Path To AI Utopia: OpenAI Founder Sam Altman Chalks Out A “Wealth For All” Plan

If everyone owns a slice of American value creation, everyone will want America to do better.

“In as little as 10 years, AI could generate enough wealth to pay every adult in the US $13,500 a year.”

Sam Altman

Sam Altman, the co-founder of OpenAI, has recently shared his insights and a few warnings about the impending AI tech revolution that will disrupt “everything”. Altman believes computer programs will soon be capable of reading legal documents, giving medical advice, assembly line work etc. We can sense that Altman’s optimism has a lot to do with the recent success of GPT-3. GPT-3 single-handedly was responsible for starting over half a dozen million-dollar startups and is poised to disrupt many industries, including ML (think: AutoML). 

In his blog, Altman, said the tech future will be far more significant than the discovery of fire or the invention of a wheel. In 2018, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said AI is more “profound” than fire or electricity. While the big tech mostly takes an optimistic view on AI’, the Valley has its share of Cassandras firing warning shots about AI apocalypse. 

Altman conceptualised a tech-powered system for an equitable distribution of wealth. In a way, he is making a case for a universal basic income(UBI). That said, Universal Basic Income is not a new concept. But, adding AI to the mix can make a big difference. 

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Hot takes on UBI

“Universal income will be necessary over time if AI takes over most human jobs.”

Elon Musk

“Now it’s our time to define a new social contract for our generation. We should explore ideas like universal basic income to give everyone a cushion to try new things.”

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO,Facebook

“With the acceleration of AI and other new technology…experimenting with ideas like basic income even more important in the years to come.”

Richard Branson, Founder, Virgin Group

Musk and few others have always been skeptical of the technology. Musk even wants to prepare humanity for an AI takeover with his brain-chip company Neuralink. Talking about the impacts of UBI, Angel list co-founder Naval Ravikant said that creativity is the last frontier. Extended periods of automation will make non-creative jobs obscure, and since UBI takes care of the basic needs, people have no other option but to create something of value. 

“To the three great technological revolutions–the agricultural, the industrial, and the computational–we will add a fourth: the AI revolution.”

Sam Altman

But, how does one increase the wealth of a commoner? According to Altman, technology is the answer. Any innovation has the potential to drive down the cost of goods and services. Think about the computers in the early 70s and the superior machines we have in our pockets. The innovation on the chip front made these computers powerful and yet affordable. Price rise is usually attributed to the labour costs within the supply chain. If a robot can replace half a dozen welders on the shop floor, then the costs will depend on how much one is willing to pay for the robot. If robots, wrote Altman, can build a house on land one owns and use natural resources like solar energy, the cost of building will come down to the cost to rent the robots. Furthermore, when AI improves, there will be robots that make robots, cutting the costs even more.

Altman suggests taxing capital rather than labour. And, these taxes can be used to distribute ownership and wealth to citizens. Altman said his idea is nothing new but is more critical than ever as AI applications outclass their contemporaries. “If everyone owns a slice of American value creation, everyone will want America to do better,” wrote Altman.

“We should therefore focus on taxing capital rather than labor, and we should use these taxes as an opportunity to directly distribute ownership and wealth to citizens.”

Sam Altman

Pinning careers and hopes to Moore’s law does sound like utopia, and even Altman admits it. He also believes that the AI revolution will compensate for the disruption by generating new jobs. Jobs, which we haven’t heard of yet (think: urban rodentologist). That’s why the OpenAI co-founder stresses establishing a system that will result in a society that is “less divisive” and enables everyone to participate in its gains. According to him, this technology revolution is an eventuality, and nothing can stop it. The revolution will be further accelerated as machines that make machines get smarter. For example, OpenAI’s GPT-3 was used to generate machine learning code, a million-dollar startup idea in itself. One application can put many developer jobs at risk.

There is no going back, which is why Altman presented crucial consequences of this AI revolution:

  • Creation of phenomenal wealth. 
  • The price of many kinds of labour will fall toward zero once sufficiently powerful AI “joins the workforce.”
  • The world will change drastically. Hence there is an urgency for a policy.

Read the full blog by Sam Altman here.

Ram Sagar
I have a master's degree in Robotics and I write about machine learning advancements.

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