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  • All of our economic theory,

  • all of our business practice,

  • all of our public policy,

  • they were all developed during an era of scarcity.

  • Scarcity means that when you want more of something,

  • there is an additional cost to be paid.

  • And that was always true for physical products,

  • but it is no longer true for digital information.

  • That extra view of the funny cat video on YouTube,

  • it basically costs Google nothing.

  • And it is that zero marginal cost of digital information

  • that is turning everything upside down.

  • It used to be, for instance, that we would select first,

  • then edit, and then publish.

  • Now we can publish many, many things, select a few, and edit those.

  • It used to be that people had to go to investors,

  • raise money, then make a product and hope that people would buy it.

  • Now you can present your vision for your product to thousands of people,

  • have them contribute, use the money

  • to make a product that you know people want.

  • It used to be that people were very guarded

  • about how something worked.

  • Now we have open-sourced software, hardware, and even biotech.

  • These are all inversions, things that are being turned upside down,

  • and they are being turned upside down

  • because the zero marginal cost of digital information.

  • And we are just at the beginning of these.

  • Traditional big publishers still dominate music, movies; crowdfunding is tiny;

  • open-sourced biotech is in its infancy.

  • But if you take these trends and kind of extrapolate them out a little bit,

  • what you'll get is a kind of digital abundance.

  • A world in which we can learn anything we want to online for free.

  • A world in which all the world's medical know-how

  • is available to anybody, anywhere in the world for free.

  • Where you can listen to music, enjoy art, read books online for free.

  • And we can even see how, eventually,

  • that digital abundance could help us

  • reduce the amount of physical scarcity.

  • How? For instance, by 3D printing only products that people actually want.

  • Also by taking existing things like cars, buildings, lab equipment

  • and sharing them much more efficiently than we've ever been able to do.

  • So this is a world that I am very, very excited about;

  • but we are not going to get to this world simply through more technology.

  • We are not going to get to this world simply through some businesses

  • doing innovative things online.

  • We are also going to need to invert our public policies.

  • I am going to speak about two examples of such public policy inversions today.

  • The first is a Basic Income Guarantee, or "BIG";

  • and the second is the right to be represented by a bot.

  • I'll explain what those two are.

  • And as I talk about them, you may think these are crazy, far-out ideas.

  • The goal here isn't to say,

  • "Hey Congress, we need these as national laws in the US tomorrow."

  • The goal is simply to say,

  • "These are interesting ideas that we should be discussing."

  • And more importantly, we should be experimenting with them

  • to see whether they have merit.

  • Let me start with the Basic Income Guarantee.

  • Quite a simple idea. The idea that the government should pay everybody

  • above a certain age, say 16, some amount of money every month or week.

  • It is called basic because it is supposed to cover your basic needs:

  • food, clothing, shelter.

  • It is called guaranteed because it is supposed to be paid to you

  • no matter what, no matter your gender, no matter your marital status,

  • no matter your wealth and, most importantly, no matter what you do.

  • So whether or not you work.

  • And that is the inversion in this idea.

  • The inversion is that it used to be that you had to work first

  • in order to get paid;

  • under Basic Income Guarantee you get paid first

  • and then you choose what to work on.

  • It doesn't do away with the labor market at all.

  • You can still work in a job where you get paid more.

  • It simply puts a floor under everybody's income.

  • Now you might say, "Why would we want that?"

  • Well, because it would let us embrace automation instead of being afraid of it.

  • I have been around computers for thirty plus years,

  • and for many decades we've had these promises of artificial intelligence.

  • And they have been false promises.

  • But we now actually have major breakthroughs.

  • And we have machines that can do many of the things

  • that humans currently do for work and as a source of income.

  • Let me give you two examples.

  • About four million people in the US

  • make a living driving a truck, a taxi, or a bus.

  • But we also know we have self-driving cars now.

  • So it is not a question of "if" any more, it is just a question of "when"

  • some of these jobs will be replaced by machines.

  • On the other hand, we have about

  • a million people working in legal professions.

  • But we now have machines that can very efficiently read

  • through reams and reams of legal documents,

  • and even write some of them.

  • Again it is not a question of "if" anymore; it is just a question of "when."

  • Now you might say, "Why do we want to embrace automation?"

  • And the answer is: Because it gives us time!

  • And time is great in the world of digital abundance.

  • It is the time you have to watch TED videos.

  • It is the time you have to make TED videos.

  • So in a world of digital abundance, we want people to have time,

  • we want people feel they have the time and the resources to learn new things,

  • we want people to have the time and the resources

  • to contribute to those things, and make them free.

  • And Basic Income Guarantee, BIG, helps with that in a second way.

  • It helps with that because it creates a much broader base of people

  • who can participate in crowdfunding.

  • So instead of saying we need these pay walls around content

  • that keep people out,

  • we can say no, let's put out free content

  • and then let's fund it on Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Patreon,

  • or Experiment.com for science, or BaconReader for journalism.

  • There are many other benefits about basic income

  • that I won't have chance to really go into detail.

  • For instance, they deal much better with situations of abuse.

  • Whether it is an abusive employer or abusive partner,

  • basic income gives you a walkaway option for many different situations.

  • There are lots of objections too.

  • Before I talk about some of the objections,

  • let me point out one more thing, which is,

  • this is not a traditionally left or right political idea.

