Guests have their faces scanned at the World Artificial Intelligence Conference in Shanghai in August, 2019.Hector Retamal | AFP | Getty Images
By Catherine Clifford
Artificial intelligence will create so much wealth that every adult in the United States could be paid $13,500 per year from its windfall as soon as 10 years from now.
So says Sam Altman, co-founder and president of San Francisco-headquartered, artificial intelligence-focused nonprofit OpenAI.
“My work at OpenAI reminds me every day about the magnitude of the socioeconomic change that is coming sooner than most people believe,” Altman, who posted Tuesday. “Software that can think and learn will do more and more of the work that people now do.”
Altman calls it an “AI revolution,” and compares it in magnitude to the agricultural, industrial and computational technological revolutions. “The technological progress we make in the next 100 years will be far larger than all we’ve made since we first controlled fire and invented the wheel,” he wrote.
The government needs to respond accordingly. “If public policy doesn’t adapt accordingly, most people will end up worse off than they are today,” Altman said.
However, if the government collects and redistributes the wealth that AI will generate, AI’s exponential productivity gains could “make the society of the future much less divisive and enable everyone to participate in its gains,” Altman says.
AI will enable computer programs to “read legal documents” and “give medical advice” in the next five years; in the next 10 computers will “do assembly-line work” and “maybe even become companions,” Altman wrote. “And in the decades after that, [AI] will do almost everything, including making new scientific discoveries that will expand our concept of ‘everything.'”
As the pace of development accelerates, AI “will create phenomenal wealth” but at the same time the price of labor “will fall towards zero,” Altman said.
“It sounds utopian, but it’s something technology can deliver (and in some cases already has). Imagine a world where, for decades, everything – housing, education, food, clothing, etc.– became half as expensive every two years.”
In this future, where wealth will come from companies and land, governments should tax capital, not labor, and those taxes should be distributed to citizens, Altman said.
In his post, Altman proposed an American Equity Fund that taxes sufficiently large companies 2.5% of their market value in the form of company shares, and 2.5% of the value of all land in the form of dollars. Private companies with annual revenue of $1 billion or more would also be taxed and pay in cash, Altman said.
All citizens over 18 would receive payment in both dollars and company shares. People could do as they see fit with that money, Altman said.
By giving every citizen ownership in the country, society would improve for everyone. “Everyone who owns a share in Amazon wants the share price to rise. As people’s individual assets rise in tandem with the country’s, they have a literal stake in seeing their country do well,” Altman said.
With this system in mind, in 10 years, the 250 million adults living in America would get $13,500 per year, Altman said. To get this number, Altman estimated that the $50 trillion worth of value in US companies as calculated by market capitalization and the $30 trillion worth of privately held land in the US both “roughly double” over the coming decade.
“That dividend could be much higher if AI accelerates growth, but even if it’s not, $13,500 will have much greater purchasing power than it does now because technology will have greatly reduced the cost of goods and services,” Altman wrote. “And that effective purchasing power will go up dramatically every year.”
Elon Musk has hinted at a similar future. “There is a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income, or something like that, due to automation,” Musk told CNBC in 2016. “Yeah, I am not sure what else one would do. I think that is what would happen.”
Musk is also a co-founder of OpenAI but left the board in 2018 citing the fact that Tesla was becoming an AI company as it developed self-driving capabilities.
Such a system is “both pro-business and pro-people,” Altman said, and would therefore bring together “a remarkably broad constituency.”
However, it’s worth noting that whether or not that is true, with the current climate of political acrimony, it is certainly debatable whether lawmakers would bring such a plan to fruition, especially within a decade.
If government policy were to adapt as it needs to, though, how people spend their time would also look radically different, said Altman.
“As AI produces most of the world’s basic goods and services, people will be freed up to spend more time with people they care about, care for people, appreciate art and nature, or work toward social good,” Altman wrote.
“The changes coming are unstoppable,” Altman said. “If we embrace them and plan for them, we can use them to create a much fairer, happier, and more prosperous society. The future can be almost unimaginably great.”