Bill Gates: ‘Tax the Robots’

Go Lean Commentary

There is a fear – fueled by Hollywood – of a Robot Apocalypse. This is where the machines become self-aware – see Appendix VIDEO below – and ascertain that humans are a threat to their existence and so they seek to destroy all biological humans. This theme has been frequented  in movies like “The Terminator“, “The Matrix“, “I, Robot“, “West World“, “Avengers – Age of Ultron” and more.

CU Blog - Bill Gates - 'Tax the Robots' - Photo 2While enmity between humans and robots (Artificial Intelligence) may NOT be a legitimate fear today, one thing for sure, many robots, robotic systems, autonomous systems and automation systems are responsible for taking a lot of jobs IN REAL LIFE; there is no need for Hollywood make-believe with this threat.

From a governance perspective, this is bad! Humans pay taxes, social security, national insurance, pensions, healthcare and other community benefits. Robots do not!

Or should they?

Bill Gates, a billionaire whose fortunes were forged from the computer software industry asserts that robots should pay taxes. See the related news articles or editorials here:

Title #1: Robots that steal human jobs should pay taxes: Bill Gates

WASHINGTON: Robots that steal human jobs should pay taxes, Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates has said.

CU Blog - Bill Gates - 'Tax the Robots' - Photo 1“Certainly there will be taxes that relate to automation. Right now, the human worker who does, say, USD 50,000 worth of work in a factory, that income is taxed and you get income tax, social security tax, all those things,” Gates told Quartz website.

“If a robot comes in to do the same thing, you’d think that we’d tax the robot at a similar level,” said Gates, one of the world’s richest men.

Gates said he believes that governments should tax companies’ use of robots, as a way to at least temporarily slow the spread of automation and to fund other types of employment.

The 61-year-old philanthropist said a robot tax could finance jobs taking care of elderly people or working with kids in schools, for which needs are unmet and to which humans are particularly well suited.

He argued that governments must oversee such programmes rather than relying on businesses, in order to redirect the jobs to help people with lower incomes.

“If you can take the labour that used to do the things automation replaces, and financially and training-wise and fulfilment-wise have that person go off and do these other things, then you’re net ahead,” said Gates, one of the leading players in artificial-intelligence technology.

“But you can’t just give up that income tax, because that’s part of how you’ve been funding that level of human workers,” he said.

The web portal reported that the idea is not totally theoretical as EU lawmakers considered a proposal to tax robot owners to pay for training for workers who lose their jobs, though on February 16 the legislators ultimately rejected it.

“You ought to be willing to raise the tax level and even slow down the speed” of automation, Gates said.

“Exactly how you’d do it, measure it, you know, it’s interesting for people to start talking about now,” Gates said.

Talking about the tax on robots, Gates said, “Some of it can come on the profits that are generated by the labour- saving efficiency there. Some of it can come directly in some type of robot tax. I don’t think the robot companies are going to be outraged that there might be a tax. It’s OK.”

Source: Economic Times Magazine – Posted February 20, 2017; retrieved March 15, 2017 from:


Title #2: What’s Wrong With Bill Gates’ Robot Tax
By: Noah Smith

Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates made a splash in a recent interview, when he suggested that robots should be taxed in order to help humans keep their jobs:

    “Right now, the human worker who does, say, $50,000 worth of work in a factory, that income is taxed and you get income tax, social security tax, all those things. If a robot comes in to do the same thing, you’d think that we’d tax the robot at a similar level.”

Gates is only one of many people in the tech world who have worried about automation and its threat to workers. YCombinator founder Sam Altman, for instance, is conducting an experiment with basic income — a regular cash payment to all households. That policy has gained popularity across Silicon Valley, if not in the rest of the country.

It’s easy to see why the tech world is worried. The rise of machine learning has increased the fear that many humans could simply become obsolete — for example, 3.5 million American truck drivers might soon find their jobs threatened by driverless trucks. Though in the past, technology usually complemented workers instead of replacing them, there’s no law of nature saying the technology of the future will work the same. A few economists even claim that cheap automation has already diverted income from workers to company owners.

The fear isn’t that all humans will become obsolete, but that automation will increase inequality among humans. Company owners and high-skilled workers — people who tell machines what to do — would be vastly enriched, while everyone else either works low-skilled jobs for meager wages or goes on welfare.

Another fear is that even if the mass of humanity ultimately does find new ways to add value by complementing new technology — to “race with the machines,” as economist Erik Brynjolfsson puts it — this transition could take a long time and hurt a lot of people. As Bloomberg View’s Tyler Cowen has noted, wages in Britain fell for four decades at the start of the Industrial Revolution. More recently, we’ve seen very slow and painful adjustment to the impact of globalization. If the machine learning revolution hurts workers for 40 years before ultimately helping them, it might be worth it to slow that revolution down and give them time to adjust.

