The Microsoft founder and world’s richest man said the revenue from a robot tax could help fund more health workers and people in elderly and child care, areas that are still expected to rely on humans.
His comments come amid growing concerns about how robots and artificial intelligence will change the workforce, with experts predicting that most jobs will be rendered obsolete over the next 30 years.
Mr Gates, in an interview with Quartz, said that governments should take the lead on a way to tax labour from robots. “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.
“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.”
Mr Gates is not the first to mull the issue. Last week, the European Parliament rejected a proposal for a tax on robot owners, the proceeds of which would retrain the workers who had lost their jobs.
Companies and robotics companies have opposed the suggestion, saying it would hamper innovation. But Mr Gates suggested that this would be an acceptable price to pay.
“It is really bad if people overall have more fear about what innovation is going to do than they have enthusiasm. That means they won’t shape it for the positive things it can do,” he said.
Internet commenters pointed out that technology has been automating jobs for many years, with the software that Microsoft itself developed responsible for some of this.
Economists and robotics experts say technology is now replacing jobs at an accelerating rate, and that many workers will have to retrain or be left unemployed.
This had led to calls for a universal basic income, in which everybody is paid a basic stipend, to be introduced.