Everyone knows Bill Gates; he is the world’s richest men, a philanthropist and someone who has the ear of the world’s media; whenever he chooses to pontificate they will print and publicise his offerings, a heaven-sent prophet, teaching us from the realms of righteousness, of which we tiny mortals can only dream.
Few would call him insane, but he has now called for a tax on robots to make up for taxes lost from workers whose jobs are destroyed by automation. The Microsoft founder said the revenue from a robot tax could help fund more health workers and people in elderly and child care, areas that are still expected to rely on humans.
His comments come amid growing concerns about how robots and artificial intelligence will change the workforce, with experts predicting that most jobs will be rendered obsolete over the next 30 years.
Mr Gates, in a recent interview, said that governments should take the lead on a way to tax labour from robots. “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.
“If you can take the labour that used to do the thing automation replaces, and financially and training-wise and fulfillment-wise have that person go off and do these other things, then you’re net ahead. But you can’t just give up that income tax, because that’s part of how you’ve been funding that level of human workers.”
Mr Gates is not the first to mull the issue. Last week, the European Parliament rejected a proposal for a tax on robot owners, the proceeds of which would retrain the workers who had lost their jobs.
Companies and robotics companies have opposed the suggestion, saying it would hamper innovation. But Mr Gates suggested that this would be an acceptable price to pay.
“It is really bad if people overall have more fear about what innovation is going to do than they have enthusiasm. That means they won’t shape it for the positive things it can do,” he said.
All very altruistic and far-thinking, but let’s take a look at this.
The initial reaction is that you can’t tax something that isn’t actually paid a wage, but, that aside, what is Gates’ role in the advancement of automation, and how far back does this (major alleged tax-paying dodger) wish to be taxed himself?
Microsoft software has been rendering humans redundant since the company’s inception, in fact it is their sole objective, to make tasks quicker, so performed by fewer and making humans obsolete. But it is humans who pay taxes, not computers.
Gates seems to think robots are separate from computers; of course they are not; one leads to the other and they become an amalgam, with the holy grail of added Artificial Intelligence (AI),
meaning computers can take over from humans in every sphere of life, apart from taxes and death. Personally, I have no belief in AI, it is simply getting computers to regurgitate what humans have put in, so I prefer to call it AS (Artificial Stupidity).
As early as the 1960s, Isaac Asimov, came up with the ‘Three Laws of Robotics’, outlining moral rules they should abide by. More recently there has been official guidance from the British Standards Institute advising designers how to create ethical robots, which is meant to avoid them taking over the world.
This is fair enough, perhaps robots need to be subjected to more stringent rules than humans, to save the human race, but I would suggest three AS rules, which should be for anyone in the game of computer/robotic development, like Mr Gates himself once was.