The world’s richest man and quite possibly the world’s first trillionaire Bill Gates reckons the robots that will eventually steal your job should pay tax for the privilege.
In an interview with Quartz, Gates sets out why he thinks it’s only fair that bots pay taxes like the rest of us:
Certainly there will be taxes that relate to automation. Right now, the human worker who does, say, $50,000 worth of work in a factory, that income is taxed and you get income tax, social security tax, all those things. If a robot comes in to do the same thing, you’d think that we’d tax the robot at a similar level.
[…]Some of it can come on the profits that are generated by the labour-saving efficiency there. Some of it can come directly in some type of robot tax. I don’t think the robot companies are going to be outraged that there might be a tax. It’s OK.
Gates (unsurprisingly) thinks that job automation is a good thing, because it will free people up to do more human-centric jobs like caring for young and old people, where there’s a shortage of trained staff. However, this does assume that people currently doing the kinds of jobs that are easy to automate would rather be working with people, and that’s not necessarily true. Many journalists will likely be replaced with algorithms, and when one takes my job, I’m not going to up and become a primary school teacher.
Technically, of course, it won’t be the robots themselves paying the taxes since they don’t get salaries (yet. We’ll save that for the inevitable “rights for robots” uprising). Instead, the companies using automation to replace their employees would be taxed by the government, both to slow down the adoption of robots to give society time to adapt, and to pay for whatever the displaced humans do instead. Quartz rightly points out that this could be seen as disincentivising innovation, but assuming the tax was lower than the savings gained by replacing people with machines, it’d still be worth firms’ while.