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One San Francisco Politician Is Exploring A Tax On Robots

April 6, 2017

By Ben Schiller : fsatcompany – excerpt

Testing Robots on 17th Street photo by Zrants

Taxing companies that use robots to help pay for the workers they’ve displaced has been floated as a theoretical solution to a post-automation world. Now San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim is looking into whether it’s what the tech capital needs.

With fears about the job-killing effects of automation growing every day, once unthinkable ideas are starting to get an airing. A universal basic income (UBI)–where the government gives everyone enough money to live on–has lots of supporters, especially in Silicon Valley. And now some prominent individuals are calling for a tax on robots. The thinking: If you make robots more expensive, there will be more public funds to help retrain workers (or pay for that basic income)–and the higher cost might keep some companies from buying robots and quickly tanking the employment rate.

Bill Gates recently called for a robot tax in an interview with Quartz, arguing that it could slow the shift to a more robot-centric future, allowing society to catch breath. Moreover, he said, it could raise revenues to pay humans for more human types of work, like looking after children or the elderly…

Kim doesn’t claim that taxing automation is a silver bullet, only that it’s worth pursuing along with other measures, including a basic income guarantee. She supports UBI, but points out that many proposals are un-funded, unlike the robot tax, which both has a social effect (more jobs, less automation) and generates money for other things.

Most of all, Kim–possibly the first public official in America to publicly support a robot tax–is keen to experiment. “We are the center of the tech world here in San Francisco. There is a broad concern about automation and job displacement in the future,” she says. “We want to be the first to put ideas out there, so they can be explored. Then we want others to follow.”…(more)

We are also at the center of robotics. Uber tried testing their self-driving car here, and I am watching a lot of robots under various stages of development being tested on streets in the Mission. One of our local car dwellers has computer lights going off in his car all night. I see him coming back from work, going to the car to change, and ending the day by turning of the computer in his car. The digital lights dance all night.


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