Bill Gates Wants To Tax Those Job-Stealing Robots

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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.

You can see Gates' full remarks in the video over at Quartz. [Via The Telegraph]

This post originally appeared on Gizmodo UK, which is gobbling up the news in a different timezone.



    It's easy to show that automation is good for society. Imagine your job gets replaced by a robot but you continue to get the same salary. As long as you contribute anything at all to society with your new free time it's a net benefit right? The problem being that in reality you won't get the same salary. The owner will pocket the money and you'll be out on your a*se. So it's distribution of the benefit that's the question, not whether the automation is of benefit.

    I agree with Gates that taxation is a reasonable answer to that but as you say, robots don't get payed a salary and they're certainly not going to negotiate for pay rises, so it's going to be difficult to determine how much they should be taxed. I would argue they should be taxed at a much higher level than a worker would be in the same situation so some portion of the benefits can be distributed to the displaced workers. Also there's no mention of the jobs that are going to be replaced by software, rather than by robots. It's going to be even harder to determine the level of tax there.

    As a society I really think we need to discuss what our goals are. At the moment our goal seems to be to make sure everyone has a job. Shouldn't our goal be to produce enough for everyone to enjoy a certain standard of living instead? Whether that's achieved through human labor or automation should be, on a macro level, irrelevant.

    Last edited 21/02/17 12:06 pm

    We would need a clear definition of a robot though. Automation is just to generic.

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