What do progressive and revolutionary minds debating the place of the Republic of tomorrow have in common, and the apostles of singularity, zealous promoters of the replacement of men by robots? Both defend the same project: the implementation of a universal basic income, a remuneration where the counterpart work would have disappeared. A revolution activated by two diametrically opposed poles, a strange first.
Ahe Universal Basic Income (UBI) is an theme that is increasingly being struggled with in many countries around the world. This ancient idea, dating back to Thomas More in 1516, has long smelled the scent of utopia and revolutionary dreams. Closer to home, it is the Nobel prize-winning economist Milton Friedman who is riding on this battle horse, according to him the only cure for the poverty he predicted would increase from the early 1970s. Let us provide everyone with a decent income so that no one dies of hunger. A generous idea that would have remained on the shelves of good intentions if other economists such as the 2013 Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman, but also thinkers, philosophers and a few politicians had not taken up this banner.
The Universal Basic Income has become the symptomatic theme of the changing times in which we are living. Some countries have tried to implement it with varying degrees of success, but it is to Switzerland that attention is turning. On 5 June this year, the Swiss confederation will vote on what could be the revolution of the 21st century. A new era in which income would be decoupled from work, in which everyone would have the right to a minimum of happiness, in which poverty and misery would no longer be anything more than yellowed images of history.
Admittedly, faced with this type of humanist idea, financiers of all stripes get out their calculating machines and do their accounts. Can it be financed? Other sorrowful voices, marked by centuries of injunctions " you'll earn your living by the sweat of your brow "...the spectre of the welfare society and the spectre of the idle masses is stirred up. How to keep them occupied? There is no lack of questions on this subject that cross the traditional political parties and opinions. Everyone has their own ritornello, from left to right, from ecologists to liberals, for fear of missing out on history or, more prosaically, on the election.
Yet there is a movement of incoercible force that could shake things up and precipitate the establishment of a universal income, with much greater effectiveness than the most powerful citizen or political organizations are capable of.
This movement is the one that is transforming the world before our eyes, in proportions never seen before. The automation of society, the emergence of robots everywhere, the daily progress of technosciences to simplify our lives or make them longer, this movement that is shaking up all our habits is gradually changing human activity. We relate in these columns how China is launching a massive robotization plan for its industry to replace 100 million workers by robots.
This initiative is spectacular, but there are others, on a smaller scale or more discreet, which go in the same direction: the replacement of man by machines. You only have to go to a supermarket to see this already. A study of Oxford University estimates that about 47% of jobs are likely to be lost over the next 20 years. The World Economic Forum has made this topic a major theme this year.
As remark Johann Roduit, Managing Director of the Centre for Medical Humanities at the University of Zurich, thehe Internet of Things, uberization, Big Data, 3D printers, drones and autonomous cars, robots of all kinds, small, large, domestic, industrial, are invading us like the waves of an enormous tide. « It is increasingly difficult to imagine what kind of work will not be radically transformed and what profession will not become obsolete. "he says. Not only workers are targeted, white collar workers as well, but also lawyers, doctors, educators... the movement is on the move.
The promoters of these "innovations" are people who are extraordinarily convinced of what they are doing. There is something messianic about their mission, and in that sense it is inescapable. Yet they perceive the major risk, because there is one, and it is big enough to shatter their momentum. By developing their technologies, by improving the intelligence of the machines, by getting closer each day to the point of singularity, they know that they will come up against a risk: that of the human being. And uncontrolled risk is never good for business.
That is why we see today the gurus of transhumanism, the popes of the California universities of the singularity, the most advanced technologists, turning into ardent defenders and promoters of a basic income for all those humans whom their technologies have put to one side. By freeing themselves from this concern, by paying those whom they have replaced with machines, they buy themselves an invaluable peace.
They also see new opportunities for value creation. The idea of establishing a guaranteed income, far from the moral or social motivations we hear on this side of the Atlantic, would serve to foster the sustainable establishment of a new capitalism: cognitive capitalism. By granting a basic income, on the one hand we allow the circulation of ideas in the economic circuits to be accelerated, and on the other hand we value everything that is not currently considered work but which nevertheless brings value. In other words, the digital laborThis means monetizing the involvement of citizen-users in shaping the value of a service or product.
History always reserves for us situations that the most cynical minds would never have dared to imagine. Isn't this convergence of the most unbridled capitalism with the most revolutionary movements of the moment a fantastic thumb of history in the making?