  • It is not a traditionally left idea

  • because it says, in order to finance this you have to do away with programs

  • like food stamps, means tested programs,

  • and you have to believe in individual agency.

  • It is also not a traditionally right idea

  • because it wholeheartedly embraces re-distribution.

  • It says, let's tax people who make a lot of money, let's tax corporations,

  • and then let's give this basic income to everyone.

  • And as a VC, I kind of like the fact that a lot of the political establishment

  • is sort of ignoring or dismissing this idea.

  • Because what we see in startups

  • is that the most powerful, innovative ideas

  • are the ones that are truly dismissed by the incumbents.

  • So what are some of the objections?

  • The first objection that people have is: We simply can't afford this.

  • Some of the proposals that people have floated,

  • like paying people several thousand dollars every month,

  • in fact do add up to more

  • than the federal and the state households combined.

  • And we do still want some things from the State, right?

  • We want federal defense. We want roads.

  • We want water. We want broadband.

  • So there are some things that we want the government to do,

  • The interesting thing though is, I believe it will take much less money.

  • It'll take much less money because we need to take a dynamic view.

  • We don't need to ask how much money do you need today.

  • We need to ask how much money will you need in this world

  • of advanced technology and of Basic Income Guarantee.

  • When we ask that question, what we see

  • is that we already live in a world of technological deflation

  • and the Basic Income Guarantee will accelerate that.

  • So roughly since the mid-1990's, in the US,

  • the cost of consumer durables has already been declining.

  • The things that have been getting more expensive are primarily services,

  • and, within that, primarily education and health care.

  • Now Basic Income Guarantee will actually help reduce both of those.

  • How?

  • First, because it lets more people contribute

  • to online free education materials, to online free healthcare resources.

  • And it also frees people up to teach and to take care of people.

  • The second objection that has been raised

  • is that people would simply take this money

  • and spend it on drugs and alcohol.

  • Now, there is no country in the world that has this,

  • so we cannot simply point at another country.

  • But people have done studies, as far back as the 70's,

  • and there are ongoing studies today

  • about cash transfers that are not means-tested.

  • And the World Bank has just published a review of these studies

  • and what they found in looking at 19 of them

  • is that there is simply no evidence that people wind up

  • spending this money on drugs and alcohol, any more than they do already.

  • The third objection that's often raised is:

  • People are lazy, people are going to stop working.

  • Again the good news is, these studies show

  • that the so-called income effect is quite small.

  • People like to do things. People like to do interesting things.

  • And when people were working less in traditional jobs, in these studies,

  • what they were largely doing was spending more time with family and friends,

  • more time teaching their children, more time taking care of their parents.

  • So the very two things, as I said, we want more of

  • in order to reduce the cost of education and cost of healthcare.

  • It also turns out, people working less is not a bad thing overall.

  • If you reduce the supply of labor, you lift wages for everyone.

  • Which is also interesting - you might say, well, why not just raise wages?

  • Why not just have a higher minimum wage?

  • And I am very sympathetic to that idea.

  • It will definitely help people who currently have a job.

  • But it does not help at all with this concept of digital abundance.

  • It does not help people create free online resources.

  • It doesn't give you the time to learn something

  • from these free online resources, because you have to have this job

  • to just cover your basic needs.

  • Same goes for just trying to reduce the work hours.

  • So it's only the Basic Income Guarantee that addresses this digital abundance,

  • and basically frees us to participate in it.

  • The second inverted idea I want to talk about

  • is the idea of the right to be represented by a bot.

  • A bot is a piece of software that acts on your behalf.

  • Let me make this more concrete.

  • I went on Facebook the other day,

  • because I remembered that a couple of years ago

  • I had written something witty on somebody else's wall.

  • And I was trying to remember who it was.

  • Turns out that Facebook makes this quite difficult.

  • You can't actually search your own wall posts.

  • Now, Facebook has all these data, but for whatever reason,

  • they've decided not to make it easily searchable.

  • I'm not suggesting anything nefarious here, it's just how it is.

  • So now imagine for a moment if, [in] my relationship to Facebook,

  • I was able to use a piece of software.

  • I could now instruct this piece of software

  • to go through the very cumbersome steps

  • that Facebook lays up for finding past wall posts, and do it on my behalf.

  • That would be one thing.

  • The other thing I could have done is, if I've been using this bot all along,

  • the bot could have kept my own archive of wall posts in my own data store

  • and I could simply instruct it to search my own archive.

  • Now you may say, well, that's a trivial example.

  • But actually it is very foundational.

  • It completely inverts the power relationship

  • between networks and their participants.

  • It also inverts the present legal situation.

  • There are lots of laws, at the moment,

  • that allow networks to restrict

  • to what degree you can use a bot to interact with them.

  • They basically can restrict you to only use

  • the existing application programming interfaces, or API's,

  • and say, only these are legitimate

  • and on top of that we can limit how much you can do.

  • Now to see that this is a powerful inversion,

  • I want to talk for a moment about on-demand car services,

  • companies like Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar.

  • If you are a driver today, they each have a separate app.

  • It makes it very hard for you as a driver

  • to participate in more than one network at a time.

  • If you had the right to be represented by a bot,

  • somebody could write a piece of software that drivers could run

  • that would allow them to simultaneously participate

  • in all these marketplaces.

  • And the drivers could then set their own criteria

  • for which rights they want to accept.

  • Now clearly those criteria would include, for instance,

  • what the commission rate is that the marketplace is charging.