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A San Francisco official wants robots to be taxed just like people

An android touches a face on the wall in Ex Machina.
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Whether it’s immigration, health care, taxes or the environment, there are plenty of topics which drive voters. One that is not quite as much of a hot-button topic as it maybe should be? The impact of automation on employment. As we have covered here on multiple occasions, artificial intelligence and robotics is likely to have a massive impact on jobs, long before we need to start worrying about things like superintelligence and the technological singularity. With that in mind, a San Francisco official is actively pushing for a “robot tax,” and a more thorough examination of what the rise of the robots is likely to mean for us.

What San Francisco supervisor Jane Kim has created is a statewide grassroots coalition called the “Jobs of the Future Fund,” which sets out to create a communal fund that will help ease the transition as robots take on more and more of our jobs. To do this, it proposes that employers who replace humans with robots or algorithms should continue to pay payroll taxes to fund training, education and new opportunities for humans. In this way, workers can benefit from the automation revolution, rather than just those at the very top.

“Many experts predict that millions of American jobs are at high risk of being replaced through automation; some studies found as much as 47 percent,” Julie Edwards, a spokesperson for Kim, told Digital Trends. “We need to start thinking now about how we can smooth this transition to ensure these workers have the training and education they need to continue to access good-paying, middle-class jobs.”

The original idea for the Jobs of the Future Fund was based on a concept first mentioned by former Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates earlier this year, which Kim has picked up and run with. It’s more of a conversation starter than anything, but it’s definitely helping raise awareness of an important issue.

“The changes that automation could bring to our workplaces potentially rival the job losses of the Great Depression,” Edwards said. “This could be the biggest economic challenge our generation will face and it’s critical we build the support among the public, political leaders and employers to get ready for that challenge now.”

If you live in California and want to get involved, you can head over to www.jobsofthefuturefund.com and sign up. If you live elsewhere, maybe visit the site and then start hounding your own politicians for something similar!

Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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