Many people are worried about the rise of a robotic workforce. If a machine is able to perform a task as efficiently as a human employee, then that human will probably be replaced.
This is a particular danger if the robot is cheaper to employ than a human, which is often the case. Robots do not need wages, or holiday allowance, or medical insurance. They generally cost less than a human worker, which makes them very attractive to employers.
A robot tax could be a way to combat this problem
The tax would force employers to pay a fee for every robot they used within their company. If the tax-per-robot was as much as the salary of a human, then this would minimise the financial advantages of hiring a robot. In this way, a robot tax would level the playing field for robotics and humans alike.
Xavier Oberson, a professor of tax law, believes that a robot tax would only be temporary. With further improvements to artificial intelligence, the robots of the future may actually demand wages, just like a human. This would rebalance the current financial imbalance and make the robot tax redundant.
An innovation penalty
Of course, a lot of people are unimpressed with this idea. If the demand for robotics was forced downwards, then the robot tax would disincentivise any future progress in artificial intelligence and machine learning. Business owners have called it an ‘innovation penalty’, as it would punish any companies who were trying to modernise their workforce.
Unless the robot tax was enforced internationally, many of these companies would move their production elsewhere, to a country where the tax did not exist. Others say that the threat of a robotic workforce has been blown out of proportion after a study found that only 9% of current jobs are able to be automated.
There are clearly two sides to this argument, and for the first time in history, the topic is gaining political traction. High-profile advocates of a robot tax include Bill Gates, Andrew Yang and Bill de Blasio. For now, a decision does not need to be made. But as the capabilities of robotics continue to improve, it is only a matter of time before leaders will have to choose whether robot taxation is a viable option.
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