Robots

Do Robots Dream of Electric Retirement Savings Accounts?

Study uses technological advancement to call for expansion of the state.

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Robots
Photoagency Interpress/ZUMA Press/Newscom

A European Parliament draft report is calling for the European Union to embrace the sci-fi future of autonomous robots and artificial intelligence and all that ethical considerations that follow. Though really, partly what it's all about is worrying that automation will wreak havoc on government-run benefits systems and who will face financial liability for what might happen if sentient robots are treated like people. If Skynet tries to destroy us all, can we sue it?

Here's how Reuters summarizes the basics:

Europe's growing army of robot workers could be classed as "electronic persons" and their owners liable to paying social security for them if the European Union adopts a draft plan to address the realities of a new industrial revolution.

Robots are being deployed in ever-greater numbers in factories and also taking on tasks such as personal care or surgery, raising fears over unemployment, wealth inequality and alienation.

Their growing intelligence, pervasiveness and autonomy requires rethinking everything from taxation to legal liability, a draft European Parliament motion, dated May 31, suggests.

One part about government benefit systems reads "[T]he development of robotics and AI may result in a large part of the work now done by humans being taken over by robots, so raising concerns about the future of employment and the viability of social security systems if the current basis of taxation is maintained, creating the potential for increased inequality in the distribution of wealth and influence."

Fundamentally, statements like that are massive reminders that government entitlement and retirement programs are based on shifting money from one group of people to another and not some sort of savings program that people and employers pay into that sits in a "lockbox" earning money from investments and such. (Not that this report or these European nations are trying to pull the kind of shell game that goes on in America when talking about our Social Security programs.)

It furthermore assumes—as some always seem to have assumed going back to the very beginning of industrialization—that the job opportunities are finite resources, and once a job goes away due to innovation, the person who once worked that job is rendered to be completely obsolete with nothing else to offer the marketplace.

But that's just not how it works. In resistance to the idea that industries that automate might have to pay even more in taxes to pay for not having employees, one German robotics expert pointed out that the number of people employed by the automotive industry there has increased by 13 percent over the past five years even as the use of industrial robots also increased.

If you take a long view of industrialization and grasp that automation frees the marketplace to focus on other things, this statement from the report looks like a simple money grab. There's a separate section in the report that even acknowledges how automation creates new opportunities and new fields of work that should be studied and prepared for. And then immediately we end up here:

Bearing in mind the effects that the development and deployment of robotics and AI might have on employment and, consequently, on the viability of the social security systems of the Member States, consideration should be given to the possible need to introduce corporate reporting requirements on the extent and proportion of the contribution of robotics and AI to the economic results of a company for the purpose of taxation and social security contributions; takes the view that in the light of the possible effects on the labour market of robotics and AI a general basic income should be seriously considered, and invites all Member States to do so.

The idea of a basic guaranteed income has been appealing to a number of libertarians as a way of creating a safety net that doesn't come with a massive, corruptible, cronyist government bureaucracy. But in this setting, there's no indication that the recommendation here is to trade one benefit system with another, but rather a massive expansion. So these industries will have their taxes increased in order to fund people who don't work, and this will drive up the prices of goods. I fail to see how this would reduce income inequality.

Read the full report here (and note how the section on liability reads like a massive boon for lawyers and insurance providers). Read Katherine Mangu-Ward's 2015 Reason cover story on "The Robot Revolution" here.

Bonus: Here's a robot dog-giraffe washing the dishes. It's coming, folks! Today, your wine glasses; tomorrow, the world!

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48 responses to “Do Robots Dream of Electric Retirement Savings Accounts?

  1. So these industries will have their taxes increased in order to fund people who don’t work, and this will drive up the prices of goods. I fail to see how this would reduce income inequality.

    That’s because you’re not a roboeconomist. The cost of the new taxes will simply be taken out of robopaychecks.

    1. Can they hit the robocallers first as a test case? Please?

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  2. Do my robots collect SS when they hit 65?

