Bill Gates says robots should pay tax, and we should be planning how they’ll pay it

Emma Koehn /

Bill Gates believes we should start planning how robots will pay taxes now, before the world gets too overexcited about the rollout of a machine workforce.

In an interview with Quartz this week, Gates reflected on the impact of transitioning entire sections of the globe’s economy to non-human workers. He says there needs to be some quick brainstorming on where money will come from if the human workers that currently contribute to the tax base are no longer in those jobs.

“You can’t just give up that income tax, because that’s part of how you’ve been funding that level of human workers,” he said.

One potential option could be deploying a tax for the installation and operation of machines, but given the conversation is just getting started, Gates says there are numerous possibilities on the table.

“There are many ways to take that extra productivity and generate more taxes. Exactly how you’d do it, measure it, you know, it’s interesting for people to start talking about now.”

While the world is right to be enthused about the future of the robot worker when it comes to reallocating labor and freeing up human capital for jobs that require empathy, Gates says we still haven’t come up with an answer on what will happen once robot workforces are in play.

Whatever is decided should find a balance between collecting revenue and encouraging businesses to keep investing in robots for services, he believes.

“People should be figuring it out. 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,” Gates said.

The role of robots in everyday business might still be limited, but some SMEs are jumping on board early and finding everyday uses for the technology, like Sydney real estate agency JLL Australia, which told SmartCompany last year it was in the early stages of teaching its $20,000 robot receptionist JiLL how to answer clients’ needs.

“It’s clear that in the first couple of weeks some people have not been comfortable with talking to a robot. I had a client apologise to me, he said, ‘I hope you don’t mind, but I tapped myself in rather than speaking to JiLL,’” the company’s integrated facilities management Chris Hunt said at the time.

Watch Bill Gates’ explain his views on taxing robots in full here. 

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Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is a former senior SmartCompany journalist.