Bill Gates wants robots to pay tax

To ensure companies contribute their fair share, regardless of automation...

Bill Gates wants robots to pay tax

Picture by Mark Lennihan AP/Press Association Images

Bill Gates has argued that a robot tax will be introduced as companies increasingly take advantage of automation and replace human workers with artificial ones.

The Microsoft co-founder and world's richest man told Quartz that this tax on AI technology could then be funnelled into financing care work for elderly people or children, or other areas that are currently neglected and would benefit most from a human touch.

Gates said:

"Certainly there will be taxes that relate to automation. 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."

Turning to the topic of funding social programmes, he argued that it should not be left up to businesses to provide services for people in need.

"What the world wants is to take this opportunity to make all the goods and services we have today," the 61-year-old continued, "and free up labour, let us do a better job of reaching out to the elderly, having smaller class sizes, helping kids with special needs.

"You know, all of those are things where human empathy and understanding are still very, very unique. And we still deal with an immense shortage of people to help out there.

"So if you can take the labour that used to do the thing automation replaces, and financially and training-wise and fulfillment-wise have that person go off and do these other things, then you’re net ahead. 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."

Gates also does not believe that tech companies will be "outraged" at the thought of such a tax.

Striking a positive note, he pointed out that it is "really bad if people overall have more fear about what innovation is going to do than they have enthusiasm".

The threat of biological warfare

It's not all sunshines and rainbows from Gates of late, however – speaking at the Munich Security conference over the weekend, he posited a global threat greater perhaps than even nuclear war.

He warned that terrorists with a knowledge of genetic engineering could use bioweapons to wipe out tens of millions of people.

Gates said:

"Whether it occurs by a quirk of nature or at the hand of a terrorist, epidemiologists say a fast-moving airborne pathogen could kill more than 30 million people in less than a year...

"It’s hard to get your mind around a catastrophe of that scale, but it happened not that long ago. In 1918, a particularly virulent and deadly strain of flu killed between 50 million and 100 million people."

The tech leader suggested such an attack could take place in 10 to 15 years' time.