to adapt their work into an immediately implementable, auditable framework.

2.3 Once an AI System achieves SAFEAI status, what happens?

  • All participants will know how to be responsible with their AI.

  • Passing the Audit is good for 12 months.

  • Even as the rules change quarterly, companies have time to catch up as new ‘best-practices’ are implemented.

  • Compliant companies may choose to license the SAFEAI brand.

  • Rocker tags include Auditor, Services, Corporate, and Product.

  • Annotated as e.g. “SAFEAI 2019.

This post is a follow on to the previous posts on Independent Audit of AI Systems, both on Medium

The Merits of Independent Audit of AI Systems

For those who have followed ForHumanity, you know that we have been developing and promoting the concept of Independent…

and on the CACM blog

Governance and Oversight Coming to AI and Automation: Independent Audit of AI Systems

Governance and independent oversight on the design and implementation of all forms of artificial intelligence (AI) and…

We welcome all of your support, as we continue to push this concepts forward and work towards bringing oversight and governance with true accountability to the world of AI.

AlphaGoZero - A Reflection and a Concern

AlphaGoZero from DeepMind

The AI community remains “abuzz”, as DeepMind continues to announce AlphaGo Zero successes. For the uninitiated, DeepMind created a new AI/machine learning program designed to improve upon its first iteration, AlphaGo, which had successfully bested the human world champions at the ancient game of Go. Why the buzz? Well AlphaGo Zero was built “Tabula Rasa” which is the philospher Locke’s definition of the human mind at birth and it means “blank slate”. The orginal AlphaGo studied human games of Go over and over and over, millions of iterations in order to learn how to win at the game. Zero (that’s how we will refer to AlphaGo Zero, so that it is clearer) learned Tabula Rasa, meaning it was simply given the rules and objectives and taught itself. 2.5 days later it surpassed the best players in the world. 21 days later it surpassed the best AI player in AlphaGo. 40 days later it was winning 100 times out of 100. That is the speed at which “mastery of thought or narrow superintelligence” (in the game of Go) was achieved. 40 days and consider that the test was done without trying to maximize processing power and speed. Recently, the same AlphaGoZero program also mastered chess and Shogi.

Okay, that all sounds impressive, but what does it really mean. For a start here are a few disruptive things it may mean.

  1. The designers at DeepMind have quickly convinced themselves that learning from humans is suboptimal

  2. In this narrow space of intelligence (the game of Go, Chess and Shogi)— this is proof that learning from humans IS suboptimal

  3. Also, in this narrow space, SuperIntelligence has been achieved

  4. Since some believe that learning is learning (a big assumption) — why wouldn’t all learning by machines be accomplished without human input.

  5. We now have an argument for WHY some people will want to implement Artificial General Intelligence. Or said differently, “don’t we want SuperIntelligence in as many areas as possible”?

Let me make sure that is clear for the reader. Unless someone can explain to the world how and why certain “learning” is DIFFERENT from learning the game of Go, Chess or Shogi, the brilliant minds at DeepMind have just proven to you that “learning” from humans is inefficient. That machines, when given a task to learn, will achieve human level mastery and beyond, quickly. This information will be used to demonstrate flawed human thinking time and again —the argument for replacing human thinking.

Said another way — AlphaGo Zero is PROOF that human thinking/learning is suboptimal. Let that sink in… What are some implications of THAT concept:

  1. How fast can I get tech into my head? some will reach this conclusion as they accept the idea that human thinking is suboptimal and to remain competitive, they must “advance” as well

  2. What is the point of human thought? another conclusion many will reach. Just let the machine do it.

Now before we fall too far off the cliff, let me be clear to say that I am certain that machine intelligence will discover things, learn things and create things that were simply not possible using the human mind alone. Those developments will drive the next few centuries of economic growth and create substantial wealth and opportunity (who that wealth accrues to is an entirely different debate, but to believe it would be equally shared is naive). As a Capitalist and non-Luddite, I believe in the advancement of these technologies and I believe they will succeed faster than most people have anticipated. The future for intelligence, discovery, productivity and exploration is vast and exciting. I am a fan.

But is that everything, is it even optimal? Seems to me that we are leaving out a lot of key issues when we measure ourselves in the “better off” category. I am not sure if these advancement are for the betterment of society. That’s the key question for me. Why are we advancing society? What about society is advancing? I know the word advancing is “loaded”, as in… of course we want to “advance” society, we should always “advance” things. We always assume that being smarter, acquiring more wealth and making everything easier is better. I think this is a falsehood, missing the mark on our total well-being.

Here are some things that we have “advanced” because of technology:

  1. Income inequality

  2. Loneliness/Depression

  3. Lack of individual survivability

  4. Polarization of society

  5. Breakdown of community

  6. De-Valuing of people and human life

  7. Worship of Intelligence

  8. General drop in our physical fitness

  9. Loss of Faith

Of course those are only some of the negatives and yet we won’t even be able to agree that those are, in fact, all negatives. I am highlighting the point that we continue to use technology to “advance” but our measures of well-being are not being maintained and tested against the technological advancements to determine if we are ACTUALLY better off. We feel more productive - our companies certainly are. But do we have deeper, stronger relationships? Do we experience more love, contentment and joy? I am not sure that we do, so when measured properly, maybe we have stepped back decades because of technology and didn’t even realize it. That is difficult for most people to even contemplate and their knee-jerk reaction is “of course things are better” or “those negatives don’t apply to me” . I am not sure that a fair, considered, and comprehensive assessment of well-being reaches the same conclusion. John Havens, a friend at IEEE, is leading the charge on this discussion and I think it is fruitful. This Youtube link, is a good overview of his thoughts on Well-being.

On top of all of this — the abdication of thought, learning and intellectual growth to machines combined with utter reliance upon machines for physical work can be scary. I do agree that we may triumph over many of these challenges and continue to master technology for the betterment of society as a whole. However it is important to raise these concerns and to consider if we are measuring progress and advancement correctly.

I think the author Frank Hebert, who created the Dune books and franchise was on to something as he considered his future view of where technological progress and our culture was taking us.

In his Sci-Fi classic Series Dune, specifically the book, God Emperor of Dune(1981), Leto II Atreides indicates that the Butlerian Jihad had been a semi-religious social upheaval initiated by humans who felt repulsed by how guided and controlled they had become by machines: “The target of the Jihad was a machine-attitude as much as the machines,” Leto said. “Humans had set those machines to usurp our sense of beauty, our necessary selfdom out of which we make living judgments. Naturally, the machines were destroyed.”

My greatest concern about the progress of artificial intelligence and automation is that the pendulum will have to swing too far before we figure out there is a problem. The reason that quote above exists, albeit from a story of ficition, is that Frank Herbert could envision a machine-intelligence dominated society. A Jihad (which is a violent clash often associated with the passion of religious fervor), not a revival, not a rennaissance, not a shifting-of-gears, was required to stop the juggernaut that was technology and machine intelligence in Herbert’s fictional world. Works of fiction are not evidence, they aren’t even an argument, but they may inform the thoughtful on a possible outcome from excessive adoption of machine intelligence.

