Over in Europe, where they hate technology, Charles Riley, writing for CNN Money, reveals findings from a new draft policy report that seeks to penalize corporations by taxing them on robotic manufacturing techniques. The report, headed by Mady Delvaus, a Luxumbourg representative to the EU Parliment, states in part that the EU should secure tax revenue from not people, nor corporations, but from the machines that corporations use to generate goods: Robots. Here are some choice quotes:
"The proposal suggests that robots should have to register with authorities, and says laws should be written to hold machines liable for damage they cause, such as loss of jobs."
"If advanced robots start replacing human workers in large numbers, the report recommends the European Commission force their owners to pay taxes or contribute to social security. The establishment of a basic income, or guaranteed welfare program, is also suggested as a protection against human unemployment."
Switzerland's government just held an open debate and referendum on a "basic income" and it was roundly rejected.
Back to the point-- taxing companies for their gains at efficiency is problematic. For nearly a century, the Western World has dreamt and worked toward an agenda of productivity that frees humans from the sort of physical toil that can lead to workplace injuries and long-term health problems by building machines that can take over those roles and perform them more efficiently. These efforts, in turn, lead to (1) better quality of life for workers, (2) positive economic growth as productivity rises and (3) fuels growth in the standard of living as manufactured goods and devices become cheaper.
Amazon.com uses just such robots to make sure they can deliver purchased items to users quickly, while saving valueable space in warehouses.
In the case of autonomous cars, we'll see less taxis on the road, and less drivers taking the wheel, which will likely lead to less costly accidents, less traffic, and less injuries. Stopping manufacturers from pursuing this course of action by throwing a new tax in the way of the efficiency incentives tied to this new technology is a bad idea.
Let's not forget what happened when Google was told by Spain that their service of helping people find news stories was going to be taxed: Google News went away leaving Spain's public less informed than the rest of their fellow EU citizens.
There is some good news nestled deep within this report. It suggests we implement Asimov's three laws on all new artificial intelligence devices. They're simple to understand and are as follows:
A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Considering that the governments of the world have agreed to such pacts regarding Antarctica, chemical weapons, lasers, and even outer space, the above three principles shouldn't be too hard to agree upon.
Taxes, however, are an entirely different story.