The main argument against taxing the robots is that it might impede innovation. Growth in rich countries has slowed markedly in the past decade, suggesting that it’s getting harder and harder to find new ways of doing things. Stagnating productivity, combined with falling business investment, suggests that adoption of new technology is currently too slow rather than too fast — the biggest problem right now isn’t too many robots, it’s too few. Taxing new technology, however it’s done, could make that slowdown worse.

The problem with Gates’ basic proposal is that it’s very hard to tell the difference between new technology that complements humans and new technology that replaces them. This is especially true over the long term. Power looms replaced human weavers back in the Industrial Revolution, but people eventually became more productive, by learning to operate those looms. If taxes had slowed the development of power looms, the eventual improvements would have come later.

This is a powerful argument against the taxation of automation. Gates is right to say that we should start thinking ahead of time about how to use policy to mitigate the disruptions of automation. But given the importance of sustaining innovation, we should look at alternative policies.

One idea is a wage subsidy for low-income workers. This basically puts a thumb on the scale in the human-robot struggle, by making human workers cheaper. The easiest way to do that is to cut payroll taxes, which disproportionally fall on low earners. That would mean paying for Medicare and even Social Security out of other revenue sources, such as higher income taxes on the rich or a value-added tax.

Another idea is to simply redistribute capital income more broadly. Income from capital gains, land rents and dividends now is highly concentrated among the wealthy. But policy could change that. One idea, suggested by economist Miles Kimball, is a sovereign-wealth fund. The government could use tax revenue to buy stocks and real estate, and distribute the profits to the populace. This would essentially redistribute some of the income produced by the robots, giving every citizen a stake in the new automation economy. The wealth fund could be split into many smaller funds, each with different managers, in order to prevent concentration of ownership.

So there are probably better ways than taxing robots to help humans avoid the harms of automation. Instead of slowing innovation, the government should think about taxing humans less and redistributing the income of robots more.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Related story: Driverless Cars

About the Author: Noah Smith is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was an assistant professor of finance at Stony Brook University, and he blogs at Noahpinion.

Source: Posted February 28, 2017; retrieved March 15, 2017 from:

This drama is aligned with the book Go Lean…Caribbean, which calls for the elevation of Caribbean economics, asserting that the region needs to better prepare and contribute in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) plus related fields of Internet & Communications Technologies (ICT). The book examines strategies, tactics, implementations and advocacies to foster more technologies and grow the economy. This quotation – from Page 57 – is most representative of the focus on technology:

Technological change is more than just internet & communications (ICT); though this field is dynamically shifting the world. There are also industrial changes taking place, as in more efficient manufacturing methods, automation/robotics, and transportation options

There are specific CU agencies will manage the other areas of technological change. The community ethos is no not just to consume technology products but to produce them as well. This allows us to better compete with the rest of the world, having both an “offense and on defense”.

But according to the foregoing articles, the raised concerns are our reality: there is no plan to tax robots-automation above and beyond to replace the lost human tax incomes.

Consider this simple scenario of self-driving/autonomous vehicles; the foregoing articles identified how truck drivers could be displaced by self-driving vehicles. The Go Lean movement have addressed these advances many times; consider this sample:

‘Olli’ – The Self-Driving Public Transit Vehicle
Drones to be used for Insurance Damage Claims
Pleas to Detroit on Technology in Cars
Here come the Drones … and the Concerns
The need for Google’s highway safety innovations
Autonomous Ghost Ships

Ah, the art and science of autonomous vehicles.

This is not science fiction; this is today’s science. It will take a technocratic administration to shepherd these advances through Caribbean society. The book Go Lean … Caribbean serves as a roadmap for the introduction and implementation of the technocratic Caribbean Union Trade Federation (CU). This book  is a complete roadmap, turn-by-turn guide for elevating Caribbean society. There is a plan for adapting government revenue options and for creating jobs to these global changes. Early in the Go Lean book, these responsibilities were identified as important functions for the CU with these pronouncements in the Declaration of Interdependence (Pages 12 & 14):

xiv. Whereas government services cannot be delivered without the appropriate funding mechanisms, “new guards” must be incorporated to assess, accrue, calculate and collect revenues, fees and other income sources for the Federation and member-states. The Federation can spur government revenues directly through cross-border services and indirectly by fostering industries and economic activities not possible without this Union.

xxvi.  Whereas the Caribbean region must have new jobs to empower the engines of the economy and create the income sources for prosperity, and encourage the next generation to forge their dreams right at home, the Federation must therefore foster the development of new industries, like that of ship-building, automobile manufacturing, prefabricated housing, frozen foods, pipelines, call centers, and the prison industrial complex. In addition, the Federation must invigorate the enterprises related to existing industries tourism, fisheries and lotteries – impacting the region with more jobs.

xxvii.  Whereas the region has endured a spectator status during the Industrial Revolution, we cannot stand on the sidelines of this new economy, the Information Revolution. Rather, the Federation must embrace all the tenets of Internet Communications Technology (ICT) to serve as an equalizing element in competition with the rest of the world. The Federation must bridge the digital divide and promote the community ethos that research/development is valuable and must be promoted and incentivized for adoption.

xxviii. Whereas intellectual property can easily traverse national borders, the rights and privileges of intellectual property must be respected at home and abroad. The Federation must install protections to ensure that no abuse of these rights go with impunity, and to ensure that foreign authorities enforce the rights of the intellectual property registered in our region.