  3. I think I talked to that robot (and it’s creators) last summer. Russians are weird.

  4. Read Katherine Mangu-Ward’s 2015 Reason cover story on “The Robot Revolution” here.

    No.

  5. I dreamed of a Brexit, but it all was just fantasy, the wall was too high, as you can see.

    1. And the worms ate into their brains.

      Poor cool Brits. Doomed by the dumbfucks.

  6. Well, didn’t the US post office want to charge people for sending emails?

    Nothing new.

  7. Well, didn’t the US post office want to charge people for sending emails?

    Nothing new.

  8. I have to say, the guys who did the screen play for Blade Runner really did a good job. Philip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep was a turgid incoherent mess, and the screen writers did a good job cannibalizing a few good lines and using them to construct a decent story.

  9. Europe’s growing army of robot workers could be classed as “electronic persons” and their owners liable to paying social security for them if the European Union adopts a draft plan to address the realities of a new industrial revolution.

    Do you hear that? That’s the sound of my open palm colliding with my face.

    Does all software that does routine tasks so humans don’t have to count as an “electronic person”? Even though it’s just ones and zeroes?

    Or are they just scared shitless that tax revenues might be going down so they must invent any justification they can think of to shake down the productive sector harder?

    1. Or are they just scared shitless that tax revenues might be going down so they must invent any justification they can think of to shake down the productive sector harder?

      Yes.

    2. I wonder if part of the purpose is to make it more costly to automate so fewer companies will do so. That will keep the union workers employed (and more importantly, it will keep the union leaders fat and sassy).

  10. “[T]he development of robotics and AI may result in a large part of the work now done by humans being taken over by robots, so raising concerns about the future of employment and the viability of social security systems if the current basis of taxation is maintained, creating the potential for increased inequality in the distribution of wealth and influence.”

    Well, Europeans are very good at making income inequality worse.

  11. …consideration should be given to the possible need to introduce corporate reporting requirements on the extent and proportion of the contribution of robotics and AI to the economic results of a company for the purpose of taxation and social security contributions

    Nope. No idea why the Brits might want to opt out of this sort of thing. Although it’s looking like they decided to circle down the drain with the rest of Europe.

    1. But some important actors and soccer players say that staying in the EU is what’s best!

  12. do taxable electronic persons get to vote?

    1. Ooh! Ooh! More important… when are the alive?

      I assume the robogina is already patented. Maybe I can get in with ‘granting (robo)personhood’ as a novel use.

    2. Hillary Clinton’s deployable army of VoteBots will bring a whole new meaning to “buying votes”

    3. Also we should look forward to electing the first robot president.

      1. I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords

        (especially if the alternatives are P.T. Barnum and the Wicked Witch).

  13. I know libertarians hate the idea of welfare and stuff like this. But we are going to have to reconsider the concept of the “Meal Ticket” once machines can repair and create other machines. Most people are not Bill Gates or Donald Trumps. Not everyone can become techies.

    Take the drive-less car. This will practically eliminate the 45,000 deaths and 100,000+ serious injuries in car accidents and 30,000,000 jobs as well. This will only work if everyone doesn’t drive. And since driving is not a right, once peoples driver licence expire, we will have no more drivers and no more accidents. Too bad. I really love driving.

    I hear the Basic Income idea being kicked around by Libertarians of all people. The question is where is the money to pay people a basic income going to come from? Are we going to skim (Tax) everyone to pay everyone a basic income? Heck we view taxes as outright theft today.

    I see tough times coming to us as pretty much more and more people get a lot less of the pie. Outlawing guns is the last thing we should be considering.

    1. This will practically eliminate the 45,000 deaths and 100,000+ serious injuries in car accidents and 30,000,000 jobs as well.

      Gosh, add that to the current 250 million unemployed people created by the introduction of heavy farming equipment in the last century, and nobody will have any jobs at all!

