What is the point of a robot tax?

While browsing articles on Artificial Intelligence, I stumbled across a piece by Milton Ezrati at Forbes. Discussing the possibility of a robot tax? This idea had been proposed by Bill de Blasio before he gave up his bid to gain the Democratic presidential nomination. Ezrati thinks it is a dreadful idea, but he is aware that both Silicon Valley leaders and current government progressives are quite keen on it.

According to the article, a robot tax would have four parts: First, it would apply to any company introducing labour saving automation. Second, it would insist that this employer either find new jobs for the displaced workers at their same pay level or pay them a severance. Third, the tax would require a new federal agency, the Federal Automation and Worker Protection Agency (FAWPA) and fourth, it would require Washington eliminate all tax incentives for any innovation that leads to automation.

The assumption appears to be that workers displaced by automation will never again find work at a comparable wage. Elon Musk for one, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are amongst those who are worried about this aspect of it, as is Democratic candidate, Andrew Yang, who suggests the introduction of a universal basic income, “to substitute, he claims, for the incomes lost to robots and artificial intelligence generally.”

However, it is not proven that the introduction of AI and robots will disadvantage workers so substantially. As Ezrati say, “innovation, if it initially displaces some workers, always eventually creates many more new jobs even as it boosts overall productivity and increases output.”

And, as he also points out, “since the industrial revolution began more than 250 years ago, business and industry have actively applied wave after wave of innovation and yet economies have nonetheless continued to employ on average some 95 percent of those who want to work.”

In my opinion, and in this respect I am in agreement with Ezrati, we have focused far too much on what will be lost with the introduction of more robotics, and not sufficiently on what is to be gained. His analogy that uses the introduction of email and the Internet regarding typists’ jobs illustrates this. Whilst those working in admin, messenger departments and typing pools no longer had their current job, new forms of employment emerged for them.

Similarly, when the introduction of automatic teller machines threatened to throw thousands of bank clerks out of work, the machines created profits that meant they could employ more tellers, and these tellers, with the assistance of different technologies, could do more interesting, complex, and valuable jobs at higher pay than they received before the ATMs were put in place.

A robot tax would be counter-productive and stunt growth in innovation, hampering the possibility of finding new types of jobs and improving living standards. It’s a proposed tax that simply doesn’t make sense.

How AI can help you

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is operational in a lot of services these days, from automating processes to delivering a pleasing customer experience online. It is something we are living with and come to accept.

As Jim Sinur argues in his Forbes article, “How can AI help me?” we all have “to deal with living with AI,” and we also have to figure out how to make the best of AI in our lives. Sinur asks, “Will it be like other technology that I have to learn to for life success or will it be more like a person that I have to get along with to thrive in the future? Will AI make our lives better or should we be practicing for those apocalypse scenarios I keep reading about?” How many of us have even raised these questions?

AI can do the drudge work

Of course, responses depend on the individual’s life circumstances. For example, if you are an employee, AI has the potential to do the drudge work, leaving you free to do the more meaningful, creative tasks. And AI can assist you with that. This is a more positive view of Ai in employment and is the opposite of the scenario in which AI and robots will steal all the jobs. Sinur says, “I see AI giving us an edge in boosting our ability to consume and leverage knowledge on a grand scale even outside of our native skillsets, culture bases, and language capabilities,” and this view creates a vision of an exciting future relationship with AI.

A more personalised customer experience

Consumers can also benefit from an enhanced relationship with AI. Sinur points out an important factor that should encourage us as consumers to welcome AI: “With the advent of customer journeys, combined with AI, the complexities and company needs can fade in the background while customer needs are being represented within organizational systems, interfaces, and constraints.” The potential to offer a more personalised customer service is vital, as it is becoming evident that the consumer wants to come first more than ever, and is not prepared to kow-tow to the needs of the business. What is happening in the banking sector is a good example of this: younger customers are gravitating towards neobanks precisely because they offer a personalised service.

AI — your personal assistant

And AI can help us develop personal skills and become a more global citizen. In the case of multi-cultural interactions, AI can help us with language translation and to avoid subtle cultural errors. It may help us to be better communicators in any number of settings and it could even be a life coach and personal trainer.

I agree with Sinur that as it develops we will see that AI adds value to our lives, and that there is so much further to go with it. One day we will be amazed that we were ever afraid of this dynamic technology.

I Robot? No, I Creative


In my last blog post I wrote about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and how it is modelled on the human brain’s neural pathways. However, as the post pointed out, whilst AI algorithms can mimic our thinking to a certain extent, as yet it can’t think at the same level of complexity as us. I’m aware that while some people are excited by the potential of AI, there are others who fear that it will replace human activity in the form of robots. The good news is, robots will increasingly help us by performing specific tasks – manufacturing is an example of where robots are useful—but there is one area in which the robots will not take over, and that is in the realm of creative thinking.

