USV’s Albert Wenger on converting our attitude on automation from foe to friend

The zero marginal cost of information is turning everything upside down. Albert Wenger, Partner at Union Square Ventures asserts in our latest interview, “We are just at the beginning of this inversion.”

Although the changes this inversion is bringing to many associated industries like traditional publishers, crowdfunding sites, and biotech companies are still in their infancy, what do we get if we extrapolate things a bit?

According to Wenger, “a world of digital abundance.'” However, to achieve such a world, Wenger states we are going to invert our public policy and there are two areas in particular.

Basic Minimum Income

It’s idea that the government should pay everyone above a certain age a specified amount of money every week. The largest inversion being; it used to be that you had to work in order to get paid. However, under the guarantee you get paid first and then you choose what to work on. This would allow for, as Albert suggested, “a floor to be placed under everyone’s income.” This would allow for a fundamental shift in human attitude to automation. Wenger argues that ‘humans would embrace automation instead of fear it.”

Why is this important now?


Despite numerous winters in the advancement of artificial intelligence, we have reached a stage where machines are able to carry out many functions currently carried out by humans. This leads Wenger to suggest, ‘it is not a case of if but when these jobs will be replaced by machines’. Despite this, Wenger argues this good. This gives us time and as discussed in the interview, ‘time is great in a world of digital abundance’.


We already live in a world of technological deflation. Since the mid 1990s, the cost of consumer durables has been declining. While the cost of services, largely education and healthcare, have been increasing. As Wenger illustrates, “the implementation of a basic income guarantee would help to reduce both costs.” It will allow more people to contribute to free online education materials and online healthcare resources.

The Right To Be Represented By A Bot

For the small percentage of people that are not aware, a bot is a piece of software that acts autonomously, and, in many instances, on your behalf. Bots have the potential to invert the power relationship between networks and their participants. As Wenger addresses, “it also has the power to invert the current legal situation.” Currently, networks have the ability to restrict to what degree individuals can be represented by a bot. Networks have the ability to legitimize API’s, beyond that they can limit what you do.

How Can This Be Transferred To The Real World

The ride sharing market on the supply side is a market full of friction. Today, each service has separate apps, meaning it is difficult for drivers to participate in multiple networks at the same time.

However, if the driver had the right to be represented by a bot, they could simultaneously participate in many marketplaces. This would allow riders to apply a filter to the rides they accept. Some might prioritize for commission, some for closest distance.

Regardless, the power is infinite. It would make it very hard for the dominant incumbents to charge to high a commission as new networks could arise. As Wenger suggests, “it is the threat of the creation of new networks, that would reduce the power of existing networks.”

Ultimately, zero marginal cost gives us a promise of digital abundance and as a result physical abundance. The question remains; can humans convert our attitude of automation from foe to friend?