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AI Government Robotics

Backlash Builds Against Bill Gates' Call For A Robot Tax (cbsnews.com) 392

Bill Gates argued governments should tax companies that use replace humans with robots, which "provoked enough negative feedback to fry a motherboard," according to CBS News. Here's how they summarized some of the reactions:
  • "Why pick on robots?" former Treasury Secretary Summers asked in a Washington Post opinion piece, which called Gates "profoundly misguided." The economist argued that progress, however messy and disruptive sometimes, ultimately benefits society overall.
  • Mike Shedlock, a financial adviser with Sitka Pacific Capital Management in Edmonds, Washington, wrote on his blog that robot owners, who likely would pay the tax, would simply pass it along by jacking up prices.
  • The European Union's parliament in February rejected a measure to impose a tax on robots, using much the same reasoning as Gates' critics.

But even while acknowledging that technology can complement humans rather than replacing them, a Bloomberg columnist argues that "Gates is right to say that we should start thinking ahead of time about how to use policy to mitigate the disruptions of automation." So if we're not going to tax robots, then how should society handle the next great wave of automated labor?


Backlash Builds Against Bill Gates' Call For A Robot Tax

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 12, 2017 @07:38AM (#54021995)

    But I think it will be found among these Slashdot comments!

  • by FudRucker ( 866063 ) on Sunday March 12, 2017 @07:39AM (#54021999)
    because you would not want to tax the ultra mega rich people that actually have enough money to help feed & house the disabled, poor & homeless, they need to buy that new yacht, jet and new limo every year
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Yeah, silly, they're the ones who will own the robots. Taxing them would be the same as taxing the robots.
    • because you would not want to tax the ultra mega rich people that actually have enough money to help feed & house the disabled, poor & homeless, they need to buy that new yacht, jet and new limo every year

      Mistake number one is calling it a tax, Taxes are evil and bad. If you call it a users fee, or a toll, people will line right up.

    • I sense confusion in this one.
    • it's just marketing. We need to tax the super rich because they have everything (not just all the money, literally everything). But if you say you're gonna tax a person the media (which is far right on economic issues) starts talking about the govmmint stealing from them (even when they have nothing worth stealing) and the whole thing shuts down.

      This is the same thing we did with social security & medicare. A socialist program masquerading as a tax to get people who desperately need help to accept th
  • Excel (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Richard_at_work ( 517087 ) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {ecirpdrahcir}> on Sunday March 12, 2017 @08:00AM (#54022047)

    Microsoft made its billions off the back of putting millions of accountants and accountants interns out of business with the rise of Excel (and its contemporaries), and yet there were no issues about automation taking over back then... nor any tax on spreadsheets....

    Automation has happened all of humanities history - we don't buy cotton material from cottage based weavers any more, and blacksmiths don't build train engines.

  • This is Gates? Of Microsoft fame? How about a special tax on H1Bs replacing American workers - like he lobbies for.

    • Actually, a tax on robots will make them prohibitively expensive. The US won't be able to successfully compete with other nations on the global playing field. So the government will have to pass a robot H-1B law, that will allow US companies to employ cheaper foreign robots. Only foreign robots have the "cheap" skill that so many companies are craving for.

  • Did we tax steam engines when they made pumping water out of coal mines more efficient? Or driving mills instead of using water wheels? Or hauling goods and passengers long distances?

    Did we tax Bethlehem Steel when they did time motion studies to figure out that laborers using smaller shovels can actually shovel more coal?

    Did we tax assembly lines when they made producing cars and washing machines and radios more efficient?

    Did we tax Intel's new 17nm fab, when – and just because – it made produc

  • by Gravis Zero ( 934156 ) on Sunday March 12, 2017 @08:05AM (#54022063)

    Automation is not the enemy of humanity, it's the product of our knowledge and investment in science to better mankind. If you think automation is going to make people permanently unemployable then perhaps it's finally time to admit that we need some sort of universal income so that people can afford basic things like food and shelter. Alternatively, now would be a good time to start having the purge every year. ;)

    • by zifn4b ( 1040588 ) on Sunday March 12, 2017 @09:10AM (#54022273)

      If you think automation is going to make people permanently unemployable then perhaps it's finally time to admit that we need some sort of universal income so that people can afford basic things like food and shelter.

