by Sam Altman1/27/2016
We’re going to try something new—our first Request For Research.
We’d like to fund a study on basic income—i.e., giving people enough money to live on with no strings attached. I’ve been intrigued by the idea for a while, and although there’s been a lot of discussion, there’s fairly little data about how it would work.
It’s true that we have systems in place to give people resources, but the bureaucracy and qualification requirements make it a very imperfect approximation of what most people mean when talking about a basic income. We have some examples of something close to a basic income in other countries, but we’d like to see how it would work in the US.
I think it’s good to start studying this early. I’m fairly confident that at some point in the future, as technology continues to eliminate traditional jobs and massive new wealth gets created, we’re going to see some version of this at a national scale.
So it would be good to answer some of the theoretical questions now. Do people sit around and play video games, or do they create new things? Are people happy and fulfilled? Do people, without the fear of not being able to eat, accomplish far more and benefit society far more? And do recipients, on the whole, create more economic value than they receive? (Questions about how a program like this would affect overall cost of living are beyond our scope, but obviously important.)
50 years from now, I think it will seem ridiculous that we used fear of not being able to eat as a way to motivate people. I also think that it’s impossible to truly have equality of opportunity without some version of guaranteed income. And I think that, combined with innovation driving down the cost of having a great life, by doing something like this we could eventually make real progress towards eliminating poverty.
We’re looking for one researcher who wants to work full-time on this project for 5 years as part of YC Research. We’d like someone with some experience doing this kind of research, but as always we’re more interested in someone’s potential than his or her past. Our idea is to give a basic income to a group of people in the US for a 5 year period, though we’re flexible on that and all aspects of the project—we are far from experts on this kind of research. We’d be especially interested in a combination of selecting people at random, and selecting people who are driven and talented but come from poor backgrounds. We’re open to doing this in either one geographic area, or nationally distributed.
If you’re interested in running this project, please apply by February 15th.
Sam Altman is the CEO of OpenAI. He was the president of YC from 2014-2019. He studied computer science at Stanford, and while there, worked in the AI lab.