If AI does all our meaningful work, where will we find meaning?

Last week at the Thinker’s meetup, we discussed this topic. Moving here for continued discussion.

People gain a sense of purpose, a sense of identity performing work for themselves and others. When individuals have no meaningful work to do, they might become listless and depressed. What will we do in a future where AI promises to perform many of the routine tasks that give today give us a sense of purpose.

Options we discussed:

  1. Become depressed.
  2. Fill our time with hobbies or other types of work that, while unnecessary, would provide an outlet to keep us engaged.
  3. Use AI to change our genetics (or create drugs, etc.) so we no longer desire meaningful work.
  4. Learn to find meaning in other pursuits than the types of work that AI replaces.

I’m a little surprised there hasn’t been more conversation around this topic, but I’ll throw a couple cents in the hat, or something…

For me personally, if there was no “work” to be done and I was provided with something like a UBI to pay bills, I would still be interested in doing photography of real live fashion/art models. The problem is that I doubt my government-decreed UBI amount would not cover the expenses of hiring the models I want to work with. Would I be happy enough to work with whomever happens to be located within free public transportation distance of me and is willing to work for free? I kinda think not.

As for society in general, maybe more people would take up artistic pursuits of their own, but to what end? If everyone is making art, do we all just spend all our time either making art or looking at/listening to each others’ art? And whose recommendation engine do we trust to expose us to art we’d be interested in? Similar to my model problem: what if UBI doesn’t cover the cost of art supplies (for those who wish to do traditional physical art)? Just tell them to learn how to prompt instead, too bad?

I think many people would focus more of their time on physical fitness and/or join local sports leagues, while on the other hand some who used to do more active work might end up being perpetual couch potatoes.

Some might spend more time playing video games (it is both interactive with other people, and competitive).

I’m sure many would LIKE to travel, but again with the subsistence-level UBI…

(For the record, I’m not necessarily anti-UBI - I just think there needs to be a legitimate way to earn more. I just saw a video which said that those who want more than a UBI can start their own corporation… oh, ok, no problem, I’ll get right on that and be profitable by next month… how do I start a corporation while on UBI again? I swear it was an actual straight-faced recommendation. LOL)

Finally, I think larger families could become a thing… because that’s something to do when there’s nothing to do.

This was actually the topic of our very first meetup!

I don’t believe there’s any defacto reason why AI-doing-stuff needs to equate with a UBI-only scenario. In fact, how would UBI work if nobody could be taxed? It seems like you’re speaking more about a communist scenario where states own everything. I could just as easily imagine capitalist scenarios of coexistence with AI, in fact I was at a dinner last night where this was the core assumption.

The question would be how can capital be realigned from industry. Though that gets a bit away from your topic.

I keep thinking about how me might redefine meaning in an age when many of the things we’ve attached personal meaning to are being automated.

The video I briefly mentioned (I’ll try to find a link to it) suggested that instead of taxing individuals, taxes would/could be imposed solely on corporate profits and (real) property. Those taxes would then be used for a UBI system of some kind. That’s where the suggestion of “if you want more than the baseline UBI, start a corporation” came from. That was their “realignment” theory. I just have a hard time seeing that switch happen with the current political climate.

Edit: found it: Sam Altman on UBI, OpenAI to $100 TRILLION and Massive Job Losses from AI Automation - YouTube

fascinating video, thanks for sharing