Moderation and comprehensive evaluation of progress has never been a trait of our species, therefore it is likely that our adoption of AI and Automation will be excessive, and, in the end, detrimental to humanity. The prescription for avoiding these issues is challenging. It is against our general nature and it may require us to break our obsession with technological “advancement” as it is currently measured. It requires a broader consensus on well-being to measure our prosperity and to decide how and when to replace ourselves with machine intelligence. AlphaGoZero, and other AIs like it, will convince many that they should replace human intelligence. Personally, I can’t imagine replacing the vast majority of human intelligence with machine intelligence, but it is the path we are on and it leaves me concerned. Are you?

The Merits of Independent Audit of AI Systems

For those who have followed ForHumanity, you know that we have been developing and promoting the concept of Independent Audit of AI systems. If you are new to the concept of Independent Audit, the basics can be found here:

AI Safety — The Concept of Independent Audit
For months I have regularly tweeted a response to my colleagues in the AI Safety community about being a supporter of…

and here:

SAFEAI — A Tool for Concerned Parents
What is SAFEAI?

For this post, I wanted to cover the benefits of Indepedent Audit which are maximized when four things occur:

  1. Corporations widely adopt Independent Audit

  2. Governments make Independent Audit mandatory, akin to the requirements related to GAAP or IFRS accounting principles

  3. AI Safety professionals widely participates in the open-source, crowd-sourced search for best-practices

  4. When consumers of product/services use the SAFEAI logo to inform their buying/usage decisions

It is under these assumptions that I will talk about the features and subsequent benefits which accrue to humanity. Below is a bullet point list:

  1. Transparency — consumers of both products and services will receive an unprecendent level of transparency from companies. The transparency/disclosure we refer to here is in a few key areas, such as ethical decision-making, data usage, safety, control, explainability of algorithms, accountability of both algorithms and corporations, and bias avoidance. These areas of increased Transparency result in…

  2. Fairer markets — when markets are transparent then decisions made in the marketplace will be better. Rewarding responsible companies and punishing irresponsible companies. To be clear, it is the market that rewards and punishes, based on transparency and choice. And…

  3. Trust — this is the foundation of fairer markets. A marketplace which has become increasingly adversarial between companies and consumers, especially in the capture and exploitation of data, can be reversed. Trust is engendered when consumers feel that they are being provided with a valuable service AND when the price for that service is considered fair. Price, in this case, includes not only monetary compensation for services, but also impacts to privacy and personal well-being.

  4. Opacity — This benefit accrues to corporations, but has an over-arching, related benefit, to society. Opacity is the opposite of Transparency (referenced above), so we must explain the why both are listed as features. Transparency is discussed above, but does not extend to the intellectual property of the company — specifically, the code and machines that are employing artifical intelligence. Opacity to corporations allows them to protect their intellectual property (IP). When IP can be protected, then companies will invest in products and service development, knowing that they can recoop their costs and earn a fair profit. When transparency is EXCESSIVE (often due to regulation), then investment is discouraged and in fact, cheating, copying and outright theft become commonplace. Choosing Independent Audit allows a company to protect its IP without excessive disclosure. Choosing Independent Audit, might offset the increasing call for comprehensive disclosure that legal authorities might mandate. Essentially, Independent Audit strikes the best balance between opacity and transparency, giving corporations the protection they need to justify investment while giving consumers the transparency they need to trust the companies which provide them products/services.

  5. -Third-party verification — The value of third-party verification is an under-valued element in our world today. There are many places, where third-party verification has dramatically raised the bar of quality. Starting with financial audits and ranging to product-testers, such as Consumer Reports. These behind-the-scenes services act as a watch dog on your behalf. There are costs associated with all independent third-party reviews and those costs are passed thru to you, the consumer. The result is that companies know that they cannot cheat, they cannot cut corners, they cannot act unethically or they will be called out. These systems are not perfect for various reasons, not the least of which is a belief by humans that they can “get away with it”, but in the end, the truth will always come out sooner-or later as long as there is a watchdog in the room.

  6. Extends beyond national boundaries — Independent Audit is a market based mechanism. The SAFEAI seal of approval will build brand recognition. Over time, it will effect consumer decision-making, causing consumers to choose products and services which have been auditted for SAFEAI. The impacts of this “seal-of-approval” are not subject to national boundries the way that laws are hindered in their effectiveness. We are not suggesting that countries should not pass laws and regulations in AI Safety, quite to the contrary, new laws and regulations will have great value. However, it is a corporation’s responsbility to avoid regulations and laws when it is legal to do so and will result in greater profitability for the company. Therefore, it is necessary to have a market-based mechanism, one that impacts profitability directly and globally, such as the Independent Audit of AI Systems and the SAFEAI seal-of-approval. When consumers use the SAFEAI logo to inform their purchase and usage decisions then we know that safe and responsible AI will be profitable while dangerous and irresponsible AI will effefcctively make a company’s products worthless. When this happens, humanity wins, but it requires humanity to participate and to pay attention to the SAFEAI logo.

  7. On-going and Dynamic process — unlike standard financial accounting principles which may go unchanged for years at a time, “best-practices” in ethics, bias, privacy, trust and cybersecurity are likely to change regulalry. ForHumanity will maintain a dynamic, transparent and constant review process with our global open-source, crowd-sourced network to continuingly uncover “best-practices” which will update our audit process quarterly.

  8. Transparent process — The globally, open-source, crowd-sourced process is open to all. Anyone may join the conversation. All will be heard, all input will be considered, all votes count and most importantly, all reasonable dissent will be tracked and addressed. As the audit process is created, the results will be transparent to all. Further comment and critique is encouraged so that we may refine our process to achieve the best possible results. There is no fee or membership required to participate in the input process. There are only rules of proper decorum, so that we conduct our business in a civilized manner that protects the rights and dignity of all involved.

  9. Dedicated professionals- ForHumanity maintains a full-time staff dedicated to each of the core audit silos of ethics, bias, privacy, trust and cybersecurity. As a result, these professionals are constantly sourcing new ideas and new contacts to uncover the “best-practices” for our audit process. They maintain daily office hours and are continually reviewing input from all over the world. Our professionals are able to bridge the gap between academic thought and practical application to deliver the dynamic audit process.

  10. Audit process may be tailored for local jurisdictions — not dissimilar to the way accounting principles matured overtime, ForHumanity expects that the audit process will become tailored. Laws, customs and regulations may dictate that the audit process be adjusted slightly on a country-by-country (or regional) basis. This will allow the process to achieve an over-arching comment on “best-practices” while being locally compliant.

  11. Audit is good for one year — Independent Audit is conducted annually using the current audit process for “best-practices”. As these “best-practices” are likely to change fairly regularly as technology advances, this could create an onerous process of compliance for companies. The most recent audit will be good for one year, regardless of changes in “best-practices”. This standard allows the company time to comply with the ever changing “best-practices” while permitting the audit process to remain dynamic.

  12. Results are binary- When a company submits to a SAFEAI audit, it is a pass/fail endeavor on each of the five audit silos. The process will be structured so that companies are either compliant or non-compliant, so that the consumer may know if a company is using “best-practices” for ethics, bias, privacy, trust and cybersecurity. A company may pass any number of the silos, but is not SAFEAI compliant unless all five silos are passed successfully.

