Stephen Hawking Advocated for Wealth Redistribution to Prevent Mass Poverty in His Final Reddit Posts

After Stephen Hawking passed away at the age of 76 Wednesday morning, Reddit users began sharing posts he wrote explaining his vision on a wide range of topics during what was his final question and answer session on the site two years ago. In those posts, he advocated that wealth redistribution was the only way to stem the inequality that comes with advancing technology.

“Have you thought about the possibility of technological unemployment, where we develop automated processes that ultimately cause large unemployment by performing jobs faster and/or cheaper than people can perform them?” a user asked Hawking during an “Ask Me Anything” event.  

The professor, who suffered from Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and typed through an intricate system that traced cheek movement with an infrared switch mounted on his glasses, replied that “If machines produce everything we need, the outcome will depend on how things are distributed.”

He added: “Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution. So far, the trend seems to be toward the second option, with technology driving ever-increasing inequality.”

GettyImages-83007322 Professor Stephen Hawking is pictured during a visit to Cape Finisterre, some 90 km from Santiago, northwestern Spain on September 25, 2008. Getty Images

Between 2000 and 2010, nearly 87 percent of manufacturing job losses came from an increase in automation and technology, according to a Ball State University study. Nearly 40 percent of U.S. jobs could be lost to automation in the next 15 years, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers.

In one of his last public interviews last November, Hawking told Wired magazine that he feared what might happen as artificial intelligence advanced. “The genie is out of the bottle,” he said. “We need to move forward on artificial intelligence development but we also need to be mindful of its very real dangers. I fear that AI may replace humans altogether.”

Elon Musk and Bill Gates have also weighed in on this issue and expressed similar sentiments. Musk is a supporter of a universal basic income, claiming that it will be “necessary” as automation increases. Gates has advocated for a tax on robots that take jobs. “Right now, the human worker who does, say, $50,000 worth of work in a factory, that income is taxed and you get income tax, social security tax, all those things,” he said in an interview with Quartz. “If a robot comes in to do the same thing, you’d think that we’d tax the robot at a similar level.”