It's no secret that the robot revolution is coming, and certain jobs will undeniably be casualties. Once those jobs are taken over by robots, one question that arises is what happens to the income tax that used to come from the human employee. Microsoft founder Bill Gates thinks the answer is simple: Tax the robots.
In a recent Quartz video, Gates explained that if, for example, a human worker does $50,000 worth of work, that income is taxed. "If a robot comes in to do the same thing, you'd think that we'd tax the robot at a similar level," Gates said in the video.
Gates explained that the goal of enabling robotics at scale is to free up human labor to take on tasks that require human empathy, such as teaching and caring for the elderly. So, if a factory worker is replaced by a robot, they could potentially be retrained to fill one of the roles that require more human understanding.
But, if those workers are displaced from their manufacturing job, for example, Gates said that it isn't feasible to give up the income tax that was previously generated.
"Some of it can come on the profits that are generated by the labor-saving efficiency there," Gates said in the video. "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."
Gates isn't the only one proposing such a tax, as European lawmakers recommended a robot tax in a draft report written up by the European parliament back in May 2016. The draft urges the legislature to consider the implications of AI and robotics that it said "seem poised to unleash a new industrial revolution."
The draft report suggests that the robot owners pay taxes if the robots begin replacing large numbers of workers, or that they make contributions to social security. It also proposes the idea of making owners register their robots with authorities, and be held accountable for damage to property or persons, or for the destruction of jobs.
What do you think?
Should robots be taxed for the workers they displace? Let us know in the comments or on social media.
The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers
- Bill Gates recently proposed the idea that robots that displace human workers should be required to pay the lost income tax.
- Gates said the tax could come from profits, or as a direct tax on robot manufacturers, as it would free up the displaced workers to fill roles that require human empathy.
- European lawmakers proposed a similar tax on robots in a draft report written up in 2016.
- 6 ways the robot revolution will transform the future of work (TechRepublic)
- Robots and AI: Should we treat them like pets, or people? (ZDNet)
- CES 2017: Robots of the future (TechRepublic)
- The future of robotics: 10 predictions for 2017 and beyond (ZDNet)
- Raspberry Pi-powered arm: This kit aims to make robotics simple enough for kids (TechRepublic)
Conner Forrest has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.