  13. Goal-Aligned with Humanity. ForHumanity exists for one purpose, to mitigate the downside risks associated with AI and Automation in order for Humanity to receive the highest possible benefits from these technological advancements. Our client-base, is you. ForHumanity is a non-profit organization designed to serve those who would buy products or use services which rely upon artificial intelligence. ForHumanity has a few sources of revenue. First, we receive funding from individuals through gracious donations. Second, we receive licensing revenue from corporations who have already completed SAFEAI audits when they choose to license the SAFEAI logo to show the world. The company does NOT pay a fee to ForHumanity for the audit and never will. We will not have the audit results tainted by a “pay-for-play” process which incentivizes successful audits. Only once they have successfully complied with the audit, then may a company pay to license the SAFEAI logo to demonstrate successfully passing the audit. Other members pay membership fees if they want to serve humanity, but fixing problems at companies that want to be SAFEAI compliant. Finally, our core members are those which conduct the audits on behalf of ForHumanity and thus for you. In the end, we strive to ensure that the goals of ForHumanity are prefectly aligned to serve… humanity.

ForHumanity believes that Independent Audit of AI Systems is crucial to mitigating the downside risks associated with the proliferation of AI and automation. But it doesn’t exist in a vacuum and it doesn’t succeed without the help of everyone. Please consider how you can become invovled and reach out.

Universal Basic Income, Capitalism and Christianity - Can We Reconcile the Three

I was born and raised in the West, steeped in Capitalism, market economies and the power of supply and demand. As I began to consider the concept of Technological Unemployment, I wrote about Capitalism having an “end-game”.

I believe that remains true. I believe that if left to its own devices, with technological advancement, Capital (as in Capital v Labor) would choose to eliminate the labor from its cost equation, resulting in 100% of profit left for Capital. You might argue that 100% capital and 0% labor is too extreme, and I agree. There will always be roles/work for humans to do, based upon the skills that humanity retains which machines cannnot replicate, even if that is limited to their “humanness”. In this piece, I am using the extreme example to highlight a risk, not predict an exact future. Capital is incentivized to eliminate labor from its cost structure. AI and Automation are capital investments that can replace labor therefore, I expect Capital to increase investment in AI and Automation which will likley result in significant unemployment, at least as it relates to jobs that pay a salary.

To complete the ideological triumvirate, I was raised and subsequently chose to be a Christian, which defines the core of my morality. I am not asking you to agree with my morality, just understand that my moral choices, come from this background, as I try to reconile these concepts. With that as foundation, I decided to host a backyard BBQ, where the pre-announced topic was Universal Basic Income, Christianity and Capitalism, reconciling the three ideologies. I invited good friends and was not attempting to make this a “comprehensive and stastically significant focus-group”, instead I wanted to just talk and debate and see if we could learn a few things and achieve some level of consensus. It was a lovely dinner, the talk and questions were challenging and while we wandered a little bit into the weeds, as all good conversations tend to, we actually did find some key points upon which we generally agreed, even if the details remained a little debateable or ambiguosly defined.

So I present for your consideration the results of this discussion. It should be noted, that the crux of the discussion was about UBI and thus what follows is a discussion about UBI, influenced by our similar capitalistic (western) backgrounds and by our shared Christian-faith. I believe this can be a useful guide for others as to how we considered some of the challenges presented by these three ideologies and where we landed. I do not expect that all will exactly share these beliefs, but rather take this as one version of the discussion for you to consider.

A few bullet points:

  1. Belief that we have a moral responsibility, as a community to care for the poor and those who cannot take care of themselves. This is absolute and a core principle based on our Christian faith.
  2. Belief that “risk and reward are linked, greater risk should equate to greater potential reward and vice versa” is a bibilical concept. It need not apply only to money and capital, but in the Parable of the Talents, failure to “invest” Talents is considered sinful. This was discussed in the context of all behavior. Taking risk, deserves reward, but may also lead to failures, which is okay. Our understanding of the parable is that we should take risks with the assets that we have - we should invest. The group voiced a concern that UBI may lead to risk-averse behavior of all kinds, notably a lack of investment. Many UBI proponents talk out of both sides of their mouth on this subject which is why we spent time on it. On one hand, they criticize those who have taken great risk, sometimes with time, effort, work/life balance sacrifice, capital or even reputation, instead frequently attributing it to inheritence or unfair exploitation. Then they suggest that a UBI will lead all people to be more entreprenuerial because their downside risk is floored with the UBI, in other words, they will take risks. Either risk and reward are linked at all levels or they are not. You can’t reward “UBI entreprenuers” with profits and begrudge the wealthy who may have already earned their profits. Not to mention those middle to upper class members who just plain worked ridiculously hard. Something that used to be called the “American Way”. The group felt that a UBI, on a mass scale, would reduce the appetite for risk amongst the mass population, even if a few were emboldened. They did not accept the premise that UBI would lead to greater entrepreneurialism.
  3. Belief that work and participation in your own survival is a human responsibility both to yourself and to your community. The group did not believe in a “right to survive”. They support the “right to participate in your own survival”. The group believes that the community is responsible for caring for those who are “unable to participate in their own survival”. This might be a semantic argument, but the point for us was clear. Survival is not guaranteed, it must be worked for and that is the nature of life. In fact, the idea that anyone had a guaranteed right to survive was generally considered illogical.
  4. The group did not require Universal to mean that 100% of people must receive the benefit fully. They were supportive of the idea that high income earners could have their basic income effectively fully taxed, which of course reduces the cost of implementation. The group felt that it should be “means-tested” on both ends. The wealthy should be taxed on their UBI to lower the cost of the program. But on the receiveing end, all should work, who are able. This is a moral decision based in the belief that providing for ourselves, our family and our communities is our responsibility. They further felt it was appropriate to determine “who is able” as a community. Implicit in this point is the “ability to work”. If work disappears, then that reduces one’s ability to work. The group flat out rejects the notion of a “right NOT to work”. That of course is not the same as “you must have a job and be receiving pay”. The group roundly supports the value of “unpaid jobs” such as stay-at-home caretakers or volunteers.
  5. In the context of substantial technological unemployment, the group understood and accepted the idea that Universal Basic Income might be the only option. No other alternative was offered as yet.
  6. There was genuine concern about UBI and unintended consequences, such as laziness, forced re-location and subsequent low-income housing concentration and negative feedback loops. Some of the group were familiar with UBI studies and their “smallness” and “terminal value”. They recognizing that behavior associated with these tests is not likely to compare to behavior in a world that MUST rely on UBI, such as the conditions that might come to pass under technological unemployment. Therefore, they reject the notion that we “know” how people would react under a comprehensive and necessary UBI program, reverting to concerns that it would not encourage work of all kinds.
  7. Following onto that point, one who is able, must work, whether they like the work or not. Where work is defined as “putting in effort” to participate in one’s survival or to execute the will of the community if the community is providing the support. This is different than a “job”, which is associated with pay or a salary. Stay-at-home parenting is work, and provides great benefit to the community without pay. They also reject the notion that a worker should enjoy their work. In fact, the group laughed at the idea that someone shouldn’t have to do work they don’t enjoy. They all wondered who the lucky ones were who always enjoyed their work.
  8. The group points to Capitalism’s excellent success in wealth creation, accepts the principle that “investment” from the wealthy creates growth and new opportunities. They also felt that the profit/return motive has made the allocation of capital generally efficient and thus generally productive. Further the group accepts that the benefit from new opportunities may be to a diminshing number of participants and that a consequence has been an increase in income inequality. One of the supporting arguments for higher taxes and potentially a UBI was the concern about rising income inequality. They did not reject the notion however that Capitalism may have an end-game — technological unemployment.
  9. There was considerable concern about the misuse of cash designed to provide food, clothing and shelter. One member who has had significant dealings with the poverty-stricken noted that frequently those in need, needed far more than monetary support, as mental-illness and drugs were often associated with their situation. It was suggested that a UBI payment might be used directly for food, clothing and shelter, instead of as cash to avoid misuse. To which there was varied debate, which I tabled (another version of “off into the weeds”). There were doubts about the government’s ability to provide the “right” solutions for those needs and externalities associated with that process. There was no conclusion on the best approach, cash or vouchers for services.

