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Artificial Intelligence

Universal basic income for all, thanks to robots

Tesla CEO Elon Musk sees automation as an opportunity – and calls for a universal basic income.

01 Dec. 2016 Jörn Brien

Elon Musk: When robots work, people have more free time

Elon Musk: We will need a universal basic income in the future. (Photo: Heisenberg Media /, license: CC-BY)

A universal basic income was originally an idea from the left of the political spectrum, but now more and more business leaders are calling for it, with the digitization of the economy – and its impact on employment. Silicon Valley icon Elon Musk has added his voice to the mix. The SpaceX founder and head of Tesla is looking forward to a future in which robots and artificial intelligence dominate the employment scene. When that happens, according to Musk, the government will have no alternative but to offer people a universal basic income. This will give them more time to devote to more interesting, complex tasks, the tech entrepreneur explained to CNBC .

Musk cited truck driving as an example: self-driving trucks could soon make human drivers unnecessary. The job of the future in this sector would be to control and monitor an entire fleet of vehicles, which is a much more interesting job than just driving a truck, in Musk's view. But many truck drivers might see things differently, particularly in a scenario where jobs are eliminated en masse. Musk's solution: There would also be more free time for people, and their expenses would simply need to be covered by payments from the government.

Elon Musk's notion is already being trialed

The idea of a universal basic income is being discussed above all in Europe and North America. While Switzerland voted against universal payment of SFR 2,500 per month in a referendum last summer, Finland wants to try out the basic income. Next year 2,000 people will receive €560 per month. In the United States, startup investor Y Combinator is trialling the universal basic income , and in Germany the crowdfunded project Mein Grundeinkommen (“my basic income”) is providing people with monthly payments of €1,000.