San Fransisco mulls introducing America’s first “Robot Tax”



  • As the level of automation around the world increases governments are increasingly considering taxing robots, and, more specifically, machines that “automate” human jobs


Artificial Intelligence (AI), robots and other Robotic Process Automation (RPA) tools are now handling more and more of the work that used to be done by humans, and in San Francisco, where the robo revolution is moving a little faster than other parts of the US, robots could soon take on another human characteristic – being taxed. Welcome to the world robots.


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City Supervisor Jane Kim is pushing for a “robot tax,” along similar lines to the one South Korea are going to implement, which means that business owners, like CaliBurger who recently automated their burger flippers, would have to pay when a robot takes over a job once done by a human. It’s an idea that Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates brought up earlier this year.

In an interview with Quartz, Gates suggested that a robot tax would slow the pace of automation, and give those who might be displaced by a digital worker a chance to train for another job, and as he sees it, robots should be taxed the same as humans. So, if a machine replaces a factory worker who was making $50,000 a year, the robot tax would equal the amount the business and worker would have paid in taxes and social security. The only problem here of course is that as the technology gets better and faster you won’t just see one robot replace one human you’ll see one replace dozens.


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Kim, who says she got the idea for the tax from that interview, is currently talking to tech leaders, public policy makers, and labour groups in San Francisco to determine how the tax might be implemented. The basic premise is that funds raised from the tax would be used to help displaced works or to develop some sort of Universal Base Income initiative like the ones we’ve seen pop up in Canada, Finland Scotland, and the US.

About author

Matthew Griffin

Matthew Griffin, Futurist and Founder of the 311 Institute is described as “The Adviser behind the Advisers.” Among other things Matthew keeps busy helping the world’s largest smartphone manufacturers ideate the next five generations of smartphones, and what comes beyond, the world’s largest chip makers envision the next twenty years of intelligent machines, and is helping Europe’s largest energy companies re-invent energy generation, transmission and retail.

Recognised in 2013, 2015 and 2016 as one of Europe’s foremost futurists, innovation and strategy experts Matthew is an award winning author, entrepreneur and international speaker who has been featured on the BBC, Discovery and other outlets. Working hand in hand with accelerators, investors, governments, multi-nationals and regulators around the world Matthew helps them envision the future and helps them transform their industries, products and go to market strategies, and shows them how the combination of new, democratised, powerful emerging technologies are helping accelerate cultural, industrial and societal change.

Matthew’s clients include Accenture, Bain & Co, Bank of America, Blackrock, Booz Allen Hamilton, Boston Consulting Group, Dell EMC, Dentons, Deutsche Bank, Deloitte, Deutsche Bank, Du Pont, E&Y, Fidelity, Goldman Sachs, HPE, Huawei, JP Morgan Chase, KPMG, Lloyds Banking Group, McKinsey & Co, PWC, Qualcomm, Rolls Royce, SAP, Samsung, Schroeder’s, Sequoia Capital, Sopra Steria, UBS, the UK’s HM Treasury, the USAF and many others.

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