To wrap up our take on Universal Basic Income and trying to tie it together with Capitalism and Christianity, I would say the group was happy to consider the concept, unwilling to toss out capitalism, unwilling to accept some of the primary arguments of UBI advocates and generally unmotivated to run out and support a Universal Basic Income. They were happy to understand it better. Happy to consider the pros and cons more than they ever had and I know that awareness of the issues has been raised. Notably, I think everyone in the group is now comfortable having an opinion on the subject and how it fits into their views on life, poverty, public policy and technological unemployment. Maybe you, the reader, are a little more comfortable too. Whether you agree or disagree with the thoughts presented here, I suspect that the group’s thoughts are fairly mainstream. If you are vehemently opposed to UBI or zealously advocating for UBI, this ought to help you understand how one group thinks. Maybe it will make for a more fruitful dialogue as these challenges are considered in the future.

Replacing Your Doctors with AI and Automation

The field of medicine seems to be a touchy one for people with regards to the automation of how it is practiced. We struggle to get comfortable with the idea that machines could somehow replace the human doctors with whom we trust our lives and the lives of our children. It’s that fear that prevents us from taking the intellectual steps to realize that doctors, nurses and most medical services can and will be automated. If it helps, picture your favorite sci-fi movie where we all get dropped into a pod, which both analyzes and fixes us in a second. If that seems, nice and convenient and reliable — then you’ll be in a better place to realize that there are steps to get from here to there. In this blog post, I will aim to show you the cumulative steps that the medical industry is taking to automate. I suspect you’ll be amazed to see them put together, all in one place…

Let’s start with some amazing videos


Look at the amazing precision that robotic surgery is capable of. Now there is still a human involved in this particular operation, but the tasks of the movement can be mimicked in the same way that the the Moley kitchen mimcs the movements of a 5 star Chef. Code will be drafted to make the technique of each surgery precise and perfect. Humans will remain involved to “oversee” operations until the machine prove that they have the adaptive capability to react to unforeseen difficulties, but each time it happens, machine learning adds it to the repertoire.

Now we use doctors for a lot more than surgery. Diagnosis is a critical part of what a GP or specialist needs to provide their patient. Here are some examples of AI at work in diagnosis.

This Artificial Intelligence was 92% Accurate in Breast Cancer Detection Contest
In Brief Scientists trained an AI machine to detect breast cancer in images of lymph nodes. A group of researchers from…

Patients' illnesses could soon be diagnosed by AI, NHS leaders say
Computers could start diagnosing patients' illnesses within the next few years as artificial intelligence increasingly…

Again, many of these tools are currently designed and marketed as assistants to doctors. Mostly because the providers of these products realize that patients aren’t ready to give themselves over completely to machines. But in reality, the practitioner is taking the diagnosis and telling you what it is. I’m certain we have a calming AI voice that can read out the results for you. A further argument companies make regarding these systems currently is that the doctor PLUS the AI is more reliable than either alone. A solution for that of course is two different AI processes, but again, is the patient ready to trust a machine-only process. Lastly, if you don’t believe that these diagnostic procedures will improve, then maybe you have been paying attention to ANY technological advancements.

How else do we interact with doctors. Regular checkups often include blood tests which of course are easily automated, simpler and more thorough.

A New Test Uses a Single Drop of Blood to Screen for 13 Types of Cancer
Cancer is often difficult to treat because it's not detected in time. That there are more than 100 types of cancer…

Physical evaluation — your smartphone and personal health trackers can provide enormous amounts of data about our day-to-day health, sleeping, nutrition and physical activity.


23 and Me and other services allow you to examine your DNA. Combined with the technology of CRISPR and advances in gene therapy, we are already having discussions about treating disease before it manifests.

DNA Genetic Testing & Analysis - 23andMe
23andMe is the first and only genetic service available directly to you that includes reports that meet FDA

Maybe our doctors are just there to provide advice, because of course, they will know 100% of the latest technological advancements, newest drug treatments, how to avoid negative drug interactions, the latest physical therapy techniques, nutritional impacts and treatments and all the relevant info on you from your various specialists — oh wait… yeah that’s a machine, not a human.

It would seem we are left with the doctor-patient relationship. For many doctors, this is a genuine strength and in the future will become a key differentiation for them. But I have also heard of plenty of disappointed patients, who probably can’t wait to trade their doctor in for comprehensive machine interaction. In all of my work on job replacement by automation, I always leave room for the human element. There will be people who choose to acquire services from humans, because they are human (at least as long as we can know the difference). So certain doctors will find work because of “who they are and how they relate to others”, which of course is a great thing. However, most doctors will not survive automation. I personally expect to see a phase out beginning with the generation of our youth today, so roughly 20–30 years.

AI In Medicine: Rise Of The Machines
Could a robot do my job as a radiologist? If you asked me 10 years ago, I would have said, "No way!" But if you ask me…

Lastly, there are cost and convenience factors. Machines work 24/7, doctors do not. Machines are capital investments, doctors have on-going salaries which rise nearly every year. In a world that is reaching crisis levels with health care costs, AI and Automation will continue to be solutions for rising costs and will likely force our acceptance of automated medicine much more quickly than anticipated. The replacement process will not be linear, nor will it happen all at once. Rather, you will see an increased use of technology around you during visits. Certain services and tests will be introduced as fully automated, but with doctors and practitioners nearby to supervise, until enough time goes by without problem that patients are comfortable. But eventually, machines will replace most of the functions of a doctor. If our doctors, the people we trust with our most valuable asset - our lives, can be replaced, then what won’t automation be able to replace.

Tackling Bias in Machine Learning, AI and Humanity


I nearly tweeted about a dozen responses back to Mr. Hamner, repeatedly however, I pulled up short. The nuance in this tweet is an enormous comment on where we are at in our discussion on AI and its interactions with humanity. Let me start with some thoughts and then we can dissect each one

  1. Direct reference to fixing ML bias being easier to fix than bias in humans
  2. Implication that overcoming bias in ML is more valuable than in humans
  3. Implication that some people are far more comfortable with machines than people
  4. A subtle undertone picked up by me, about corporate perspective, should bias be fixed (to be clear, I do not believe, this is not Mr. Hamner’s intent)?

