Elon Musk is without a doubt one of the most popular visionaries of our era. Companies that he has founded are undisputed leaders in their respective fields. Musk is widely known as the founder of Tesla Motors (NASDAQ.TSLA) which has revolutionized the way that electric cars are made. Also, he is the founder of SpaceX which is drastically changing how the world views space flight.
So when Musk talks about how an automated workforce can affect the world, it can be expected that a lot of people will take notice.
Speaking in a CNBC interview on Friday, Musk said “There’s a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income, or something like that, due to automation”. This is in line with the developments in Tesla Motors which includes a heavy focus in self-driving cars as well as the shifting of car manufacturing techniques to involve less human work and more robots and other forms of automation. Last July, at Tesla’s Gigafactory grand opening, the Tesla founder described the facility as part of his strong desire to build ‘the machine that builds the machine”, and his goal of “revitalizing manufacturing”.
While the notion of automation taking over the role of humans in various aspects of society is the stuff of science fiction and movies (think Skynet from the Terminator movie series and the humanoid machines from iRobot), the fact is that there is indeed a current global shift towards the use of robots and other forms of automated manufacturing methods in place of a human workforce. This is backed by statements from agencies like the U.S. Census Bureau saying that robots may actually take the place of 5 million workers in a wide range of industries come the year 2020.
This shift towards more automation and less manpower is very much understandable from a purely business standpoint. As development for such systems become easier and more affordable, more and more companies can integrate robotics and similar technology into their manufacturing facilities. These machines are far more accurate, more resilient and more reliable compared to a human workforce. Also, these automated systems need only maintenance work and electricity instead of ever increasing salaries, bonuses and other benefits; a staple responsibility that companies have for their employees.
As a solution to this potential job crisis in the near future, Musk, along with US President Barack Obama and other influential names and executives from top level companies such as Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) and Y Combinator, suggest, if not plan to employ what is called the Universal Basic Income. This concept, which has been gaining more and more support in recent years, involves citizens receiving a regular stipend from the government for example, in lieu of salary.
Musk further adds that shifting to a predominantly automation-centric world can have benefits to society, saying “People have time to do other things, more complex things, more interesting things. [And they would have] more leisure time.”
Whatever the future may hold, the fact that high profile CEOs like Musk are bringing such issues to the spotlight is a good thing. This gives hope that today’s society can find the best solutions for economic and social stability when automation and technology as a whole play even bigger roles in human life.