Meet Elizabeth Rhodes, Woman Behind Sam Altman's OpenAI UBI Study

Elizabeth Rhodes is the research director at OpenResearch, a Sam Altman-led organisation that is conducting a study on universal basic income.

Tanya Savkoor
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elizabeth rhodes running openai study on universal basic income

Image: Elizabeth Rhodes Twitte

Elizabeth Rhodes is the Research Director at OpenResearch, the Research and Development wing of OpenAI, where she is leading a study on Universal Basic Income (UBI). The program is rooted in socioeconomic change as it aims to study the concept of regular payments to every employee. Rhodes was a PhD scholar in social work and political science when applied to be a part of OpenAI CEO Sam Altman's study on UBI. Altman was the President of Y Combinator at the time, and Rhodes was appointed as the leader of the program.


Speaking to Fortune about the study which will be released this year, Rhodes said, "(Sam Altman) was definitely thinking about future labour market changes—not just what happens if robots take jobs, but also a recognition of the challenges we're facing today with distribution of resources and opportunities across the population.

Study On Universal Basic Income

Elizabeth Rhodes is passionate about studying the social implications of an unconditional regular payment system. Even when the UBI system was unheard of, she was determined to join Sam Altman in the study. While the world feared that artificial intelligence could take away their jobs, Altman said in 2021 that it could in fact be used as a tool to generate enough wealth to pay every U.S. adult $13,500 a year. 

While their study has been widely criticised for taking so long, Rhodes said that she intended to take a slow approach to be mindful of small details and the challenges along the way. She told Fortune, "We did everything sort of the opposite of 'move fast'. We didn't move slow for slow's sake, but thinking through different challenges and 'what ifs.'" 

Since OpenAI piloted the study, several other organisations have displayed an interest in studying how the UBI system can be beneficial for socioeconomic growth. OpenAI is expected to release its findings this year on how regular payments affect the study recipients' time use, mental and physical health, decision-making, crime, politics and social attitudes, and effects on children. 

Who Is Elizabeth Rhodes?

Elizabeth Rhodes is a research scientist leading OpenAI's project on Univeral Basic Income. According to her LinkedIn, she has a PhD in social work and political science from the University of Michigan, where she also pursued a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree in Social Policy and Evaluation earlier.

Rhodes has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Government and Economics. She had also pursued a course in Development Studies, Economics of Social Policy, and International Relations from the London School of Economics. With Rhodes' expertise in socioeconomy and Altman's technological approach, OpenAI aims to study the implications of an AI-forward workforce where employees get paid systematically. 

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