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As robot tax continues to be a topic of debate, has COVID-19 added some points against it? How would such a tax apply to a massively populated country like India? Should we thwart innovation to ease our society’s adaption of technology?

Recently, the pandemic proved that we can really use robots. They can help us with several tasks that are either time consuming or dangerous in some way. And they can get it right every time.

It is no wonder that the demand for robots went up overnight after the pandemic started. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is already everywhere.

The potential, albeit unproven, threat that machines will take over human jobs, started the argument for and against the robot tax, a legislative strategy to discourage replacing workers by machines by charging the owners of the robots with a tax. The idea is to reinforce the social safety net for those displaced by robots.

The lack of items such as masks, PPE gear, and oxygen cylinders was palpable during the second wave of COVID-19. Manufacturing robots could ease life for many in India. But will it also derail the economy?

However, after last year, many opinions might swing towards letting contactless touchless robots into our lives. For instance, robots in hospitals screening out infected patients before they come in contact with humans. That’s a boon that frontline workers will understand.

In countries like Malaysia, Singapore, and China, robots have been deployed in healthcare successfully. Even in India, several big hospitals deployed robots on the floor. At the same time, smaller hospitals don’t have access to the technology, marking a need for progress in this regard.


Read more: Rise of the Robots: COVID-19 is Causing a Hesitant India to Welcome Automation


Watching programs like Black Mirror and Year Million, one would surmise robots are inevitable. Then why fight? Why not adapt?

But then, as movies like Elysium show, this kind of progress will impact the have nots more than the rich. The last thing we want is robots dividing our society even further than it is.

What Would Robot Tax Look Like in a Country Like India?

South Korea became the first and only country to have any kind of robot tax in 2017, though the government levied the tax because of a fear of complete unemployment caused by an extremely robust automation in manufacturing.

However, governments around the world are seriously discussing a robot tax.


Read more: {Zoom In: Robotic Process Automation} Indian Industry Automates for a Contactless Remote Abler Workforce


The Green Party in Canada says such a tax can reduce worries of individual workers, and UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn expressed that individuals ought to get some benefit when  “greedy” global corporations make money out of advanced technology.

In 2017, EU too went about regulating automation, however, the move was voted out.

What would such a tax look like in a country like India?

A country that already faces a massive unemployment problem surely must tax automation, or it will face an unprecedented unemployment problem. At the same time, such a highly populated country does have needs that simply run into millions on every level

A country that already faces a massive unemployment problem surely must tax automation, or it will face an unprecedented unemployment problem. At the same time, such a highly populated country does have needs that simply run into millions on every level.

The lack of items such as masks, PPE gear, and oxygen cylinders was palpable during the second wave of COVID-19. Manufacturing robots could ease life for many in India. But will it also derail the economy?

Pros & Cons

As celebrities chime in their thoughts from time to time, the discussion continues either in favour or against a robot tax.

While some say instead of fighting robots, we should just tax their owners. Others say such a tax will hurt more than it will help.

It must be considered that on replacing a human with a robot, a company not only gains a free tireless worker, but also makes more profit with the decision

Microsoft founder Bill Gates and NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio are among the supporters of this tax. Gates told Quartz in a 2017 interview that a robot tax will slow down adaptation of automation in a society, giving it time to embrace the technology. Meanwhile, the tax proceeds, which include freed up labour, can help build other parts of the society or be directed towards reskilling existing workers.

He had a point.

It must be considered that on replacing a human with a robot, a company not only gains a free tireless worker, but also makes more profit with the decision.

Those against a robot tax argue that the consequences of levying such as tax are negative for economic growth. Recently, an NYU Professor Robert Seamans has said so in an article titled ‘Tax not the robot’.

Others also say that robotics already is an underfunded and underutilised sector, which is pulling us back from achieving much more.

What if Robots Are Needed for Dangerous Work, but Robot Tax Forces Humans to Do it?

There is a need to consider the profits that big companies are going to rake in by replacing human workers. It’s also noteworthy that a robot tax will check the reins of automation, allowing it to go at a pace that is acceptable to society at large.

What if the tax impedes important progress? For example, there could be dangerous work, like rescue operations, or entering inaccessible areas, which robots could easily do, but the tax might be forcing humans to do it

However, what if the tax impedes important progress? For example, there could be dangerous work, like rescue operations, or entering inaccessible areas, which robots could easily do, but the tax might be forcing humans to do it.

Could there be a middle way that would appease all parties, at least for a while? For example, what if, instead of replacing workers, companies used robots in extended hours, for example at night?

Defining Robots: The Book is Going to be Thick

What is already being argued is that definition of robots is so expanded and confusing, that defining a tax might be either unclear or unjust. After all, we are already surrounded by robots and automation, whether it’s the AI in our smartphones or the chatbots on almost every website.

And we have to admit, they are doing a bang-up job of it, answering thousands of queries a second with the same measure of cheerfulness and friendliness, practically impossible for a human.

Even the usage of drones right now is increasing, accessing far flung areas at half the speed. Does that mean it will replace delivery boys altogether?


Read more: AI in the Post Covid Workplace: From ‘Can We’ to ‘How Do We’


For that matter, what are the existing legalities of replacing a worker? Do we tax companies when we replace a worker with a human? It certainly costs a lot.

At the same time, levying a tax will ease us into adapting to the usage of robots as it will slow down innovation. But do we want to slow down innovation?

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