Universal Basic Ownership (UBO)

Web3 presents a solution to one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century.

Universal Basic Income (UBI) is a recurring income given to all citizens of a nation by their government. It is probably the most ambitious socio-economic concept of our time.

Universal Basic Ownership (UBO) is an alternative to Universal Basic Income made possible by Web3, the next generation of the web in which people can verifiably own assets on the internet.

UBO grants people ownership over the autonomous machines that take their jobs. It ties income received by people to the rate at which machines take jobs. The more jobs machines take, the more people earn.


Why do we need universal basic anything?

The concept of Universal Basic Income (UBI) has gained popularity and notoriety in equal part over the past decade. It has been pitched as a solution to poverty and inequality, in addition to being positioned as a way to maintain income in the event that intelligent machines take over many of today’s jobs.

In this piece I’ll be focusing on what happens when Artificial Intelligence (AI) meets machines, vehicles, robots and devices to create intelligent machines — the dawn of the autonomous age.

I see the autonomous age as the core driver of our need to act. Not because poverty and inequality aren’t issues, but because intelligent machines will make those problems far greater if not addressed at the root. The autonomous age is the biggest potential threat to global socio-economic stability.

“I think we’ll end up doing universal basic income. It’s going to be necessary. There will be fewer and fewer jobs that a robot cannot do better. I want to be clear. These are not things I wish will happen; these are things I think probably will happen.”

Elon Musk

We’re transitioning from an age where humans did all the work to an age where machines do all the work — and more. The pie is getting bigger — machines can create more value than humans, in more ways, more efficiently. Not just that, a new economy altogether is emerging in parallel — the Machine-to-Machine (M2M) economy, where machines create value for themselves and one another.

So the pie is getting bigger — but it is also changing hands, from flesh to steel. The question we should be asking ourselves is not how do we stop this? (we can’t) — but;

Who will benefit? The 1% or the 100%?

We are already in the autonomous age.

The OECD had estimated that 14% of jobs were at high risk of automation. These estimates varied significantly across countries (from 6.5% in Norway to 34.6% in the Slovak Republic) as well as across occupations, ranging from 1.1% for chief executives and senior officials and legislators to 50.1% for food preparation assistants.

It is estimated that autonomous cars alone could eliminate 300,000 driving jobs per year, according to a May 2017 report from Goldman Sachs. That’s 300,000 jobs every year lost to one type of autonomous machine, in one country, in one year — every year.

Once again, science fiction is becoming science fact, and even though we’ve watched this unravel on the big screen and flicked through countless novels — we are unprepared. We’re caught in semi-sentient headlights.

Uber cars will arrive without drivers.

Amazon packages will be delivered by drone.

Starbucks coffees will be made without baristas.

McDonalds burgers will be made without chefs.

It will happen, and it has already begun. Imagine the uproar when it happens at scale. No government wants millions of jobless people, so as things stand governments are incentivised to halt innovation. If innovation is an issue, I personally believe the system is broken.

This is a crisis. A large crisis. In fact, if you’ve got a moment, it’s a twelve-storey crisis with a magnificent entrance hall, carpeting throughout, 24-hour portage, and an enormous sign on the roof, saying ‘This Is a Large Crisis’. A large crisis requires a large plan.

A Large Plan

Universal Basic Income (UBI)

UBI is the most ambitious social policy of our time. It is considered an alternative to welfare, although there’s still disagreement on what UBI actually is or should be. The idea is to keep society in-tact while also keeping the free market in-tact. To distribute wealth more evenly, to preserve peace, to solve the disparity between rich and poor and to have a constant source of income as machines automate jobs. Great in theory — but in practice?

The problems with this solution

  1. UBI may replace multiple targeted welfare agencies with one agency. it is not yet clear if this would be positive or negative.
  2. If UBI replaces multiple welfare agencies with one, huge dependance on that agency will emerge, resulting in a huge concentration of power and leverage.
  3. Redistribution of wealth is widely unpopular.
  4. New taxes are highly unpopular in many political climates. We witnessed this unpopularity in the US, when Andrew Yang, for example, proposed a new VAT tax to cover the $3.5 trillion cost of handing out all American adults $1000 a month.
  5. UBI is skeuomorphic — it aims to solve current/future problems with past technologies. It does not take emerging technologies into account.

I could go on, but here’s a 5minute interview with former UBI-promoter Douglas Rushkoff to summarise the arguments against Universal Basic Income:

‘UBI becomes a way of perpetuating our roles as consumers, at the bottom of the pyramid, not as owners.

If we’re going to go to anything I would say what about universal basic assets?

What about actual participation? What if the workers owned the means of production? So you don’t just give them a handout so the money ends up in the same corporate coffers and going into the same shares.

What universal basic income does, if you look at the whole model, is it allows the people who own the lion’s share of our world to own more of it.’

- Douglas Rushkoff

New Web. New Possibilities.

UBI is as controversial as it is ambitious. In my view, in light of the emergence of Web3, it is also far too one-dimensional. UBI represents us looking to emerging technologies and being afraid of what they enable, rather than looking to emerging technologies for answers and progress. UBI is a remedy to a future problem using past technology.

More than that, I believe UBI is far too closely tied to our view of the world in the 20th century, and despite it often being suggested as a necessary thing for the future, it does not take into account that the cause of the problem — technology — can also be the solution. Universal Basic Ownership seeks to rectify that.

With UBO, the technology of choice is blockchain. Blockchain is at the heart of Web3, the decentralized, community-governed era of the internet we are fast moving into.

Web3 enables us to verifiably own assets on the internet.
Web3 enables Universal Basic Ownership.

