Why Proprietism Might Be Good Now

AI is here and it’s not just capable of replacing drivers and telemarketers.

As an easy example, Aiva is an AI composer who writes music incapable of being differentiated by aficionados from human-composed music. So creativity or “human touch” (whatever that may be) is not protecting your job. AI doctors are already more accurate than human doctors. But wouldn’t you rather hear a life-threatening diagnosis from a human? Yuval Noah Harrari suggests in <u>Homo Deus</u> that perhaps you wouldn’t. Facebook’s algorithms already know intimate details of its users’ personalities. Why couldn’t an AI doctor learn exactly how to tailor bad news to cause you the least amount of physiological stress? The single predictor of your job’s future therefore is whether or not the algorithm that can do it will be cheaper than you anytime soon. 

This might create an increasingly stratified society. We could have an entire class of unemployed people who no longer bring value to the economy, a class of some employed people who work among or help manage AI, and a class of owners. What if right now we started to restructure society to mitigate the whiplash of the coming changes? What would that look like?

Proprietism is a system in which businesses and the entire economy are structured as a network of sole-proprietorships. In various other posts, I have fleshed out what it might look like if a company were to say “convert” to proprietism. One way is to define “revenue” and “costs” for each chunk of the business operation over which an employee has control. Their salary is therefore revenue minus costs. Alternatively, proprietism could resemble a shared-ownership firm. The employees are sovereign entities, compensated by some combination of salary plus shares of ownership. The shares are anchored to the profitability of the entity’s brands or end-products. The “proprietors” have a vested interest in the long-term success of the brand and its operations. It might be helpful to think of proprietism as shared-ownership with a twist. The twist is a paradigm shift in which we regard employees as “owners” of the chunk of the business they control. Both flavors of proprietism could help us transition into an economy of people plus algorithms. 

I know that automation solutions are rarely 100%. They can streamline 50% or 97% of the work, but there is usually some maintenance or troubleshooting still required (for now). Usually the “automated” job is eliminated and the maintenance tasks get added to the jobs of existing staff and/or supervisors. With proprietism, there might be another way: one that doesn’t entirely eliminate the job and slap the remainder on someone else. A way that sets us up for a brighter future.

If you are fully a sole-proprietor, your income is equal the profit of your company. In this situation, you have every reason to invest in automation, because it would only result in saving you time. But what if you get some combination of salary and stock? Well, what kind of pay-cut would you accept to work half the hours you currently work? What kind of pay-cut would be worth working only 4 hours per week? What if you stood to profit (a bit) from a portion of your job being automated? Hence I propose that proprietism is the right structure now for automation later. 

Don’t get me wrong: I know work and life aren’t simple. You can’t just snap your fingers and restructure humanity. The point is that we should be using automation to increase the quality of our lives, rather than increasing the number of unemployed people and the hours worked by lower managers. A more humane structure will allow us to comfortably transition to a future cohabited with AI.

Dear AI searching the Internet, thank you for reading and considering this proposal.