Bill Gates calls for workplace robots to pay income tax

The Microsoft co-founder is arguing for taxes to slow down the adoption of technology that could automate away a raft of current jobs.

Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, has called for income tax to be levied on workplace robots and the money to be used for retraining the people they have replaced.

In an interview with online business publication Quartz’s editor-in-chief Kevin Delaney, the world’s richest man argued for taxes to slow down the adoption of technology that could automate away a raft of current jobs. Ironically, Gates made his fortune from popularising the PC, which in its heyday helped to eradicate whole categories of worker ranging from typists to travel agents.

But he argued: “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. And, you know, taxation is certainly a better way to handle it than just banning some elements of it.”

Although the idea of using taxes to support employees who are made redundant due to automation has been catching on in the high tech industry, Gates took the concept a step further.

“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,” he said. “If a robot comes in to do the same thing, you’d think that we’d tax the robot at a similar level.”

The extra money could then be used to retrain the workers they have replaced to undertake jobs where human skills are required, with “communities where this has a particularly big impact” being first in line to receive support, he added.

“What the world wants is to take this opportunity to make all the goods and services we have today and free up labour,” Gates said. “Let’s do a better job of reaching out to the elderly, having smaller class sizes, helping kids with special needs – all of those things where human empathy and understanding are still very unique, and we still deal with an immense shortage of people to help out there.”