      1. Not the same comparison.

        Technological advancement in farming, construction, and other things during the 19th and 20th century still required people to operate the equipment. We are heading toward fully autonomy.

        Look, the fellow that use to operate the elevator is now gone. When that precious job went away, there were many other opportunities for that fellow. Things are changing.

        1. It’s exactly the same comparison.

          As long as human wants are unmet, there will be a job to provide for that want. Even if it means hipsters paying extra for artisanal, organic, human-crafted burgers. And robotics will become so cheap that even those day laborers will be able to afford some of their own.

          The belief that it will cause more inequality is completely at odds with the history of technology.

          1. My point is that the need for a person to meet human wants will dwindle as technology speeds up.

            We are not going to stop technological advancement due to the fact that people will lose their jobs.

            Take the minimum wage threat we hear from McDonald’s: “If you raise the minimum wage to $15/hr, we will create robots to replace all of you losers and then you losers will earn the real minimum wage of $0/hr.”

            An employee is a necessary evil for a business person. Ideally, as a business owner, I’d rather not pay anyone a salary and have a fully automated warehouse that produces goods for me to sell. This sentiment isn’t going away.

            1. My point is that the need for a person to meet human wants will dwindle as technology speeds up.

              What makes you think ‘human wants’ has any limits?

              1. Technically you are correct that human desires have no limits, but TANSTAAFBOW is raising good questions.

                The big challenge we face is that the humans most likely to be replaced by robots in highly-repetitive, low-creativity jobs are the least likely to be rapidly re-trainable for the jobs that robots can’t do.

                For instance, a portion of the potential customers for sex workers will choose to have sex with sex-bots instead, to avoid potential imprisonment, diseases, aggressive pimps, or thieving prostitutes, amongst other things. That’ll necessarily reduce the demand for prostitutes–what will these prostitutes do, given that for many of them, the reason they prostitute themselves is that they have no other options for earning an income?

                One could argue that since human desire knows no limits, these prostitutes could specialize in ever-more extreme kinds of kinky sex, but there are limits to which people will want to go. Sex-bots probably won’t ever do a Cleveland steamer, but how many Johns out there would want one?

      2. My thoughts exactly. Not everyone can become techies is right. Lots of them will die at the average age of 72 fully versed in the use of a slide rule while never knowing how to program their VCR.

        Meanwhile, when you say the word ‘log’ to anyone under the age of about 20, they assume you mean ‘running record’ as in ‘log in’ rather than ‘section of tree’.

    2. Yes, but the most viable solution is going to be turning people who, in an earlier time, would have been workers into small-scale capitalists. Needless to say, Crack-dealer Sam is not interested in helping the poor gain autonomy, so private organizations will have to take up the slack.

    1. Is it the tie?

  14. So do “Robot Persons” count as full persons, or 1/3 of a person when voting?

    1. Seriously. If the current opinion on Human Free Will. is that Humans are uncontrollable, and will always make bad decisions. How is an independently thinking AI going to fight for it’s rights being created for slavery ?
      Progressives. Get your house in order before you create new life.

  15. If Skynet tries to destroy us all, can we sue it?

    Good luck serving the complaint. For a similar case brought against Satan, there is this:

    http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/….._His_Staff

    1. God has also been sued.

      Eventually thrown out when the judge determined that “the Almighty was not properly served due to His unlisted home address.”

  16. My stepdad used to always say robotics may replace one worker but it takes three workers to build the robot. he said that back in the 70’s he is still correct for now until the robots start replicating themselves

  17. What I am trying to say is that if you create an AI you are not going to be it’s “God”. You are going to be it’s “Parent”. A tool is not a slave, it is like a hand. A true AI is a child of Humanity.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l3yFbLAbH48

  18. And for the vast majority of human history, 98% of humanity was employed in agriculture. What are all those unemployed farmhands doing?!?

  19. Cute video discussing this subject

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Pq-S557XQU

    1. Here’s another.

  20. Does not compute.

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