Tesla CEO Elon Musk is stepping behind the universal basic income movement because of the potential rise of robots – in fact, he’s working on one himself.
During a Thursday presentation on artificial intelligence (AI) hosted by Tesla, Musk said he is working on creating a “Tesla Bot,” or a robot that would do “dangerous, repetitive, and boring tasks” so humans don’t have to. But Musk recognized that the creation of this robot might take the place of jobs that people are currently getting paid for, which is why he said a guaranteed income will likely be necessary in the future.
“Essentially, in the future, physical work will be a choice,” Musk said during the presentation. “This is why I think long term there will need to be a universal basic income,” he added.
Musk said that the robot will be “friendly,” standing at a height of 5’8” and reaching speeds up to five miles per hour. But if its creation goes to plan, it will take many people’s jobs.
While Musk’s robot has not yet taken over, businesses across the country have turned to automation rather than paying humans for work. For example, Insider previously reported that restaurants struggling to hire workers for months, they have turned to QR codes where diners can view menus, rather than having a waiter bring them one.
In addition, Cracker Barrel rolled out a mobile app that lets customers pay for meals; McDonald’s started testing automated drive-thru ordering at 10 Chicago locations; and Dave & Buster’s plans to expand its contactless ordering, effectively getting rid of many restaurant jobs humans once did.
If this trend continues, it’s likely that universal basic income will become a larger part of the conversation. Some cities have already started testing out pilot universal basic income programs for targeted groups of residents, and California recently launched the nation’s largest statewide universal basic income program prioritized for pregnant people and those aging out of the foster system.
And after the pandemic spurred Congress to approve three stimulus checks for Americans, some Democrats called to continue those checks well beyond the end of the pandemic, and in late March, amid infrastructure negotiations, 21 Democratic senators urged President Joe Biden in a letter to include recurring direct payments in his infrastructure plan, saying that when checks ran out after the CARES Act, poverty rose.
Even with the concern that rising automation will take people’s jobs, though, economics writer Noah Smith wrote in a June 13 blog post that it could optimize job growth given that people who were taking orders and busing tables could develop more valuable skills.