How 'Robot taxes' will help keep humans employed, Bill Gates predicts


 Bill Gates 
Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates predicts that as artificial intelligence and other technologies flourish, societies will use taxes to ensure there is still a place for humans in the workforce.

"It is quite amazing, the progress the world has made during the last, I would say, 28 years," in tackling medical and poverty problems, Gates said in a wide-ranging interview with Nikkei. He emphasized the importance of global cooperation, as opposed to U.S. President Donald Trump's America First agenda, to resolve issues such as climate change.

He also stressed that nurturing software talent is important for Japan to remain competitive.

Microsoft has long been a leader of the global tech industry, accounting for a high share of computer operating systems. Microsoft's overwhelming strength inspired rivals, including Apple and Google, and helped lay the groundwork for today's digital society.
Even now, 10 years after he left a full-time role at the company and shifted his attention to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Gates remains an avid follower of technology.
"Technology has taken us from all being subsistence farmers where, when the weather was bad, we would be malnourished and our average life span was very short," Gates said. "So yes, I think that the human condition today, where people learn how to read and they live into their 70s or 80s, [has greatly improved]."

Gates noted that technology has enabled people to lead longer and more cultured lives. Yet tech can also be disruptive. One big fear is that automation will steal more and more human jobs.

"All these technologies bring problems as well as solutions," Gates said. "Electrification is of course a miraculous thing. [But] the coal plants are emitting pollution; the nuclear plants, people are worried about safety; the automobile, we have crashes. Every new technology, whether it is social media now, or robotics, people are worrying, 'OK, what about the negative effects?'"
Gates said that the concerns are understandable, and that it is more important than ever to come up with ideas on how to use technology effectively.

"[With] the idea that robots will help us make more goods and services with less people, we have defined the job is not the only thing that we were born to do," he said. "If we have to work less, then yes, it is a question of how we should spend that time. But [with] that freedom, humans will find ways to create meaning."
Although the business environment is changing dramatically, he said, "I am certainly not saying that we should artificially slow down the move toward automation, and robotics is just a form of what we have been doing to date."
Gates does not think robots will kick humans out of offices. "The basic idea in taxation is you can tax capital or you can tax labor, and a robot is a capital good. And right now, there are a lot of taxes on labor, like payroll taxes. Over time, because we as humans want to encourage jobs and job creation, instead of having these positive taxes on labor, we will actually probably have negative taxes, subsidization to bolster labor demand.

"We will shift and we will have much, much higher taxes on capital. So when I talk about a robot tax, I am talking about a basic shift of the form of taxation that we have. Property tax, capital gains tax. Society will want to shift and that will mean that it will be like a robot tax."
Explaining how this would work, he continued, "If you choose to buy a robot instead of employing humans, that is OK, you can do that, but the tax system will be pushing you to at least consider using humans more, unlike today's tax system, which actually pushes in the opposite direction."
Some experts point out that social media could make people think too narrowly and result in divisions in society. "The younger generation is going to be very important because they shape things like social media [and] what is the good impact of social media," Gates said.
He said he felt his foundation's activities are beginning to bear fruit. "The metric of greatest importance in global health, and one that we track closely, is the number of children dying who are under the age of 5. Back in 1990, that was over 12 million a year, now it is less than 6 million a year," Gates said, crediting the development of drugs and improvement of supply systems.


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