      Yes exactly but you didn't even state the problem clearly. That's what drives me nuts about this issue. Imagine a world where human labor is replaced by robots. The labor becomes upkeep for the robots by replacing parts, upgrading firmware, etc. What that does is it decreases the overall need for labor. In order to understand the problem effectively, you have to be able to see the need for labor decreasing and the population increasing. Then you have to juxtapose that with the current economic system and the problem should become incredibly clear. An economic system whereby every person must perform labor in exchange for money in order to pay for their expenses (largely mandatory) does not work anymore. The only way, as you sarcastically put it, to make that existing system work is to essentially invoke the story of Procrustes Bed and chop the population down to a size that fits that economic model. That of course is absolutely ludicrous and defeats the entire purpose of innovation which is... to EVOLVE.

      I believe what's coming is what was predicted in the 50's. Shorter work weeks, more leisure time and that's because through our hard work and efforts we have arrived at the future and will now reap the benefits of all that effort. The type of people who are naysayers and want to keep the status quo are likely to be people who are reaping massive rewards from the current system or possibly puritanical work ethic folks (like the ones that founded America) because the idea of more leisure time than work time is incomprehensible to people like the Mennonites. None of these are good reasons to keep the system.

      If we don't evolve, we are effectively have another time of Dark Ages.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I believe what's coming is what was predicted in the 50's. Shorter work weeks, more leisure time

        I predict that we'll be working as long as ever, providing goods and services to one another that our predecessors couldn't even imagine. Mainly because this is what has happened every single time thus far.

        • Yes, because the reasons for this are in part that the average employee isn't seeing the benefit of increased productivity. And while we could place a moral judgment on that, the result really should be obvious when you think about it.

          Consider a business where the employees work 40 hours a week. A new widget comes out, that enables them to get twice as much done with the same amount of effort, in a single week. The basic question then is whether you think the business owner is going to tell everyone that
      • If we don't evolve, we are effectively have another time of Dark Ages.

        Well, there's the problem. Have we evolved since the Dark Ages? And if so, is it by an amount sufficient to avoid another one?

      • I agree with this.. except that ISN'T how things will happen without major restructuring.

        It requires capital to buy the robots to produce things. Now, if those robots are basically owned by everyone (lots of small business, for instance, or where stock is owned equitably across the population) then we all benefit: we can work less for the same material wealth.

        But capital, as we have learned, is actually highly concentrated, with the vast majority in the hands of a very small minority (0.1%) of the populatio

    • by dtougas ( 152278 )

      I agree, the solution should be to evolve the system to actually make these labour saving devices actually save labour.

      The problem is this... if there are fewer workers needed there are less people to tax. Where does the money come from to support society? Or these ideas of universal basic income, etc? Companies automate to save money and thus increase profits. They are the ONLY ones (and the stock market) benefiting from the automation. In order for these efficiencies to benefit society as a whole, wealth

  • I don't necessarily disagree with the core idea of a robot tax, but in a globalized world you don't end up with people paying a robot tax, you end up with factories getting moved into countries that don't have a robot tax.

    Also robots aren't really the core of the problem, the core problem is the accumulation of wealth within a very small number of people. Robots might make that situation worse and a robot tax could help slow it down a little, but much more drastic measures of wealth redistribution will be n

    • by MrL0G1C ( 867445 )

      the core problem is the accumulation of wealth within a very small number of people.

      Of course Bill doesn't want THAT dealt with, how much of that charitable trust money has he actually spent? And how much of it is invested in companies in a manner diametrically opposed to the trusts cause.

    • the core problem is the accumulation of wealth within a very small number of people.

      Why is that the "core problem"? How is Bill's wealth harming me?

