Elon Musk Thinks Automation Will Lead to a Universal Basic Income

In addition to addressing issues at SpaceX, Elon Musk spent some time during a Friday CNBC interview addressing how automation will impact the job market. Musk’s Tesla Motors is leading the way to self-driving cars, while also pushing factories to new levels of automation. And he thinks that workers displaced by those and other forms of automation will need help permanently, and on a broad scale.

“I think that there’s a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income, or something like that, due to automation,” Musk said. “I’m not sure what else one would do.”

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The Universal Basic Income concept has gained broad traction in recent years, particularly in the tech community. The idea is that all citizens would receive a small regular stipend—enough to cover basic housing and food needs, but little more.

The underlying economic rationale is that as industries from transportation to food production become more automated, there will be less demand for labor overall, while automated systems create a consistent surplus of value. In the absence of redistribution systems, that dynamic would rapidly accelerate income inequality, which can threaten both social and economic stability.

Musk further argued that insulating individuals against uncertainty could also unleash a wave of creativity that would further benefit the economy and quality of life. “People have time to do other things, more complex things, more interesting things. [And they would have] more leisure time.”

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Legendary Silicon Valley accelerator Y Combinator will soon conduct a small pilot of the UBI. Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes has endorsed the concept. And a UBI referendum recently made it onto the ballot in Switzerland, though voters rejected it by wide margins.

After his comments on jobs and income, Musk hinted at an even bigger topic he’d like to address in the future.

“Ultimately I think there will need to be some sort of improved symbiosis with digital superintelligence,” he said, “But that’s a pretty involved discussion.”

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