12/03/2018 – News / Science & Technology / Robotics / TAX / UK

The case for a robot tax

Humanity’s fears of robots taking over our jobs – or even becoming our overlords – in the decades ahead are well documented. One area less explored is the huge fall-out that widespread automation will likely have on our tax system. 


Lawyers from the University of Surrey have said that without the creation of a “robot tax”, the world is set to face economic disruption at a scale never seen in modern history. In a paper soon to be published by the Harvard Law and Policy Review Journal, the lawyers argue that current tax policies incentivise automation by allowing companies to avoid wage taxes that are collected by government. That dynamic encourages companies to automate, which will reduce tax revenues and ultimately reduce the number of people in gainful employment.


The authors believe the system should be changed so that taxes are neutral between robot and human workers. They provide several mechanisms for achieving tax neutrality, including an “automation tax”, where redundancy data would be collected locally then used to collect further taxes to the extent the government feels the lay-offs were due to automation. 


“Robots can be a force for good,” said Prof. Ryan Abbott, Professor of Law and Health Sciences at the University of Surrey. “They have been integral to key scientific breakthroughs and they have helped us become more efficient in our work and our personal lives. However, as things stand, automation presents a clear and present danger to many jobs and tax revenues,” he continued.


“We believe a more neutral tax system will solve the imbalance that we currently face, and the revenue raised could be used to retrain those rendered technologically unemployed.”


Along with replacing low-skilled workers, computers are already working as doctors, lawyers, artists and inventors.

In 2017, the founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates, endorsed the idea of a tax on automation, believing that it can create funding for looking after the elderly and working with children in schools.


Professor Ryan Abbot will be discussing AI and the challenges they present to current law at an upcoming event. ‘The Reasonable Robot: Autonomous Machines and the Law’ will take place on Tuesday 20th March at 7pm in the Rik Medlik building, University of Surrey. 


For more details on the event, and to reserve your place, visit: https://www.surrey.ac.uk/events/20180320-reasonable-robot-autonomous-machines-and-law

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