  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Sunday March 12, 2017 @08:14AM (#54022089)

    We have seen what happens when you disenfranchise the local population and strip them of the bare minimum needs for survival. 1789 and 1917 give a pretty good example. That's why we outsourced that to areas where people can't simply pick up pitchforks and kill us, 'cause swimming through oceans with pitchforks is a bit unwieldy.

    If you now again create a powerless group of people without any rights and means of existence right at your door, they don't need to swim. And they have a second amendment that ensures they're armed.

    I would not go ahead full bore neo-capitalist into another industrial revolution where you don't try to squeeze your workers dry but simply shove them to the side. Working your workers 'til they're dead is one thing, but shoving them aside means that they are still strong enough at the end of the day to hold a gun against your head.

    • by easyTree ( 1042254 ) on Sunday March 12, 2017 @08:43AM (#54022195)

      Let's not forget that a large portion of those workers are in an occupation whose sole purpose is to prevent expression of legitimate grievance against those creating the situation.

      Divide and conquer and reward those who work against their own interests in favour of ours with toroidal sugar treats.

      • Let's not forget that a large portion of those workers are in an occupation whose sole purpose is to prevent expression of legitimate grievance against those creating the situation.

        Congratulations, you managed to drag President Trump and his staff into a discussion about robots :-)

    • That's why we outsourced that to areas where people can't simply pick up pitchforks and kill us,

      Do you mean China, where worker incomes have quadrupled over the last 15 years?

    • We have seen what happens when you disenfranchise the local population and strip them of the bare minimum needs for survival. 1789 and 1917 give a pretty good example. That's why we outsourced that to areas where people can't simply pick up pitchforks and kill us, 'cause swimming through oceans with pitchforks is a bit unwieldy.

      I call dibs on the invention of a floating pitchfork with an outboard motor. Think of the pent-up demand even today. It will be YUGE!

  • I think people and legal entities will use robots to avoid the robot tax, thus automating it out of existence. Sorry, Bill Gates, we're screwed.

  • Elite business people who benefit directly from using robots?

    or the people whose jobs are getting replaced by robots?

    me thinks it's the former

  • So if we're not going to tax robots, then how should society handle the next great wave of automated labor?

    Anyone who's serious about competing for their jobs against robots should have robotic implants to help level the playing field? :P

    • What's the opposite of a robotic worker? A biological one? Some humans working low-end jobs are already more robotic than robots.
  • by DatbeDank ( 4580343 ) on Sunday March 12, 2017 @08:26AM (#54022139)

    These dipsh!t producers need to realize that when they collectively suppress labor costs that very same "labor" can't afford to buy your goods.

    Want to solve the lagging economy? Follow the philosophy of, "A rising tide raises all boats.

    • If you don't lower manufacturing cost, you'll be less efficient, and other, more efficient countries, will buy your goods away from you.

    • Once you possess all the wealth, you don't need to keep selling shit??
    • but the owners don't. The owner class (aka the "Ruling Class") is a different group of people. I don't need people to buy my stuff if I already own everything. They'll do what I say or they'll starve to death trap on reservations like we did to the American Indians.
    • collectively suppress labor

      The key word here being "collectively."

      Why care about the economy as a whole if YOUR business is doing okay? In the minds of the executive, making as much money as possible is a less important goal that simply making more money than everyone else. Sure, the economy might be a smoldering pile of ashes, but at least my pile of ashes is the biggest!

  • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Sunday March 12, 2017 @08:59AM (#54022241) Homepage Journal

    It doesn't matter if you call it Cost Of Living Allowance, Minimum Guaranteed Income, Universal Basic Income, or anything else, the only reasonable way to go forward in a capitalist society is with simple currency-based redistribution of wealth.

    There are not and will not be enough jobs to go around. A significantly-sized population is required to maintain the level of technological development, so killing off the masses is a non-starter which would impinge upon the lifestyles of the rich. Their basic needs have to be met somehow. They are going to have to be handed money, because if you don't, one of two things will happen, or both. One, they will die in the streets in droves. Two, they will show up with torches and pitchforks and really ruin all the spreadsheets.

