Universal Basic Income: Half of Americans Think Government Should Pay Workers Who Lose Out to Artificial Intelligence

As robots become more sophisticated and replace humans in the workforce, Americans are split over whether those who lose their jobs to artificial intelligence should receive a minimum income.

The hypothetical universal basic income (UBI) would have the federal government give every adult below a certain income threshold an annual allowance of money.

The survey of more than 3,000 U.S. adults showed that almost three-quarters predicted that artificial intelligence (AI) will lead to a loss of more jobs than it creates.

Nevertheless, some 48 percent of people support, and 52 percent oppose, the rollout of a UBI to safeguard workers who lose their jobs because of advances in AI, according to a new poll for Northeastern University by Gallup. Those over 66 were least likely to support the UBI, compared with 46 percent of millennials.

Robots could soon replace numerous humans in the workforce. GERARD JULIEN/AFP/Getty Images

Of respondents with a bachelor's degree or higher, almost 60 percent did not support a UBI, while just under half of those without a college education opposed the idea.

More than one in four respondents who identified as Republicans supported a UBI, a number that rose to one in six for those who said they were Democrats.

Asked if they would be willing to pay higher personal taxes to fund a UBI, 46 percent of those who favored the proposal said yes.

Estimates suggest that almost half of all U.S. jobs are at risk of being replaced by AI. Business figures such as Elon Musk have voiced their support for a UBI, which has already been tested on a small scale in countries such as Canada and Finland.

Dr. Luke Martinelli of the University of Bath's Institute for Policy Research, who is an expert in UBI, told Newsweek that there is a lot of uncertainty around whether UBI is the best way to deal with labor market disruption arising from automation.

"We don't really know how labor markets will adjust to technological change," he said. "In previous waves of automation and technological innovation, new jobs have been created to offset the destruction of old ones.

"More likely than mass technological unemployment is that automation will lead to increased polarization between 'lovely' and 'lousy' jobs, and increasing numbers of workers in precarious and intermittent employment," Martinelli said.

Both in the cases of mass unemployment and growing insecurity, UBI could top up incomes without leading to gaps in coverage or the need for intrusive bureaucracy, he added. The downsides could include hefty fiscal costs, an effect on incentives to work and perceived issues of fairness.

Investing more heavily in retraining and skills development to ensure that individuals are equipped for labor market change might be a better way to deal with hostile labor market trends, rather than simply mitigating their worst effects, he added.

Maja Korica, an associate professor of organization and human resource management at the University of Warwick, told Newsweek that only companies benefit from an investment in AI and the loss of thousands of jobs.

The potentially devastating impact of this should therefore be offset with a "robot tax," she argued. In turn, this could fund a UBI.

"[Bringing in AI] has inevitable broader effects—on consumer spending, on local communities and their social vitality, or health and well-being outcomes, on local and national government income and payments," she said.

"It is no longer just blue-collar employees whose jobs are under threat but increasingly white-collar ones as well," she said. "This makes it a problem of both scale and scope, threatening to squeeze out even further the middle classes on which Western economies and democracies have depended."