The Caribbean fully understands the effect of losing large swaths of tax-paying citizens. We have an atrocious rate of societal abandonment, especially among our college-educated citizens; that figure has been reported at 70%. Even before talk of a Robot Apocalypse, the Caribbean region had suffered this dysfunction. We have fallen behind with all the ‘Agents of Change’ in society.

These ‘Agents of Change’ are affecting everyone, everywhere. The Go Lean book therefore posits that there is a need to re-focus, re-boot, and optimize the engines of commerce – fix the broken eco-systems – so as to make the Caribbean a better place to live, work and play. We need jobs; we need tax revenues (normally based on wages). The foregoing news articles therefore are very relevant … and fear-inspiring.

The book Go Lean/CU roadmap posits that ICT (Internet & Communications Technology) can be a great equalizer for the Caribbean to better compete with the rest of the world. This technology-job-creation focus is among these 3 prime directives of CU/Go Lean:

  • Optimization of economic engines in order to grow the regional economy to $800 Billion and create 2.2 million new jobs.
  • Establishment of a security apparatus to protect the resultant economic.
  • Improvement of Caribbean governance, including revenue systems, to support these engines.

According to previous blog/commentaries, computers are reshaping the global job market; also there is a great demand for STEM-related jobs. So we cannot just “stick our head in the sand” and ignore these issues. We are already affected. There are other communities that have already prepared themselves for tax revenues from other sources. The Go Lean book considers (Page 194) the example of Southern California (Los Angeles County). That one municipality collects tax revenues from real property (land) and personal property, and in 2007 they enjoyed a gross revenue stream of over $1 Trillion – see Appendix.

The book Go Lean…Caribbean details the effort of optimizing government revenue sources. It features the community ethos to adopt, plus the executions of key strategies, tactics, implementations and advocacies. Consider this preview (Page 172) of 10 Revenue Sources for the CU federal administration – the CU will generate-collect its own revenue streams – as follows:

  1. The Caribbean Single Market adds a new federal Economic Pie for distribution back to member-states.
  2. E-Payments Settlement
  3. In-sourcing e-Government Services
  4. Property Tax Surcharge
  5. Income/Sales Tax Add-ons
  6. Industry Licensing (Security, e-Learning, Health Care Monitoring, Postal)
  7. Regional Services: GPO, Lottery, Spectrum Auctions, Underwater Cables, Mining/Drilling Rights
  8. Prison Industrial Complex
  9. Natural Disaster Insurance Fund
  10. Capital Markets for Treasury Bonds

The primary ingredient for success in the Go Lean/CU roadmap will be Caribbean people, not Caribbean machines – robots have no personage or tax expectation in this roadmap. This community attitude would lead to fostering more development and growth with automated solutions in the region and for the rest of the world (export).

This is new for us. The Caribbean is arguably the best address on the planet, but jobs and government revenues are obviously missing. This Go Lean roadmap is conceivable, believable and achievable for turning around our dire disposition. Everyone is hereby urged to lean-in to this Go Lean roadmap. This provides the guidance to get to the region to its desired destination: a better place to live, work and play. 🙂

Download the book Go Lean … Caribbean – now!

Sign the petition to lean-in for the roadmap for the Caribbean Union Trade Federation.


Appendix – The Bottom Line on ‘$1 Trillion Dollar Budget’

CU Blog - Bill Gates - 'Tax the Robots' - Photo 3

The Los Angeles County Assessor Office establishes a taxable value for all property [real and personal] subject to property taxation. The 2007 Roll value in Los AngelesCounty was over $1 trillion dollars. That’s correct, 1 trillion dollars. This amount was greater than the gross national product (GNP) of all but 9 countries in the world. –

Los Angeles County is commonly associated with the entertainment industry; all six major film studios—Paramount Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Sony, Warner Bros., Universal Pictures, and Walt Disney Studios—are located within the county. Beyond motion picture and television program production, other major industries of Los Angeles County are international trade supported by the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach, music recording and production, aerospace, and professional services such as law and medicine.


Appendix VIDEO – Amazing Robot Becomes Self-Aware (Explained) –

Published on Jul 18, 2015 – Roboticists at the RPI in New York have built a trio of robots that were put through the classic ‘wise men puzzle’ test of self-awareness – and one of them passed.

Further details here:

Video via: RAIR Lab

Music via: Ultimate Relax Club

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