Introducing Universal Basic Ownership (UBO)

Universal Basic Ownership (UBO) grants people the right to earn a percentage of revenue generated by the machines that automate jobs.

It is a share in the Web3 machine economy. A share in the decentralized applications that enable intelligent, autonomous machines to provide services to people and other machines.

Unlike a share in a company however, this is a share which exists on the blockchain which you own and control, tied to your unique digital identity which also exists on the blockchain, which you own and control.

Right now, the autonomous machines being developed by manufacturers are owned only by the big enterprises creating them. These large corporations, building these machines, currently stand to be the only ones to profit from them taking jobs. The amount of data, influence and power they stand to amass in doing this will make the Facebook — Cambridge Analytica scandal seem cute.

The system I’m proposing would see us disrupt the Big Tech model and replace it with one of shared ownership, where businesses and individuals can have a share in owning these machines. This idea will replace monopolies with decentralized ecosystems.

Comparison: UBI vs. UBO

* subject to inflation
** this is not the case for all UBI programs, just the most heavily discussed.

How universal is universal, anyway?

Before diving deeper into Universal Basic Income — what do we actually mean by universal? When talking about UBI, in reality there’s no such thing as universal, there’s national at best. ‘Universal’ is just catchier.

Now, Web3 does not care for national borders, Web3 just needs an internet connection. As of January 2021 there were 4.66 billion active internet users worldwide — 59.5 percent of the global population. So even where Web3 is concerned, ‘universal’ is limited.

Web3 networks like peaq’s make ownership of assets via the internet accessible to everyone with an internet connection. What matters most in the context of the autonomous age is; who. Who should get UBO, and who should give it?

More than Universal Basic Income or Ownership, maybe we need to enable Specific or Targeted Basic Ownership? Food for thought.

With UBO, it is likely to be possible to hyper-target it; the more machines take jobs and income streams within a given community, the more the community earns in revenue from those same machines. It gives people a direct income stream from intelligent machines. The more machines do, the more jobs they take — the richer, not poorer, we become.

How does UBO work?

UBO works using Non-Fungible Tokens, or NFTs (because of course it does). NFTs are unique digital tokens (assets) that exist on the internet. They can be used to represent and verify ownership over digital assets such as art or music, or ownership rights over virtually anything.

Machine NFTs are like shares in the Web3 machine economy. If you own a Machine NFT, you own the right to earn from the revenue generated by machines on the network.

In the Web3 machine economy, apps which use machines to provide an intermediary service, like Uber, Deliveroo and virtually anything else, are replaced by dApps (decentralized applications) that are community built, community governed and community owned, run on decentralized networks. The money generated from these dApps ends up in the hands of all stakeholders, of anyone holding Machine NFTs.


Let’s take the Uber example.

  • Taxi drivers today decide they want to make money with their car by signing up and working for Uber.
  • A ‘Decentralized Uber’ — let’s call it Undo-ber — will follow a similar sign up process for a new driver as Uber— but the driver won’t be working for a Big Tech’s app, they’ll be working for a community-built dApp.
  • Undo-ber will allow drivers and users to own a piece of the dApp/machines and vote on how the dApp is built, designed, upgraded.
  • Undo-ber will allow drivers and users to earn in more lucrative ways while remaining in full control of their data.
  • When autonomous machines enter the market, the community (including the displaced drivers) gets to own, govern and earn from these machines instead of corporations. Crucially, this means that the out-of-work driver is still earning, based on the fact that the car they own (or a new, intelligent one) is still driving.

UBO could grant taxi drivers a share in the autonomous taxis that take their jobs. What if we could apply that across all jobs that intelligent, autonomous machines take?

The case for UBO — in a nutshell

  1. The autonomous age is here. Machines are becoming the primary workforce — there’s no stopping it. The question is, will the 1% control and earn from intelligent machines, or the 100%?
  2. The more jobs machines take, the more people end up unemployed and without income.
  3. Universal Basic Income (UBI) aims to solve this problem by giving everyone a constant source of income, mainly via additional tax revenue.
  4. Universal Basic Ownership (UBO) aims to solve this problem by granting people ownership over the autonomous machines that take their jobs.
  5. UBO ties income received by people to the rate at which machines take jobs. The more jobs (income %) machines take, the more people earn.
  6. UBO is gradual, dynamic, flexible and does not necessarily rely on governments or corporations — it relies on the internet.

‘The 21st century doesn’t belong to China, the United States, or Silicon Valley. It belongs to the internet.’

Foreign Policy

Summary and next steps

This article was intended to introduce you to the idea of Universal Basic Ownership (UBO). We don’t yet know exactly how this would work, but we’re working on it. Much more research is needed, but the potential is huge. Research is underway. We’re asking and answering questions like;

  • What are the implications of giving machines (sentient and not) Machine NFTs, too?
  • What’s stopping early adopters getting a disproportionately large share?
  • If machines do tasks cheaper than humans — won’t the pie get smaller?
  • Will machines really take all the work in the long term? What is work?
  • Does it require government or can it be fully decentralized?

And more.

To top this off I should double down on the fact that this is one of many things that peaq enables — not peaq’s core purpose. peaq is a Web3 network economy for machines. peaq is an enabler. It is the people who use it and who build on it who decide whether to build or enable an idea like this. I am simply putting this idea out there because I believe we have an opportunity to leverage this technology for positive impact on a global, trans-generational scale.

If you also see potential in this idea and you’re interested in collaborating on — and who knows — maybe shaping a generation or two, you can get in touch here: ubo@peaq.io.

“There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come.”

– Victor Hugo



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Max Thake

Building the Web3 machine economy — and writing about it too. | peaq co-founder | https://linktr.ee/maxthake