Monday, November 27, 2017

Universal Basic Dystopia

This is the fourth and (probably) final installment on my current writing experiment: what might the world look like if Universal Basic Income were implemented?  The first three looked at the basic concept, the suite of tools that I think might be used and how people might take advantage of it.  This one will look at how the government might take advantage of it.

Please keep in mind that this is all conjecture.  I do not know that any of this would actually fall this way.  I remain a proponent of Universal Basic Income, crypto-currencies and their associated Smart Contracts.  I believe that technology will and should be installed inside the human body.  But the thing that I'm writing has taken on a life of its own and is not going in the direction that I originally intended.  And that's a good thing as it makes thing more interesting.

Devil in the Contracts

The particular conceit that is giving me issues is the implementation of Smart Contracts (Identity Hash, shortened to 'D-Hash' in the work) as a way of ensuring that no one gets more than their share of the income associated with UBI.

In and of themselves, these contracts are not a problem.  Smart Contracts are an automated way of ensuring that the contract between two or more parties are met.  They are distributed to all parties, a contingency of them must agree to all transactions (from all members to a random selection), the code is open for those with the need and know-how to check them, and the individuals are protected through anonymous accounts.

Back Door Access

The issue that arises is with a government implementing a Smart Contract.  Are they really going to keep the transactions encrypted and the accounts anonymous?  Anyone who has followed the last three years of tech news knows the answer.  From Edward Snowden to NSA mandated back door access to Stingray police phone tracking, the tech world is replete with government interference.

What changes with an physically embedded identity chip is that there is now one system, not three or four.  The government is not tracking your browser history here, your credit card purchase there and your smart phone activity in yet another system.  Now they can track everything through one system making them that much easier to know, and therefore control, everything about us.

What Will We Trade?

The most pernicious part of this, as set up in my particular world building, is that it is all done to make the people in my world safer.  Freer.  They are freed from the tyranny of labor so that they can pursue more fulfilling lives... or not, as they choose.  They are protected from ID theft and petty crime because identity is secure and embedded.  And all they had to give up for that was their privacy.

As with most speculative fiction (and this is definitely speculative), it arises from extrapolating the current world to some extreme.   This take on UBI is mine.  I hope that some form of UBI and Universal Health Care (they should go hand-in-hand) do get passed for the sake of all of those that struggle to make ends meet.

I also hope that we, as a society, are smart enough to not give up all of our personal freedoms for it.

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