Updated: February 23, 2017 12:06:22 am
A couple of years ago, Bill Gates joined Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk in sounding a caution about the impending robocalypse — the creation of machines smarter than humans, a cusp in history which can change the fortunes of the human race in unpredictable ways. But even if the machines do not take over and plunge humanity into a sci-fi dystopia, machines will take jobs away from humans, robbing them of a sense of identity and purpose. Within two decades, it is estimated, it will be impossible to call a taxi with a human driver, or to get an insurance policy issued by a human salesman. The more rule-bound a profession is, the more likely it is to be overtaken by robotic algorithms.
Gates has a solution, and since he is seen as a posterboy of American capitalism, it has caused shock and awe. In an interview with Quartz, he said that robots which replace humans should pay taxes, same as the people they supplant. Of course, since robots can have no income, their employers would be taxed directly and the takings used to subsidise the training of the retrenched, and to pay the wages of workers in professions where humans remain more capable.
But hold on — are we sure that robots can’t have an income? The age of the intelligent toaster is almost over, and human-like intelligence is no longer completely unbelievable. If humans survive the robocalypse, they must confront a moral problem — the unfairness of denying a human-like intelligence human-like compensation. For all you know, capable robots could even unionise and agitate against discriminatory wages at Jantar Mantar. Since it is just one step from being a wage-earner to being a tax-payer, it is entirely possible that in the future, we shall have machines complaining loudly about death and taxes.
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