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Will Companies Have to Pay Taxes on Automated Workers?

Mar 6, 2017

Since the Industrial Revolution, the rise of automation has helped humanity be more productive.  Computers and robots have been changing the landscape of American industry for decades and continue to conquer new areas.  From drone package delivery to the rise of self-driving cars, automation will continue to greatly impact jobs across all sectors.

Recently, 2 major technology executives have spoken out about the future of automated technology. In an interview, Bill Gates stated that he believes companies will eventually need to pay some sort of tax on using robot workers. “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.” Gates opined that this tax might be based on the profits generated by the labor efficiencies or some other type of direct tax.

But why would we need this type of tax? Gates thought that we would begin to see an increase in the speed of displacement and in more industries, leading to more unemployment across greater portions of our population. At least one other technology executive has had similar thoughts. Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, has been quoted in multiple interviews championing “universal basic income” as a possible solution to this displacement.  Musk believes that this universal basic income will help to redistribute the income from automation to those displaced human workers.  Said Musk, "With automation, there will come abundance.  Almost everything will get very cheap."

Companies that rely on the use of artificial intelligence or other assisted technologies should begin to consider how they might be affected by these potential shifts in the future, along with possible tax implications.

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