Robots free up time for more human creativity

Merrill Lynch published a report a couple of years back suggesting that 47% of jobs are “at risk of replacement by robots over the next 20 years.” These jobs are mostly in manufacturing and service industries. This kind of statistic plays into the hands of those who fear robotics. But, what we should be looking at is this; these robots will take over menial tasks, freeing humans up to use their time in being more creative. The report asked: “A major question is whether this will empower humans to go further than before, or if people will just be pushed out?”


The positive view of the advance of robots is that there are still many areas of work where the machines simply can’t replace humans. As I mentioned earlier, they can’t think creatively and there are other skills it is unlikely that will replace, at least for the next several decades. There are certainly some professions where we are unlikely to ever see robots.

Robots can’t teach kids

For example, robots can’t replace teachers, because a robot can’t relate to a child through human experience. As Ian Pearson from the World Academy for Arts and Sciences told Business Insider:

“A human will always be able to identify with another human on an emotional level better than a robot can.”

So, if you are a teacher you can feel confident that your job is safe, at least from robots.

Robots likely to make wrongful arrests

Another workforce that is unlikely to see its members’ replaced by robots is the police. The reason for this is that policing requires the skill of making judgements about situations. A robot can’t be programmed to make a judgement about a scenario. If robots were employed in this role, it is likely that they couldn’t differentiate between action that may look criminal but aren’t and an actual crime. A human can make a judgement call about what they are observing, and approach it based on previous experience and other aspects of our knowledge.

Robots can’t motivate

Motivational leaders and management positions are similarly safe from robots. Pearson even points out that people who are leading industry or service sectors will gain advantages from the employment of robots for menial tasks: “You will spend more time with colleagues, more time in meetings, more time in emotional analysis and trying to sway people. All of these other human skills become more important as the information skills become less important.”

Robots create more jobs

And finally, if you are still worried about being replaced by a robot, here is the good news from the Merrill Lynch report: countries like Germany and South Korea that have a high level of robots in manufacturing show a less decline in human employment than those countries with fewer robots employed, plus, “even as robots replace jobs, another 3.5 million jobs will be created because of robots.”

Our creative thinking is unique to us – it will be some time before robots and AI can replace that.

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Artificial intelligence is all around you

Artificial intelligence

Step by step Artificial Intelligence has infiltrated our lives to the point where it is all around us. Its developers have made remarkable progress with its uses; it can play games of strategy with us, but more often it has a more serious commercial use that we encounter every day.

AI is based on the human brain

Human intelligence is the blueprint for AI. How else could its creators construct it? Its very workings are the product of humans and their thinking, so it is natural that it emulates human brain functions. Having said that, it has not yet acquired all our skills, because we don’t even know all the ways in which our brains work, so until we have that knowledge, we can’t replicate it in an algorithm. For example, one of the burning questions amongst those who follow the development of AI is, “does AI actually think?”

Does AI really ‘think’?

The answer is that to some extent, yes it does. The neural pathways of the human brain dynamically exchange information all the time and transmit bits of data to its different centres, such as memory and language. We also have the ability to learn and connect what we learn to what we already know. The complexity of these processes is mind-boggling and each one of us has a unique intelligence; you will rarely find a person who encompasses all the types of intelligence we have catalogued in our world, such as academic excellence, street smarts, EQ, business acumen, artistic vision, manual skills and spiritual wisdom. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. But, can AI ever hope to replicate our diversity in thinking?

AI imitates the brain’s neural pathways

Well, it is already able to ‘think’ to a certain extent, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to play chess with AI as the opponent. Instead of neurons carrying information, AI has Artificial Neural Networks (ANN). These are “a type of machine learning algorithm in which nodes simulate neurons that compute and distribute information,” says technology writer Joelle Renstrom. These algorithms allow AI to follow the same ‘layered’ thinking that we do. For example, Renstrom in her excellent article on AI in the Daily Beast, explains how we view a sporting event, taking in an enormous range of diverse information and in processing it, we use, “memory, pattern recognition, statistical and strategic analysis, comparison, prediction, and other cognitive capabilities.” The, what is called ‘deep learning’ of AI is doing the same and we encounter its ‘thought’ processes every day.

AI in your media

Have you ever posted a message on social media about shopping for shoes and moments later you notice that adverts for shoe brands are popping up on your screen? That’s AI. You mentioned shoes; it will give you shoes. And it is capable of finding the type of shoes you like, because at sometime or other you’ve probably browsed shoes online, and now Facebook’s algorithm shows you some alternative brands, and in a style that corresponds with your original choice. Mention that you’re visiting Ibiza on social media and you’ll discover ads for Ibiza-related products when you go to read a newspaper online. It’s uncanny.

There are many more exciting aspects to AI that I will look at in future blogs, including how it will acquire general intelligence and whether or not it will ever have the capacity to replicate human creative thinking. AI is here to stay, so we must learn how to maximise its use for our benefit, rather than see it as a competitor to our intelligence.


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