The idea of a tax on robots was raised last May in a draft report to the European Parliament prepared by MEP Mady Delvaux from the Committee on Legal Affairs. Emphasizing how robots could boost inequality, the report proposed that there might be a “need to introduce corporate reporting requirements on the extent and proportion of the contribution of robotics and AI to the economic results of a company for the purpose of taxation and social security contributions.”
The public reaction to Delvaux’s proposal has been overwhelmingly negative, with the notable exception of Bill Gates, who endorsed it. But we should not dismiss the idea out of hand. In just the past year, we have seen the proliferation of devices such as Google Home and Amazon Echo Dot (Alexa), which replace some aspects of household help.
So much to mock here. Bill Gates? He didn’t propose a plan to tax use of computers and software that put lots of white collar clerks out of work (not to mention adding machine manufacturers). And replacing household help with Alexa? Are there employers out there who hire people to turn on their stereo and place orders on Amazon for them? I mean, it might results in fewer CIA lackeys to place physical bugs in targets’ homes. It kind of seems like these guys don’t really understand what automation is or what it looks like, or its incremental nature. It’s not “I, Robot.”
I think dismissing the idea out of hand is the best plan. Any attempt at actually doing this can only result in rent seeking.