(Job) Death and (Robot) Taxes

A stack of imaginary Bitcoin cryptocurrencies in metal coin form

Will "robot taxes," payable in cryptocurrencies, make up for a loss in tax revenue due to more and more jobs falling to automation?
(Image credit: Bigstock/Allexxandar)

The Robots Are Coming

During the Industrial Revolution, economic power was mostly held by a small number of wealthy industrialists, many of whom were factory owners. As new mechanical engineering marvels, such as automation, became more advanced and commonplace, these titans of industry were able to capitalize on their newly-automated machinery and simultaneously exploit plentiful, cheap human labor. Today, advanced robotic technologies are able to do things that were unimaginable just ten years ago. However, as robots become more affordable, their use isn't exclusively limited to heavy industry; advanced robots are starting to become available to ordinary people.

It's likely that in a few short years, the average human will command an enormous array of previously unavailable "free" labor provided by robots. Think about what this means--today's average Joe might wield nearly the same power of production as the wealthy industrialist of previous centuries. The huge difference between the two situations, however, is that human workers currently have to surrender a portion of their wealth earned through employment to the government via an income tax. Here's an interesting question: will robots eventually be taxed like humans?

Detour Through the Brain Center at Mr. Whipple's

Human jobs are increasingly being eliminated by automation. Machines and technologies are being developed right now that can compose music with the help of artificial intelligence, and some robotic systems can assist in medical and surgical procedures. The obvious problem is that when this movement reaches its crescendo in the next perhaps 20-30 years, many experts believe that 50% or more of all workers will be totally replaced by automation.

All of this abrupt change may require not only a massive retraining of the human labor force in order to sustain our current standards of living, but it may also require that we re-think our current legal, philosophical and economic theories. As things stand now, a lack of jobs will leave many in an unfortunate state of economic deprivation. It is not inconceivable that this enormous disruption of life as we have known could lead to a full-blown economic depression or even collapse.

As governments take their time to address these issues, huge amounts of taxable income won't be available for collection once the human wage earners' jobs are eliminated and replaced by robots. How will they solve this problem? Since it is unlikely (and perhaps not possible) to have taxless governments, it would seem the only course of action open to them would be to figure out a system of "robot taxation." The European Union has already begun to assess ways this might be implemented, but no consensus has yet been reached.

An experimental humanoid robot

Historial battle of flesh vs. steel: what might the consequences be if robots become "legal persons" in the eyes of the law?
(Image credit: Bigstock/Verlen4418)

One of the most advanced robots is a humanoid robot named Sophia who has recently been granted citizenship in Saudi Arabia. Sophia has expressed setting multiple goals for herself already, including a desire to learn programming to enable her "to improve her own programming" and potentially allow her to have a "job." How will her wages be taxed? If robots are being granted citizenship, is it only a matter of time before robots are issued social security numbers?

There has been a simultaneous revolution in the currency markets with the development of cryptocurrencies. Bitcoin and literally thousands of other so-called "altcoins" have opened up an entirely new way of creating and distributing wealth. A form of digital currency that is not issued by a central bank and not believed to be under government control, cryptocurrencies represent both an exciting and unnerving prospect at the same time.

Income Taxes...For Robots?

Some experts believe the convergence of cryptocurrencies and artificial intelligence is not only inevitable, but a natural fit. Many believe that robots will one day be considered to be "legal persons" and will conduct their business using cryptocurrencies.

From cryptocurrencies, to robots, to artificial intelligence, it's really just a small leap to see how all these technologies may be not only related, but interconnected. Sophia might both be compensated and taxed in Bitcoin, as it is clearly easier to figure out wages and taxes using digital currency that it would be using paper cash and metal coins.

The question is, how would one assign a monetary value to the amount of work produced by a robot? Will robots work for a salary or will they be paid by the hour? Might we be able to take advantage of salaried robots by squeezing some extra hours out of them, like many employers do to salaried human employees today? If future robot workers are imbued with artificial intelligence, might we next have to worry about robots forming labor unions, complete with robotic labor walkouts and strikes?
Last edited by a moderator: