Silicon Valley has our backs

The new road to serfdom — actually, it’s more like a hyperloop — runs right through Silicon Valley. From Tad Friend’s funny-scary profile of Y Combinator president Sam Altman:

The immediate challenge is that computers could put most of us out of work. Altman’s fix is YC Research’s Basic Income project, a five-year study, scheduled to begin in 2017, of an old idea that’s suddenly in vogue: giving everyone enough money to live on. …

The problems with the idea seem as basic as the promise: Why should people who don’t need a stipend get one, too? Won’t free money encourage indolence? And the math is staggering: if you gave each American twenty-four thousand dollars, the annual tab would run to nearly eight trillion dollars — more than double the federal tax revenue. However, Altman told me, “The thing most people get wrong is that if labor costs go to zero” — because smart robots have eaten all the jobs — “the cost of a great life comes way down. If we get fusion to work and electricity is free, then transportation is substantially cheaper, and the cost of electricity flows through to water and food. People pay a lot for a great education now, but you can become expert level on most things by looking at your phone. So, if an American family of four now requires seventy thousand dollars to be happy, which is the number you most often hear, then in ten to twenty years it could be an order of magnitude cheaper, with an error factor of 2x. Excluding the cost of housing, thirty-five hundred to fourteen thousand dollars could be all a family needs to enjoy a really good life.”

By “a really good life,” Altman means a virtual reality headset and an opioid prescription.

But if the idea of living off a small monthly PayPal stipend leaves you cold, you’ll be pleased to know that the Valley guys are also working on a much sunnier scenario for our future:

Many people in Silicon Valley have become obsessed with the simulation hypothesis, the argument that what we experience as reality is in fact fabricated in a computer; two tech billionaires have gone so far as to secretly engage scientists to work on breaking us out of the simulation.

The only downside I see with that plan is that, if we break out of the simulation, we’re not going to get the Mars colonies.