Direct reference to fixing ML bias being easier to fix than bias in humans

I cannot imagine what the evidence for this argument looks like. I recognize that as a CTO, Mr. Hammer’s comfort level with machines is pretty high, but likewise an ethics professor is probably more comfortable working on bias at the human level. So are we talking about skill sets? Or is there a belief that rooting out Machine Learning (ML) bias is genuinely easy. If it is so easy, why isn’t it being done already and comprehensively. I reckon that it is not easy to identify and often hidden.

If it is easy to identify, then we should talk Mr. Hamner, because I would like to benefit from your expertise and partner with you in order to bring those benefits to the rest of the Machine Learning community on behalf of humanity. Especially to those groups who experience bias. It’s a worthy endeavor to be sure and I certainly hope that Mr. Hamner is right. If ML bias is easily identifiable then AI can go a long way to eliminating bias in our evaluation of data/markets and our decision making process. Humanity will have a lot to gain by eliminating bias.

Should you be wrong, and it is difficult to root out bias in our algorithms and in our data sets, then we are at the same place where humanity sits now, with institutionalized bias, but we are about to expand its reach. Not only would these biases be pervasive in our culture, but they would be codified in our artificial intelligence. I do hope that Mr. Hamner and others are well equipped to tackle this problem. ForHumanity stands ready to work with those who feel they have a good handle on this issue and to develop ways to make it a fundamental part of all AI and ML development.

Implication that overcoming bias in ML is more valuable than in humans

This implication made me uncomfortable. Not because I think Mr. Hamner is wrong, but rather I am concerned that he is right. One of the great things about ML and AI is that it often can be broken down into discrete building blocks. Fully observable data, transparent algorithms and dedicated processes may allow us to quantify the source of bias. If and when that is true, we may find it a fairly straightforward process to identify and readjust bias in our ML processes. However, today, we know that many deep learning processes are quite opaque to their designers. These technique have become so “deep” that their designers frequently are unsure why/how they work. This fact, for me, is worrisome, especially when considering bias. In these types of processes, if bias is introduced it may prove exceedingly difficult to remove. So, given the complexity of some of the ML going on today, we can be certain that perfect compliance is literally impossible. I remain optimistic, with Mr. Hamner, that in some ML we can identify and remove bias. Where we can, we should and it should be done post haste.

So then the question is, is it easier than overcoming bias in humans. Humans often obfuscate. Their data sets are not transparent, their algorithms completely opaque and their processes far from dedicated. But instead, humans have a will. They may even have a desire to change and seek out the elimination of their bias, especially when confronted with them. This is a societal decision, do we work with each other to face our bias, and then work to change them. This can only happen when we wake up and realize that all of humanity has EQUAL value. Minorities and Majorities, Each race, Each gender, Each sexual orientation, Each Faith or non-Faith, Each Political Party, Each Age and the list can go on and on. But we do not believe this today. Take our political discourse currently, each side thinks the other is either lunatics or ignorant. The answer is that neither is right.

The more value each member of our society places in each other member, the easier it is to eliminate bias. In fact, you would have changed the will of the people. Instead of hiding behind their bias, or worse yet, not even recognizing it, people will actively improve. Seeking out ways to eliminate their bias and increase the value that they can receive through equality. All very dreamy, I know, but it is a good dream and should be a goal.

This is all quite a long answer to the question of is ML bias easier to root out than human bias. But the answer is unsurprisingly, it depends. For certain situations and people, when confronted well by their peers and approached from an aspect of healing versus judgement, then I believe humans are easier to heal from bias, than any machine. Faced with the most difficult curmudgeon, who simply will not realize that all people have value, then the ML bias removal will be significantly easier and Mr. Hamner will be correct.

Implication that some people are far more comfortable with machines than people

This undertone to Mr. Hamner’s tweet makes me sad. Number one, I know this is a very accurate implication and two, I think it is increasing. If people are increasingly more comfortable with their machines, I believe they will actually be damaging their humanity, especially when that machine becomes the center of their focus. Even if our machines and our technology make our lives easier, do they make them better? From a microeconomic level, the answer is almost always “yes”, they do make them better. Otherwise, how else did that technology come into being? If you look at a cybernetically linked prosthetic that returns the ability of a person to have a hand and use it with their mind, with the same dexterity and functionality as before they lost their limb, there is beauty in that. A deep beauty that stirs the soul and endears the development of technology to the masses.

But from another more macro-economic perspective, our technology may have consequences we don’t realize. More importantly, I am certain that people, broadly speaking do not realize that much of our lives today are based on a MASSIVE assumption. An assumption that society will continue in its present form. Take GPS… a marvelous convenience to be sure. All maps at the ready, voice activated directions to allow you to keep your eyes on the road and hands on the wheel. Understandably, everyone uses it. But do people even realize anymore that knowing where you are, how to get from here to there and maybe most importantly, being able to read a map were once life and death skills. Failure to have those skills, meant certain death for some. It is easy to assume that our systems, our technology and our society will continue on in one direction never having a hiccup, a breakdown or worse yet a reversal. There are certainly scenarios I can imagine where many of the primitive skills, which were once common place to all people/society, may become required again. Putting all of your faith in technology might be easy and commonplace, but it doesn’t guarantee that it will always be there for you.

A society that eschews its human relationships and breaks down its sense of community is a fragile one indeed. Our technology is creating an illusion of self-sufficiency that is wrong. Each of us is completely dependent on a myriad of links in the chain that allows our existence to thrive. But like a chain link, it could be rendered useless, if even a single link were to break. And when your chain link breaks, who will be there to help? Not your technology. Will it be your community? Will it be your friends and peers? Will it be your neighbors?

I won’t dwell on the value of human relationships, as other have spent great time and effort documenting this, including a recent article by Brad Stulberg in NY Magazine. I recommend you give it a read.

I simply suggest that cultivating a robust community of human relationships takes considerable effort and it is an investment that will pay dividends in your-well being. Furthermore, it is likely to create a robust cushion for you if we do see disruption in society in its current form.

A subtle undertone, from a corporate perspective, should bias be fixed?

To be clear and fair to Mr. Hamner, I do not believe he was commenting on this idea. But as I began to consider ML bias, I realized that I doubt it is always in a corporate entity’s best interest to remedy bias in their AI. Now, before the pitchforks come out, let me be clear from ForHumanity’s perspective, YES, all bias should be removed. However, corporations may not be fully aligned with the best interest of society on this one. Let me explain.

If bias is removed from a company’s algorithms, the resulting decisions may not provide a product or solution that your customers actually want. Ostensibly, the data that was used in a company’s algos was identified as the right set to solve a problem for your customers. If that data set is altered to remove bias, the result might not be palatable to the customer, especially if they hold that bias. If their bias prevents them from employing the solution or purchasing the product, then the removal of the bias has hurt business. So while it is in society’s best interest to remove bias and to value all members equally, that is not how corporations act. Corporations, at least in the United States, have a responsibility to shareholders, not society. There are many examples in history, where companies have put their bottom-line ahead of the best interest of their community. We’d be foolish to think that will magically change now. Society and Corporations may be misaligned on the value to eliminating bias. So we certainly cannot rely on companies alone, to lead the way on the removal of bias from their AIs. We will have to make them do it.

