Automation is part of the future, and Bill Gates is already thinking about what that means for our government.
The billionaire Microsoft founder philosophized about the future of automation in an interview with Quartz. Robots are coming for lots of jobs, he said, and wouldn't it be fair if they paid taxes, too?
"Right now if a human worker does, you know, $50,000 worth of work in a factory, that income is taxed. If a robot comes in to do the same thing, you'd think that we'd tax the robot at a similar level," Gates said.
It's all cyclical. If robots replace jobs in factories, retail, agriculture and even accounting, then more workers can pursue the jobs that really require human empathy and interaction. But to fund public schools and jobs in similar programs, we need taxes — including the income taxes human employees were paying.
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"What the world wants is to tax this opportunity to make all the goods and services we have today and free up labor — let us do a better job of reaching out to the elderly, having smaller class size, helping kids with special needs. And 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," Gates said. "And so if you could take the labor that used to do the thing that automation replaces and both financially and training-wise and fulfillment-wise, have that person go off and do these other things, you're net ahead."
Gates added, "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."
This isn't a crazy idea. Gates acknowledged that the companies working on our robotic future probably have an inkling that something like an income tax might be applied down the line.
"I don't think the robot companies are going to be outraged that there might be a tax," Gates said. "It's OK."