13th November 2014
Each month, Seymourpowell hosts a Hot Air club where we openly discuss current topics and issues that affect and influence our work and the world. In the last forum, we discussed the effects of automation on society and what it means to our lives. The question arose; how will humans make a living in a world where robots do physical labour and computers do mental tasks?
One approach that was discussed at length was the idea of an unconditional basic income (UBI).
“The unconditional basic income is a proposed system of social security in which all citizens or residents of a country regularly receive an unconditional sum of money, either from a government or some other public institution, in addition to any income received from elsewhere.”1
Putting discussions around financial feasibility and immigration aside, supporters and opponents have differing views on the effect of productivity and innovation.
We at Seymourpowell believe UBI would give people’s motivation and initiative a secure foundation, forcing us to reassess what we really want to do in our lives and what is truly important to us. Whilst some might fall into an identity crisis and others would just watch daytime TV, it could also be an accelerator for creativity and innovation.
Google, which was voted for the most innovative company of 2014 by fastcompany.com encourages its employees to spend 20% of their time working on self initiated projects. This approach claims to boost productivity and empowers employees to be more creative and innovative. Google’s’20% time’ is a successful manifestation of what can happen if you give people the space to explore what they are passionate about.
“Many of our significant advances have happened in this manner. For example, AdSense for content and Google News were both prototyped in “20% time. Most risky projects fizzle, often teaching us something. Others succeed and become attractive businesses.” 2
The UBI would give everyone freedom to spend time on self-initiated projects and therefore has the potential to boost our economy and culture.
However, it could also be argued that the unconditional basic income would take away the financial pressure, thus removing the drive to innovate and progress. When we look back at history, many ground braking innovations where made in times of necessity. It could be argued that necessity is the mother of invention.
It is debatable if the unconditional basic income will actually drive or hinder society, culture and economy, but it is certain that with or without the UBI, an increasing automatisation of our world will force us to reassess our link between work and money.