Democrat Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has told an audience at the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference that we should not be fearful of automation replacing jobs en masse.

By Daniel Herborn

Posted on March 11, 2019

“We should not be haunted by the spectre of being automated out of work,” she said in response to a question about how automation will impact on the workforce.

“We should be excited by that. But the reason we’re not excited by it is because we live in a society where if you don’t have a job, you are left to die. And that is, at its core, our problem.”

Ocasio-Cortez: automation could give people more time for “enjoying the world”

“We should be excited about automation, because what it could potentially mean is more time educating ourselves, more time creating art, more time investing in and investigating the sciences, more time focused on invention, more time going to space, more time enjoying the world that we live in,” she said. “Because not all creativity needs to be bonded by wage.”

Ocasio-Cortez also referenced an idea floated by Bill Gates; that robots that replace human workers should be taxed. The European Parliament rejected a proposal along these lines in 2017, voting down legislation that would have taxed the owners of robots and redirected this money into retraining workers.

Artificial intelligence experts have predicted that up to 40% of jobs could be replaced by automation within just 15 years.

She said that Gates had advocated a tax rate of up to 90% for corporations deploying robots in jobs once held by humans. While reporters could not find mention of the 90% figure, Gates has been active in urging tax reform to reflect the changing nature of employment. Gates had previously commented on Ocasio-Cortez’s proposals to increase tax rates for the ultra-wealthy.

Automation has the potential to radically change society

A future where automation and AI replace millions of jobs has led some to suggest the implementation of universal basic income (UBI), which involves all citizens receiving an allowance from the government.

Richard Branson, Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg have all said UBI is an idea worth investigating, while Democratic Presidential Candidate Andrew Yang, eBay Founder Pierre Omidyar and Facebook Co-Founder Chris Hughes (who favours the similar concept of guaranteed income) are active supporters of the idea. Finland recently ran a two-year long trial of UBI.

The 29-year-old Ocasio-Cortez has fast become one of the most influential politicians in the US. She describes herself as a democratic socialist and has advocated for progressive policies such as the Green New Deal resolution, which aims to realign US industry, aiming to make it carbon neutral within a decade. The resolution also seeks to create “to create millions of good, high-wage jobs in the United States.”

Science fiction writer William Gibson said Ocasio-Cortez’s comments on a future without work were “a shockingly intelligent thing for any politician to say”.