IT professor leads discussion on basic income and the post-work world

Stephen Chen

In a world where machines are increasingly replacing paid human labour, Ontario’s high profile pilot project — the basic income guarantee — could be a solution to some of the challenges within our changing economy.

Stephen Chen
Stephen Chen

Information Technology Professor Stephen Chen will be joining Canadian Senator Art Eggleton and the Why Should I Care? (WSIC) non-profit organization to lead a discussion on the need for, and potential outcomes of, the Basic Income Pilot.

Through the pilot, the Government of Ontario is testing if a basic income will improve health, education and support for vulnerable workers and people with low incomes. A basic income, as defined by the provincial government, “is a payment to eligible families or individuals that ensures a minimum income level, regardless of employment status.”

The pilot will grant successful applicants in Hamilton, Brantford, Brant County, Lindsay and Thunder Bay communities a basic annual income, up to $16,989 a year for a single person and up to $24,027 for a couple. People with a disability will receive up to an additional $500 a month. The basic income amount decreases by 50 cents for every dollar a person earns at work.

The current interest in implementing basic income, according to WSIC, is driven by persistent poverty, increasing wealth inequality and a changing job market. Advocacy for basic income is rising internationally, specifically in Silicon Valley where their influential technologies are likely to replace a lot of paid human work in the near future.

“As a technologist, I think all society needs to consider a post-work world. Within our lifetimes, robots and computers will likely be able to replace 80-90 per cent of current human labour and employment,” says Chen, who serves as undergraduate program director at the School of Information Technology in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies. “Basic Income is part of an important discussion about the future of work. As automation makes it possible to eliminate large amounts of human labour and employment, it may not make sense for human livelihood to depend on paid work.”

Chen and Eggleton — who tabled a motion in the Senate to test Basic Income — will lay out their perspectives on the issue in opening remarks, followed by an hour of moderated discussion and answering audience questions.

Why Should I Care? hosts a series of civic engagement talks, which encourage citizens to become aware of political issues.

“We should all care about becoming an informed electorate,” says Chen.

The event, titled Basic Income: Ontario’s Pilot Project, is free to the public and will be held on July 17 from 7-9 p.m. at The Madison, 14 Madison Avenue in Toronto.