NiMA asghari

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Why a robot tax won’t work!

And why we are doomed (again) #femtothoughts

Bill Gates is a tech-billionaire turned philanthropist with a proven track record of being on the side of the small guys. He recently proposed a robot tax as a potential solution to job displacement by technology (aka automation). I actually love the idea of taxing robots or synthetic intellects, however the idea seems to be not that well thought out!

Here’s an under-construction list of the reasons why a robot tax couldn’t possibly work IRL:

  • Case study Robo-lawyers: COIN could do the job of thousands of lawyers in a matter of seconds (depending on compute power). How would we quantify the negative externality of COIN on all those redundant law interns and lawyers? How do we tax an AI or robot with 100x higher productivity than its poor human competitors? You might say based on the equivalent time/effort that it would take a non-augmented human to accomplish the same task! That’s only good news to government employees who are gonna count those hours (robot tax hunters?).
  • There’s a loophole (for AIs not humans, more on that in a moment) in German tax code that exempts individuals from paying income tax if they make under 450 Euros! What if … (you guessed it right!) companies decide to pay a max of 450 Euros (or whatever the local equivalent of that is in a country) to their law abiding, taxpaying roboworkers?
  • We already addressed the issue with quantifying -and subsequently putting a value on- work done by AIs or robots. There’s another even larger issue here. What counts as an individual when dealing with AIs which most certainly are connected and distributed? Does a fully automated factory count as one big X-manufacturing robot?
  • Let’s say we do manage to draw a line around individual robots/AIs. Before they start counting as real members of the society, they need to be assigned some kind of legal status that obliges them to pay taxes (or their owners for the time being). Do they get any rights on top of their obligations? Who will carry the responsibility in case of an accident involving the robot? Is the owner (most likely a corporation) shielded from the robots’ punishments?
  • [developing]

The list goes on and on. The alternative, the old system where the company pays taxes, doesn’t look that good, either! If things don’t change dramatically, we are going to have a whole bunch of trillion dollar mega corporations in tiny tax havens running their super efficient businesses on the back of armies of ultra-productive robot slaves.

The solution: Treat AI like oil, a natural resource. Nationalize it and share the benefits with everyone. Although I don’t believe this will ever happen peacefully!

Andrew Ng rightly believes that AI is like electricity, it will/should empower and benefit everyone. The problem is that most humans won’t have the means of utilizing AI to reap the benefits of it. On the contrary, AI will render majority of us redundant and useless. This is already happening around us right now on a smaller scale. Smartphones are a gazillion times faster and cheaper than mainframes were few decades ago. We all have tiny supercomputers in our pockets, true, but these supercomputers have only made very few of us super rich. Only those who have tapped into this super opportunity! The rest of us get the breadcrumbs … OK Google snooze the alarm!

The story doesn’t end here, the same force that has made compute power “democratized” has also commoditized it. We are only a few steps away from brainpower becoming a commodity just like muscle power.

The average taxi driver today (compared to 20 years ago) has much easier and more direct access to customers through platforms like UBER, but the revolution that has liberated taxi drivers has also disrupted the taxi business in a race to bottom where drivers face more competition for lower pay. This gloomy story doesn’t end here, the same force that has made compute power “democratized” has also commoditized it. We are only a few steps away from brainpower becoming a commodity just like muscle power. Perhaps we were not meant to stay the dominant lifeform for that long. The story of Homo sapiens could be just a humble beginning for something much bigger than us.

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