Taxing robots: SF supervisor wants California to talk about it

The San Francisco supervisor who earlier this year began to explore the idea of taxing robots wants to go statewide.

This week, Jane Kim launched the Jobs of the Future Fund, a crowdfunding effort to raise money to nudge the state to study the issue of what will happen to human workers in the age of automation.

Kim would like for companies that replace human workers with automation to pay a tax. Those funds would then be used for job training, education and more for displaced workers.

“The Jobs of the Future Fund is building support for this necessary solution and creating a forum for individuals and organizations to learn about and discuss the final language for an upcoming ballot measure,” the campaign’s website says.

Kim is aiming to raise $25,000, which would go toward community outreach around the state as she tries to get more people to join the discussion about a possible tax on automation — and perhaps eventually get Californians to vote on such a thing.

“We’ve been convening roundtables with labor and tech in the Bay Area, which is at the epicenter of tech disruption,” Kim said in a phone interview with SiliconBeat Friday. “But just something doing something locally in San Francisco” isn’t going to be enough, she said.
It is true that there are already robot baristas and delivery robots roaming the streets of San Francisco and the Bay Area, where the cost of living is high and it wouldn’t be easy if one were to lose a job — to a robot or not.

Kim is not prepared to name the tech players who are in on the talks, but said they include members of business associations who work closely with the tech industry.

High-profile tech figures who have expressed support for some sort of robot tax include Bill Gates. Elon Musk, who talks often about artificial intelligence, has said that automation might make universal basic income necessary.

“It’s not an easy issue to address,” Kim said. “But leading experts are predicting pretty steep potential losses in jobs due to a steep incline in automation advances over the next 10 to 15 years. If you knew another Great Depression was coming, why wouldn’t you prepare?”


Photo: Amazon associate Renee Plasencia, of Stockton, gets ready to scan items before stowing them in a portable storage unit to be carried away by an Amazon Robotics robot at the Amazon fulfillment center in Tracy on Tuesday, April 12, 2016. The robots travel inside the warehouse area and slide underneath portable storage units before lifting them off of the ground and taking them to waiting associates, or to be stored away. (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)


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  • omegatalon

    Having companies to pay taxes on robots is insanity as what’s next, individuals needing to pay employment taxes for smartphones and personal computers; if California wasn’t a Sanctuary State paying free healthcare, housing and money to undocumented immigrants we wouldn’t be in such a situation; California should have the Democratic elite pay more taxes.. people like Disney, Apple.. as they support what California is doing which means they should welcome the chance to put their pocketbook where their mouth is and be willing to pay $Billions more in taxes.