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10 Machine Learning Ethics Mini-Essays

2. Inequality.

Machine Learning Ethics assignment, Question #2, “Inequality”, for York University CSML1000 “Machine Learning in the Business Context”, Fall 2019.

How do we distribute the wealth created by machines?

One simple, effective, but unpalatable solution to this would be to tax the owners of the machines that do the jobs formerly done by humans, and then provide a basic minimum income to all the humans. AI or no AI, wealth inequality and a lack of access to quality education are serious issues already. As our ability to automate human activity accelerates, so too does the impact of these problems. Education is very difficult for people struggling to pay the bills. In an ideal world, or a well-run country, there would be thousands of people in programs just like York’s Machine Learning Certificate, and they would be able to focus on theprograms, rather than scrambling full-time to keep their lives together and doing what they can at school in the meantime. And so I believe, in addition to the educational improvements outlined in Question #1, Unemployment, it’s really time for society to disrupt the disrupting power of disruptive technologies by implementing a Basic Minimum Income.

Unfortunately, the political resistance to this idea is very strong. Ontario was going to do experiments with Basic Minimum Income — but our habitual lurching from governing party to governing party have left that experiment on the cutting room floor. People, especially in North America, don’t like the idea of giving people money for free. Or, the idea of “stealing” tax money from the job creators. But at some point, we must recognize that their primary role,is not that of job creators. They create jobs if they absolutely have to. If they can automate instead, rest assured, for the benefit of the shareholders, they will. As robots and AIs do more and more of the work, and less and less people are needed to do these tasks, it seems reasonable that the robots, or their owners, are rewarded a little less for the service they no longer provide to society. Charles Kenny looks at ethical and practical issues surrounding Basic Minimum Income in Give Poor People Cash[2]. Central to his thesis, and that of others who have studied this and other social programs, is that it is the most efficient, flexible,and productive way to deliver a social safety net. Basic Minimum Income completely avoids the inefficiencies and frauds associated with benefits programs that are targeted, controlled, or conditional. It also catalyzes economic growth through the flexibility it brings to how the money is spent, or invested, into the local economy. Including, of course, allowing people to focus more on education and become more productive members of society.

[2] https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/09/welfare-reform-direct-cash-poor/407236/