Printed: 2020-08-11

Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

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Your Jobs vs Your Dignity

James Felton Keith

April 03, 2016

What we don’t know can hurt us. In the past year, it seems that 15 years of economic erosion has taken its toll on the wisdom of our 20th century experience. Nostalgic sentiments from an analogue age have seeped into the modern political discourse. Not because, they’ll work, but because people can understand them.

During his State of the Union, POTUS Obama touched on “unemployment insurance” which stems from the 1960’s era of peace and love and American’s response to greed, war, and technology. Basic Income was what it was called, and a sort of resurgence has struck our exploration of a world where robots will take your jobs. Oxford University strongly suggests that robots will take our jobs at the rate of about 50% in the next 20 years. On the other end of the spectrum, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are employing protectionist rhetoric to rally their supporters. Mr.’s Trump and Sanders are both touting that they can make America work again, either by taking it back or re-distributing wealth.


While I think we all agree that knowing our history will help us to prevent making the same mistakes in the future, we must take heed to the extraordinary problem we are facing with regards to people’s value. This is an opportunity. We need to think like engineers, root causing the problem. And the problems are neither brown-faced immigrant-women nor the peach-faced pin-striped bankers. It’s not even wealth, per se. Global citizens need to start valuing each other through a more tangible means. 

Ownership is the only, and has always been the best way to distribute value. This was factual in Feudalistic and Capitalistic times. Our economics are actually distribution problems. Database tech provides new solutions to distribute value via ownership of our personal data and how it is transacted with other individuals and institutions.

The only basic we need is more basic ownership. Because no one is paid for doing absolutely nothing, even as Tech Insider profiled Frans Kerver, a Dutch man as being so. Frans’ son, a noted non-supporter of the $1,100 monthly remittance, is dismissed as not “understand it at all” by Frans. Neither Frans nor Trump nor Bernie nor the POTUS, understand it all. What American leadership is shouting on the campaign trails is that people have value. But in different zero-sum ways, with regards to our tribes, our unions, our parties, or our countrymen, but never are they touting: all humans have intrinsic value. If they were, then they’d be investing in the technologies to identify the said value in Frans’ influence over his son, family, community, and the work that he has traded his time for in previous years. 

Through distributed databases like blockchain technologies that power crypto-currencies like bitcoin, the new Personal Data Project (PDP) is able to prove that Frans has an intrinsic value. In the future the world won’t look like a welfare state with a unified currency. It will look like 8 billion currencies tracking and trading owned value in real-time. The point is to inject dignity into existing as humans in an era of exponential technological growth. As a species we have to agree that people are valuable, first. We’ve built and taught these technologies to destroy our jobs for goodness sakes! We also have to agree that value is pervasive, and like that of energy. It cannot be created nor destroyed, but can change form. Then we should get on with all of those other problems that require all of our hands on deck.

James Felton Keith is an award winning engineer economist and published author. He is Founder of the Personal Data Project, Co-Founder of the IBM Watson backed FinTech (financial technology) firm Accrue Inc., and Keith Institute. He specializes in the ethnography of technology and economic inclusion. Formerly CEO of the LGBT Chamber of Commerce and a Mayoral Technology Appointee in Detroit, JFK currently contributes as board and patron member to OUT in STEM, OUT & Equal, Lifeboat Foundation, Apollo Theater, The Guggenheim, and IBM Global Entrepreneurs to name a few.


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