Bill Gates suggested taxing the robots that take human jobs at the same tax rate. I am not quite sure if he is completely serious in this video or saying it half-jokingly. Basically, he suggests a regulation that would effectively slow down the adoption of industrial robots, service robots, autonomous cars, etc. by taxing them at the same rate as the workers they are replacing. In this situation, the tax could be used to help the labor force being replaced.
This could bring up a few questions like, “how many deductions can this robot claim?” or, “can two robots file their tax return jointly?”
But, seriously, the issue Gates brings up is real: with all the new production robots, automated factories, and self-driving cars, how do we protect the future worker from being excluded from the work force? If we don’t think about this carefully, and impoverish and antagonize a large group of the population, something bad will eventually happen. In fact, we already have witnessed historical precedents such as this:
And who doesn’t learn from the history is doomed to repeat it.
On the other hand, taxation cannot be the right solution…because it will also make almost everything more expensive to produce and, therefore, more expensive for all of us to consume (and not just for the folks affected by the “robot replacement”). And this impact on society will be much more harmful than the lack of that relatively small amount of money usually collected from the extra tax.
Also, how is the way the robots are replacing some factory workers or truck drivers different from that of the computers with the office productivity software (from a company that is well-known to Bill Gates, by the way) that eliminated the whole group of jobs that focused on typing documents? Should we tax this software and these computers accordingly as well?
However, something has to be done. Likely, in a form of one-time “educational” severance paid to workers who are losing their jobs to machines. This should allow those folks to learn new things and to find new jobs (which, by the way, is already being done by most large companies anyway).
Also, this issue of “worker displacement,” is a transient problem that only impacts 1-2 generations of workers. They need our help, but it won’t affect the next generations too much. Take a look at these nice ladies in the picture above: they may have ended up losing their jobs, but their children never even thought of becoming typists and went into different fields instead.
One day, in the distant future, robots, automated systems, and intelligent software will replace most of the tasks that we don’t want to do or just cannot do. And we will have the risk of turning into these folks:
Or, we can grow the new generation of children that is going to focus on what humans are the best at: creativity, imagination, and thinking. And, when this happens, nobody will feel excluded. Having a great education is the key for our success.