Bias is wrong. In all its forms, in all its manifestations. Wherever it is found, it should be rooted out and changed. But this is society’s challenge. This is ForHumanity’s challenge. And it applies to our technology as well as it applies to all people. I want to thank Mr. Hamner for an extremely thought provoking tweet, whether he meant it as such or not. I hope that my thoughts are useful to all and that where appropriate, you will join with me to combat bias and to tackle the changes that AI & Automation pose for our humanity.

Emotional Intelligence Mirage? Jobs and our Humanity

Everywhere you look today, there are more articles about machines taking job and I am sure it is quite frightening. For your children it means a substantially different job market for certain, but also, the advance of technology likely means a vastly different society too. So in the context of educating our children, we are seeing many articles about “Emotional Intelligence”. Researchers are trying to figure out the skills and traits that will separate us from machines. They believe the key job skills in the future will be linked to emotion. Considering the skills that we ought to teach is a worthy endeavor as people will need guidance on how to best prepare their children for this future. However, I have my doubts about the inability of machines to replicate or approximate emotion. I think in the long run, in a time frame consistent with your children being in the work force, machines will achieve the following:

Emotional Intelligence machines achievements

  1. Approximate love
  2. Demonstrate tenderness
  3. React with empathy and compassion
  4. Operate as caretakers
  5. Be loved by some humans

I think machines will continue to struggle with these emotions or human traits below:

Emotional Intelligence machines shortcomings

  1. Faith
  2. Hope
  3. Dreams
  4. Sympathy
  5. Peace
  6. Joy
  7. Contentment

So what that means for your children and their education is very tricky. Unfortunately I do not have a lot of solutions, but I believe I am getting there through a process of elimination. For example, many of these articles talk about social work and care giving as jobs for the future. I reckon it is not that simple. Let’s try to break this down further.

A nurse in the long term care facility has a whole series of tasks.

— excerpt from

These types of nurses primarily focus on medical care for their patients. They may be responsible for monitoring and recording vital signs on a regular basis as well as administering medications. Long-term nurses will also perform other therapeutic and treatment procedures, such as massages and range of motion exercises.

Besides administering medical care, long-term care nurses may also be required to attend to some of the daily needs of their patients. This often involves assisting patients with tasks such as eating, bathing, using the toilet, and dressing.

In addition, long-term care nurses are frequently sources of support, guidance, and comfort for patients and their loved ones. They may offer advice on how to deal with a disability or simply provide a shoulder to lean on during particularly difficult times.

Let’s go in order. (task/current human or machine)

  1. Monitoring and recording — Machines exist today
  2. Administering medications — Machines exist today
  3. Massage — Machines exist today
  4. Range of Motion exercises — Machines exist today
  5. Assisted Eating, bathing, using the toilet and dressing — human
  6. sources of support, guidance and comfort for patients and loved ones — human
  7. Offering advice of deal with disabilities — human
  8. shoulder to cry on during difficult time — human

My problem is that I see scientists and researchers already developing technology for each of those items listed. For example, Soul Machines, a group out of New Zealand creates automated companions for people with disabilities. Designed to assist with #5, #6, #7, #8 as one example.

Kiwi startup Soul Machines reveals latest artificial intelligence creation, Rachel
Rachel can see, hear and respond to you - but she's a

People will be skeptical about a machine’s ability to interact emotionally with people, I understand that. In fact some people will ALWAYS know they are dealing with a machine. They will have a “sense” about it even when machines replicate humans in touch, sight, sound and smell. Some people will ALWAYS prefer humans. That’s a good thing. But not everyone will prefer a human and this fact is already being proven out. Some patients will want their companion 24/7 which is impossible for a human. Others will prefer the dedicated 1-on-1 service offered less expensively by a machine. They will like that their machine has 100% of the most current “advice” to offer about their disability, which, of course, is impossible for human to have. Let’s review those “human” traits from again. This time I will tell you how a machine can do it better (from a certain point of view)

  1. Assisted Eating, bathing, using the toilet and dressing — By being available 24/7, by having human like dexterity and touch (which some machines already have). The machine will be stronger and the patient can rely upon that. Also, the machine is anonymous, so bathing might actually be preferred over a human
  2. sources of support, guidance and comfort for patients and loved ones — let’s talk about what makes up support, guidance and comfort. These are difficult to quantify feelings, but somethings that are done to elicit those feelings are quantifiable. Knowing the right thing to say. Just being there. Past Experience. Information about the situation from others. New developments. A hug. A gentle pat on the back. A kind word. You might not believe it and you may never accept it, but those are all things that a machine will be able to do in the next generation.
  3. Offering advice to deal with disabilities — This is experience and knowledge based, both traits that machines will quickly aspire to, catch up and surpass
  4. shoulder to cry on during difficult time —Not to make light, but machines can have a shoulder. The real issue is will we want to cry on it. Some will and some will not. Depends upon how life like the machine is, how comfortable the crier is with the machine, the shared experience of machine and man. It’s pretty rare that we cry on a stranger’s shoulder, so clearly the relationship is the key in this example.

One point of this exercise is to highlight that many of these “emotional” intelligence pieces to jobs are about two entities not one alone. So if a machine can build experience, reliability, consistency, knowledge and rapport with the human, then these once “human” skills can be transferred to machines. I know not all will accept this. Those who place a high value on pure “humanity” will provide some work for humans through their preferences. Those roles will exist, there will simply be less of them. When we reach that point, I will have a new question for you, will you always know that an entity is human? It is likely that there will come a time when you will NOT know. Then we have to question what it means to be human.

This line of reasoning may feel gloomy and it is meant to be. But not because I am down on humanity or the value of emotional intelligence, but rather because I want to make sure that there are no heads buried in the sand. “My job is safe, because I deal with people.” Much of the things that constitute work are tasks. Machines specialize in tasks.

This is a wake up call for people to evaluate the things that make us truly human. I’m talking about the things that when humans do them, it’s obviously special, like self-sacrifice. Think about this example. If a machine is programmed to protect you when you are in danger and it executes its job, that is expected. You’ll be thankful, but you are as likely to pat yourself on the back for a good investment.

Now imagine that same protection came from a human. It is unexpected, It is beautiful even. Not a single thought about investment money, just sheer gratitude. The machine, at least currently, gets no joy out of providing its service. But the one who sacrificed, receives joy and praise publicly. But inside,where it matters, there is deep soulful satisfaction of knowing that your life had a purpose even for those few minutes. If you’ve experienced it, you know what I am talking about. If you haven’t, try it. You will repeat it I promise.

So that is the emotional intelligence that is NOT a mirage. When humans live, for others, rather than for themselves, our humanity will thrive. There is so much good needed in the world and it takes a high emotional intelligence to deliver it. Instead, we live in a world that celebrates “self”. These are my rights, this is what I believe, here is what I have to say, look at my pretty pictures. Tech-enabled self-absorption. And why not? We believe we are 100% self-sufficient. What can’t we accomplish on our own, armed with the internet, machines that we can teach to think on our behalf and our smartphones. The real mirage is that self-sufficiency, we are so specialized in our lives, that if the highly-interconnected structure that is society today breaks down even a little, many people will be in for a rude awakening.

