February 10, 2016, 01:00 pm
Surviving the robot revolution
By Bryan Dean Wright
There is an economic tsunami heading your way. It’s called the Fourth Industrial Revolution. When I worked at the CIA, it was the topic among the smart spies. We all recognized that, within our lifetime, many people around the globe will be out of a job, too old to re-train, or struggling in a “shared economy.”
Here’s how it’s going to happen: In the next 10-30 years, artificial intelligence (AI) is going to think like you, be smarter than you, and operate faster than you.
But what’s a brain without a body? Enter robotics. For the first time in history, machines will have access to an AI brain superior to that of mankind. Worse yet, these Metal Men will have one final advantage: they’re cheaper.
Simply put, you are expensive to employ. You require minimum wages and benefits, like paid sick leave, health insurance and vacation. You also require sleep. But to companies and their bottom line, all of these things are a burden to profit and efficiency. Enter robotics with AI. Metal Men don’t need vacations or naps, and they don’t form unions.
Congratulations, humanity. You’re fired!
So what is your value in this new world if not labor? What would you say you do here?
Thankfully, you have one very important thing left: personal data. And in this new Era of Metal Men, it might just be your financial lifeline.
Every day you create data. Send an email via Google or Facebook? Their computers mine that text, analyze the information, and sell (and sell and sell) it to other companies for advertisements. These companies mine you. The result? You get a “free” email address and ads. Google and Facebook collect billions, of data points and dollars.
Up until now, none of us have really cared about this lopsided arrangement. We get our “free” email, abandon hope of privacy, and focus on more important things like taking selfies with our latest iPhone. Sure, some of us sense that something isn’t right. But we mostly shrug, taking a hit off of whatever digital opiate falls into our plus sized laps. Virtual or augmented reality? Yes please!
But a funny thing is happening to your world as you get virtually high: the Era of Metal Men is taking off. Whole industries are going to be replaced, with lost jobs far outpacing new ones. When you or your children sober up, you’re going to scramble to get re-trained for something, anything, to make money. But the outlook is bleak: can you take on (more) student debt for a new skill, and are young enough to climb back up the professional ladder? And by the way, what new skill are you going learn? Robot mechanics? Lovely. How long do you think it’ll be before the Metal Men gobble up that industry, you expensive, less efficient, and increasingly unnecessary piece of labor?
The bottom line is you need a totally different way to make money in this totally different Fourth Industrial Revolution. And I’m not talking about disposable income. I mean money to eat. To exist.
So how can you make money in this new era? Royalties. Specifically, money paid from Big Data companies like Facebook who mine and sell your personal data. And we have an example of how it could work in our own back yard – the Alaskan way.
If you live in The Last Frontier, you know about mining royalties. Full-time residents get an annual check from the state’s Alaska Permanent Fund – a program started in 1976 and launched by Republican Gov. Jay Hammond. The Fund ensures that Alaskans have guaranteed income each and every year. Its source? Basically, mining royalties paid by companies when they extract natural resources from Alaskan soil. In other words, oil companies take from the land, oil companies pay the public in return. We’re talking about good ol’ fashioned capitalism, fair and balanced.
I’m proposing that the federal government levy a royalty on data mining, just like Republican Gov. Hammond did on Alaskan oil production. The “Data Permanent Fund” would work in a similar way: each year, all full-time U.S. citizens earning less than $250,000 would get a tax-free check. How to calculate the check’s amount should be subject of rigorous debate. For instance, it could be based on a percentage of the amount charged by Google (or Facebook, or Apple) to advertisers when they sell your data. But the bottom line is still the same: You get paid when you get mined.
The upshot: You are your data. And you should get paid a royalty when you’re mined. Share this article and tweet about it #RoyalPay. Let’s get our politicians on board. We have to get this done, and fast. The Metal Men are coming…
Wright is a former CIA officer.