Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft recently said in an interview that some kind of income tax must be created for robots that replace humans in the jobs. He added that automation must be slowed down to give time for the human workers to get adjusted to the new work environment. He also proposed that tax disincentives must be introduced to overcome the burden imposed by displacement through technology.
Several tech companies are worried about automation that takes away jobs from human workers. In fact, the concept of automation has been replacing human workers ever since the industrial revolution. The introduction of robots to certain jobs will make the humans obsolete. This means that workers who have been enjoying steady paying jobs will be out of work suddenly and they need to acquire new skills to get settled in another well-paying job.
Gates’ proposal on taxing robots has significant problems because it can create more trouble for tax authorities in differentiating income from robots and other artificial intelligence machines that are part of the automation process. Industrial capitalism has made it difficult to differentiate between capital and property. As a result, a majority of the wealth is accumulated by owners rather than workers. Workers who already suffer from long working hours and poor minimum wages will be forced to live with welfare when their jobs are replaced by robots.
In the next 20 years, computer automation will take over a majority of human jobs and there is no doubt it. High-skilled workers capable of operating and controlling the robots will be in much demand while the low-skilled workers should be satisfied with the welfare. They should also learn new skills and redirect their efforts to another industry that requires their contribution.
Limiting the innovation and slowing down automation will only result in limited economic opportunities for everyone involved. Technology has been replacing human jobs for several decades now. In the 1950s, there were 500,000 steelworkers while currently there are only 100,000. When driverless trucks become increasingly common, more than 3.5 million truck drivers would lose their job.
Supporters of automation claim that slowing down innovation will make the economy much weaker. When the products and services are affordable and within reach, demand will increase. This will naturally increase the employment opportunities, but the human workers must upgrade their skills to keep up with the technology. The job opportunities will fade away only when the demand decreases because that had been the case in the past.
In the information technology industry, there is a huge demand for automation which is supposed to help with more employment. When ATMs were introduced, the demand for bank tellers also increased 2% annually as it was less expensive for banks and easily reachable for users. Perhaps, a more sensible approach would be to introduce Universal Basic Dividend (UBD) program which uses returns from all capital investments to give back to the public, thereby sharing the prosperity.