Maximizing your human life includes: love, sharing, self-sacrificing, comforting a loved one and sheer human-connectedness. The more of those traits you can bring to bear on your life and the lives of your children, the better off they will be in the coming AI & Automation dominated world.

13 Things That UBI Can't Replace - A Reflection on Universal Basic Income

This is not a knock on Universal Basic Income (UBI). Instead, this post is intended to be supportive of UBI, at least in terms of making sure that we are creating a proper replacement for work. Or at the very least recognizing what UBI can provide and where its short comings may lie so that we can develop other, supplemental solutions. The interest in UBI lies in the belief held by a growing number of people that the advancement of AI and Automation will significantly impact the number of full-time jobs available to people. If 40–80% of all jobs disappear over the next 20–50 years, it follows that there must be a replacement for income for people to survive on and potentially even thrive on.

Recently, Finland has been conducting a two -year experiment with UBI. As part of the ongoing research, a recent news article in the published by Chris Weller in the World Economic Forum

quotes on participant, “ There was this one woman who said: ‘I was afraid every time the phone would ring, that unemployment services are calling to offer me a job,’” Turunen recalled of a woman who needed to care for her parents, and so couldn’t work.

Look, if we remove someone’s greatest fear, the feedback will ALWAYS be positive, I promise and my fingers aren’t crossed behind my back. UBI is easy to get positive reviews for. Here’s a random quote, made up by me to highlight the point, “Wait, you’re giving me a bunch of money for free? no responsibility? no commitment? no waiting in line and filling out paperwork? Yeah, that sounds AWESOME!” said anyone receiving a UBI payment. So it is important to look a lot deeper.

We need to realize that money and a job do not have a small and simple impact on our lives. Instead, they contribute many, many different things to our sense of self and well-being. And those contributions are weighted differently for each person.

Let’s try a few feelings that work gives us:

  1. a sense of purpose
  2. a place for social interaction
  3. a sense of accomplishment (which is different from purpose)
  4. a sense of providing/participating in survival
  5. a place to learn
  6. a place to be away from our families/people we co-habitat with
  7. an ability for upward mobility
  8. our self esteem
  9. a place for positive reinforcement
  10. the resources that allow us to entertain ourselves
  11. security
  12. intellectual challenges
  13. a positive use of time

That’s a lot of things that work may provide you and those things are often pretty important. Ask anyone who has been unemployed for an extended period of time. The feelings of “being lost”, “feeling useless”, “no reason to wake up in the morning”. These are legitimate feelings that weigh negatively on a person. Moreover, we have seen the devastation of a negative feedback loop on a society when unemployment is high. We have all seen the example of the Midwest ghost town when the local plant closed, or the rioting in Greece when unemployment threatened 40%. A substantial loss of jobs creates a terrible strain on society at-large.

UBI doesn’t solve ANY of these 13 problems. It provides money. Money becomes food and clothing and shelter. If there is a little left over it might provide for some small entertainment value. But the amount of money will NOT overcome the emotional losses of work. So advocates for UBI should quickly realize that UBI is NOT a panacea. It maybe a part of a solution but it is not THE solution. I am not discounting the value of a social safety net. the money I just references starts with food, clothing and shelter. So that’s a good start. If we didn’t achieve that goal and the unemployment level was too high we would have violent physical clashes in the street as people’s survival instinct kicked in. But that’s where UBI stops, it eliminates the need to survive. But let’s not forget that, most people are doing FAR more than surviving. But if our society suffers substantial job losses, those positive feelings we have as a thriving economy will vanish.

Over the coming months, I hope to develop some additional ideas and thought on what a UBI world might also need to overcome these 13 positive feelings missing in a world without work. Feedback and suggestions are always encouraged and welcome.

Also, by no means is this list exhaustive, I welcome further input on the feelings we earn from our paid labor. The more comprehensive that list is, the better equipped we will be to meet the needs of the people.

Should the significant amount of technological unemployment occur, consistent with the predictions of an increasing large number of analytics, it will take our collective actions to find suitable replacements for a world without work.

Universal Basic Income (UBI) - A Working Road Map

As I recently discussed, there are a number of challenges to making Universal Basic Income (UBI) a real solution. However, since I remain convinced that Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Automation will take as few as 40% and as many as 80% of the jobs over the next 25 to 50 years. If you accept either of my minimum or maximum premise, we do need to figure out something. So I will try to craft some basic points that could be applied to UBI in order to make it viable, affordable and acceptable to both Democrats and Republicans alike. Make no mistake that this is a political discussion. Whatever we can craft must be presentable to either Washington or the American people. I know that sounds impossible and close to impossible, but I have hope.

So let’s try this with a bullet point approach:

  1. Washington is broken — so let’s redo it. Two centuries ago, being a Congressman was a service. It was not a job. When it is a job, you do what it takes to maintain your job, not necessarily what is right. People have talked about term limits and there are good arguments on both sides of that discussion. So let’s take BOTH sides. Make the Senate unlimited. They can be the institutional memory of Congress and if their state wants to keep the same guy there for 30 years, let them. On the other hand, let’s limit our House of representatives. And #3 will explain how and why. One other thing, don’t discount the MASSIVE amount of professional bureaucrats in Washington and their influence on policy. They have as much to do with gridlock and the failure of Washington to be effective as do our elected officials, they need turnover as well. Government is a service job NOT a destination job.
  2. It’s not just Washington, state and local governments are broken as well. So we should limit those too…
  3. By creating a national system of service. All Americans, starting no later than 25 MUST contribute 5 years to government service. Government service can be many things. It can be military service, it can be Washington bureaucracy, you could run for local, state or national office. A person can work in their town government or even the Highway department. Pre-med students can go to work at NIH or other government oriented operations. Specialized students can target specialized government positions almost like an apprenticeship. There would be a series of “government” jobs that would be made available to eligible Americans and those who qualify, starting as young as 18 and no later than 25, will be required to serve for 5 years in some approved capacity. This will massively reduce the cost of government at all levels. Current number of government jobs is approximately 22 mil. Current number of Americans between the age of 25 and 30 is less than 19 million. So based on simply numbers, this can work.
  4. Reducing the cost of government helps us to pay for Universal Basic Income. In exchange for this 5 years of service, every American would receive a Universal Basic Income (UBI) for life. This payment, in exchange for service should be easier to swallow for the faction of political thought always opposed to welfare systems. They might argue that it is too much, but we can address that elsewhere.
  5. Social Security goes away. In exchange for a minimum basic income for life. You lose your SS payment. You don’t need it, you are already receiving it. Yes it’s the third rail, yes I just said out loud get rid of Social Security, seriously deal with it. It was a flawed system from the outset and you are still getting your money, AARP and all other biased lobbyists on this issue. Lobbies like that, ironically, take stands on issues because it keeps them in their jobs, even if it is bad policy (another example of some of the problems in government)
  6. Massive reduction in government employment costs. Everyone in government would now receive ONLY their UBI payment. That is a drastic decrease in cost. We can make exceptions for the offices that are held beyond the intended Service years, like the Senate. But I do think that treating all government held positions as a service and a sacrifice for country, rather than a destination job where people are fat and happy will better keep people focused on the “good of the people”. Does this make people susceptible to graft, Yes. Graft should be addressed with anti-corruption laws. However you have the advantage that most people now working in this version of government should all be only on UBI, so that competition is reduced and graft should be easily apparent.
  7. So with all of these cost reductions, we can go a long way to affording the UBI, but it won’t be enough. The wealthiest companies and individuals will have to pay higher taxes. Income inequality is already at all time highs and the top 100 wealthiest have as much wealth as half of the world’s population combined. It isn’t sustainable. I don’t want to take every dollar from the wealthy and the entrepreneurial. Creativity, new business creation and innovation are hard things to do, they require incentives and motivations. Risks are taken and risks need to be rewarded. It’s the difference between the UBI and the wealthiest that needs to be balanced and controlled. If everyone is on a UBI and the wealthiest are living in slightly bigger homes and taking an extra vacation or two to the nicest resorts, that feels okay. When they have their own space shuttles, have homes all over the world and are using their wealth just to make MORE wealth for themselves, then we begin to have problems.
  8. We need to address the notion of capital. There is a belief that capital creates new businesses and new wealth and without the free flow of capital (because of massive taxation), then stagnation will occur. I agree with that premise. Let me also add that I don’t think government is very good at anything that it does. Government ought to be a last resort solution for when capital markets fail to achieve our goals as a society. I don’t want wealth to go to the government for THEM to decide where to allocate capital. So I propose a dynamic taxation system that recognizes the two competing principles. Wealth should remain with individuals and corporations until it is REQUIRED by government to meet its immediate and duly legislated functions. This starts at the level of job replacement by corporations (But I will cover this is a separate blog post focused on how individual companies deal with job replacement by machines).

