Bill Gates wants to tax robots. In an interview with Quartz magazine, Gates talked about the effects of automation from the point-of-view of what happens after a robot or AI system takes over a human job or changes these jobs beyond all recognition. He argues that today’s robots should be taxed—either their installation, or the profits firms enjoy by displacing human labor.
We’ve seen a lot of screaming headlines about robots taking jobs over the past few years. Automation will eliminate a few occupations outright in the next decade. Bigger still is that automation will affect portions of almost ALL jobs to a greater or lesser degree.
In December 2016, the outgoing Obama Administration estimated that just in the transportation sector alone, automated vehicles could threaten or transform between 2-3 million existing US jobs, including over 1.5 million long-haul trucking jobs. Right now, long-haul trucking is one of the few remaining sectors where it is possible to attain a solid middle class standard of living without a college degree.
So when Bill Gates talks about taxing robots what we’re really hearing is a debate over the pace of change. If anything, the next decade is going to challenge us to re-think our economic metrics as a whole. Otherwise, we stand a good chance of installing gauges from a steamship to help us fly a jumbo jet.