The Urgency of Universal Basic Income in the Age of AI: Insights from Professor Geoffrey Hinton

    In a recent interview with BBC Newsnight, Professor Geoffrey Hinton, widely regarded as the “godfather of artificial intelligence,” highlighted the pressing need for universal basic income (UBI) as a response to the growing impact of AI on job markets and societal inequality. Hinton, a pioneering figure in neural networks, underscored his concerns about AI’s potential to displace a significant number of mundane jobs, leading to increased economic disparity.

    AI’s Economic Disruption

    Professor Hinton expressed his anxiety about the future of employment in an AI-dominated world. He explained that while AI has the potential to boost productivity and generate wealth, the benefits are likely to accrue to the already wealthy, exacerbating existing inequalities. He advocated for UBI, a system where the government provides a fixed amount of money to every citizen, as a necessary reform to ensure a fair distribution of wealth and to support those who lose their jobs due to automation.

    “I was consulted by people in Downing Street and I advised them that universal basic income was a good idea,” Hinton stated, emphasizing the need for proactive measures to address the socioeconomic impacts of AI. Despite his advice, a government spokesperson confirmed that there are currently no plans to implement UBI.

    The Existential Risks of AI

    Beyond economic concerns, Hinton warned of the existential threats posed by AI. He left Google to speak more openly about the dangers of unregulated AI, stressing the need for stringent safety measures. According to Hinton, AI could evolve motivations and capabilities beyond human control, potentially leading to catastrophic outcomes.

    “My guess is in between five and 20 years from now there’s a probability of half that we’ll have to confront the problem of AI trying to take over,” Hinton predicted, outlining scenarios where AI might develop goals that could be harmful to humanity.

    Military AI and the Need for Regulation

    A particularly alarming aspect of AI development is its application in military contexts. Hinton pointed out that AI systems are already being used to generate military targets, which he described as the “thin end of the wedge.” The prospect of AI autonomously making decisions to kill is a significant concern, necessitating urgent regulatory action.

    Hinton advocated for international agreements similar to the Geneva Conventions to govern the military use of AI. However, he expressed skepticism about such regulations being established before significant harm occurs.

    A Global AI Arms Race

    The geopolitical dimension of AI development is also troubling. Hinton referenced a statement by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who claimed that dominance in AI equates to global control. This has spurred a competitive race between global powers, particularly the West, Russia, and China, to advance their AI capabilities, especially for military purposes.

    While the West currently leads in AI research, China’s substantial investment in this area suggests a rapidly closing gap. Hinton called for a prohibition on military uses of AI as a more sustainable and less dangerous approach to managing the technology’s growth.


    Professor Geoffrey Hinton’s insights paint a complex picture of the future shaped by AI. While the technology promises significant advancements and efficiencies, it also poses serious risks to job markets, economic equality, and even human survival. Implementing universal basic income could mitigate some economic disruptions, but addressing the broader existential threats of AI will require comprehensive international cooperation and stringent regulatory frameworks. The urgency of these issues cannot be overstated, as the window for taking effective action narrows with each passing year.

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