So I think I’m going to stop here. Obviously this is a massive issue. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I do know that to even have this considered, we have to find a way to deal with the idea of “free money for nothing”. I think the idea that we are getting significant public service in return for this lifetime payment goes a few steps towards assuaging the fears of free money. I personally have competing agenda to try to balance in my own mind. I want to support and lift up the impoverished and the at-risk people in our society. However, I also want to minimize the amount of capital that the government controls. I believe that free market risk/reward systems motivate people correctly and those people should be responsible for capital. And then finally, I also believe that wealth can and ought to be capped or near capped IF and only IF it is required to meet the obligations of the government on UBI. More to follow on this. I welcome all feedback.

Challenges to Overcome for Universal Basic Income (UBI)

Look it’s a hot topic out of Silicon Valley and it is an easy off-the-shelf solution to a likely problem of significant technologically based unemployment. So everyone is trotting it out there as the ONLY solution. From my perspective, I don’t mind the solution (even though it has insurmountable flaws as a stand alone policy), but I think for the health of the discussion it is important to look at some impediments and shortcomings of UBI as well. So that’s what this blog piece will do.

Universal Basic Income is the idea that government will provide everyone(Universal) with enough money (Income) to afford the basic necessities of life primarily food, clothing and shelter, at a basic (BASIC) level so that all people may receive that funding.

#1 UBI is in conflict with basic human traits. I have genuine concern that the proponents of UBI simply fail to understand people. Many people like to work, like to achieve, like to outperform their peers, like to gather wealth, like to changes their social status, like expensive things, like to travel to exotic places. All of those things are diametrically opposed to UBI. Critics of UBI will argue that it will create a culture of malaise, intellectual stagnation, happiness in the status quo. These critiques while not perfect are probably accurate. UBI will drag down the middling portion of the population that might have been energized and incentivized to excel, but became comfortable and complacent in their UBI provided existence. The “American Dream” is the belief that America creates an opportunity to WORK to change one’s economic circumstances. UBI flies in the face of that.

#2 UBI implementation. Living in New York City and rural Kansas are not the same thing, just trust me on that. So how is UBI calculated and provided? Does someone receiving UBI in New York receive more than the person in Kansas? Their food, clothing and shelter will all cost a ton more… If they do, how is that fair or justified? IF we set the level to NY, the Kansas UBI recipient will be rich, plain and simple. IF we use the Kansas baseline, the the New York City recipient will be destitute, homeless, clothes-less and hungry.

#3 UBI — where does this magic money come from? GDP per capita in the US is about $53k per year. In Russia about $14k per year and in China about $7k per year. So that’s challenge one, we have massive global disparity. But also, that number is dramatically misleading. We have certain services that do NOT generate an income that must be maintained before the people can be paid. Debt owed per capita takes that income to zero. IF we don’t pay off the debt, then we must pay interest. Military, government functions. The result is substantially less than $53k per year. However, the US is a wealth country and could probably afford some sort of floor type payment for its citizens. Most of the rest of the world isn’t even close to being able to implement this idea. And this point can be made without even considering what a US based UBI payment ought to be…

#4 Marx tried this concept and it failed MISERABLY, we called it Communism back in the day. Yeah, I’m over simplifying, and that stuff we saw (In Russia and China) wasn’t true Marxism. I also know that UBI isn’t quite the same thing. But UBI supporters would be foolish to ignore this challenge to their case, because people will absolutely associate the two.

#5 Demographics, with declining birthrates in much of the West and an ever-ageing population, the support for a UBI from working class BETTER be augmented by machines, because fewer and fewer workers will be contributing to funding for UBI.

#6 Politics. A proper UBI replaces Social Security, Good luck with THAT discussion. We cannot afford SS and UBI… that’s obvious. And what politician do you know that is willing to make a change to social security.

#7 Cultural — Many in the US don’t like the idea of a free lunch. You would probably have to combine it with some form of government and public service responsibility to even begin to get broad consensus. Or wait for the mass unemployment and subsequent revenue shortfall from income tax revenue before you’d reach any consensus. I think that many proponents of UBI fail to realize that there are some innate characteristics in humanity. Competition, peer comparison, work to define self-worth are a few of those basic human traits that are neglected and in fact set aside in order to implement UBI. I believe this is major hindrance to a straight up UBI. Tie it so a “responsibility of some kind, like 2–4 years of military or social service” and you can justify a pension-like payment over the lifespan of an individual.

#8 Getting things done — this is probably the biggest hurdle to UBI. Nothing much gets done these days unless there is a crisis associated with it. So currently, AI related unemployment remains low. Until it hits the Tsunami threshold, it is unlikely that we achieve the national consensus required to consider it.

In Conclusion, I’m opposed to UBI as blanket payment for no work to people because technological unemployment. I am also opposed to UBI because people want to be Marxist instead of Capitalist. Marxism and Capitalism are belief systems based on the polar opposite views of humanity. Neither is right, both have flaws. UBI TIED to significant social service starting no later than age 25 and lasting for 5 years is a step in the right direction. It replaces much of the paid bureaucracy in government (source of funds for UBI), it provides a stepping stone from education to work for young adults. It justifies a lifelong pension for all citizens. Most importantly, it ties balances between a simple payment to people for existing and the “profit is all that matters” view of wealth creation and distribution.