    We can forestall this future with public works projects, and honestly that is a good idea anyway, especially in the USA where infrastructure is crumbling. But we cannot do so indefinitely. The health of our economic systems is based on endless growth, and the only way for humanity to enjoy endless growth is to expand into space. We are decades behind where we could be in that area. We may, in fact, be too late. Rockets can never get enough humans off this mudball to make a difference, for reasons of physics, and we still don't know how to build a space elevator. We may well fail here, and never escape our gravity well (a handful of experiments aside.)

  • I've been in manufacturing since 1975(!). You would not believe, even in small shops, how much automation has changed the way things are done. In 1975, if you wanted something to move, you grabbed a handle and cranked. Now days, you write code, load it into a computer and hit 'start'. The computer then selects the tool, moves it into position, and heads toward the work at an almost inconceivable rate of speed. This has been going on since the mid '80s. A little late to start taxing robots now.
  • We are already seeing how it will be handled. Just have a look at places like the Sudan. It's at those edges of the global economy where we will see the repercussions first. To summarize the action into words, "Sorry, you are not needed any longer. Please starve to death quickly and quietly. Thank you." The robots are going to have a pretty easy time of it when they finally take over, there will probably only be a few million people left by then.

  • Is that where the IRS can email his invoice for billions in back taxes?

    Because that's what the personal computing revolution of the '80s did. It replaced flesh and blood workers -- filers, clerks, mailmen, ledger maintainers, calculators, computers - with their software equivalents.

  • Tax the robots and the business owners will just raise the prices. Well, someone has to pay to run the country. Tax the consumers more and they will just have less to spend with your stupid robots. Same end result...
  • Given the rise of AI, automation, and cheap energy, it's only a matter of time before humans are not needed in the loop. From mining to manufacturing to warfare, there really isn't a limit and it seems inevitable. The few ultra wealthy people left will face the serious problem of what to do when their vast empires no longer have citizens wealthy enough to pay for goods, but luckily the robots and AI keep chugging away. Thank god it's not like in centuries past where those filthy poor can rise up, the li
    • The invisible hand demands it so it's a moral imperative it happen.

      Until the computers are smart enough to design new and better computers (and other things) without human intervention, they're going to need a certain minimum human population just to maintain the current technological level, let alone to advance it. I only wonder how many of them understand this.

  • After all, he seemed to be convinced that an algorithm for factoring prime numbers efficiently would have a huge impact on the computer industry.
  • if this many folks who are that rich and powerful hate it.
  • As with everything we humans do, we will only respond to that change when it's already done some damage...
    Especially true if the running government of the time is of the type that denies obvious scientific facts.

  • We should propose taxing Microsoft Office, for causing the sacking of millions of secretaries, just to see how he likes it.

  • Seriously, most nations such as nearly all of EUrope, China, Mexico, etc use vats for multiple issues. One of them is that nearly all of these countries apply a set rate to everything, including imports, and then give tax breaks for local manufacturing.
    America needs to do the same. Apply a 18% VAT, perhaps giving the last level to the state in which the retailer is in, and then give tax breaks for local production. We can then drop sales tax in states lower and lower.
    And these vats cover the issues of
    • A VAT is actually counterproductive - you don't want to tax adding value!

      What we really just need is an ownership tax - perhaps something like a property tax. The simplest form is this: your income tax rate is proportional to your ownership percentile.

      This means if you own a lot, but have zero income, you get low tax - so you can keep your wealth. If you own nothing, and suddenly get income - you get to keep most of your income.

      If you have massive wealth and massive income, you get taxed massively.

      This solv

  • by globaljustin ( 574257 ) on Sunday March 12, 2017 @01:54PM (#54023559) Journal

    The solution to our jobs being automated is implementing a Universal Basic Income.

    The future is here...it's happening...it's absolutely necessary to transition to a system that guarantees income.

    The loudest objection, "We don't have the money"...it's simply not true...if we had even the tax levels of the halcyon 1950s Eisenhower administration, we could do it.

I find you lack of faith in the forth dithturbing. - Darse ("Darth") Vader

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