Last week, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn announced his latest plans to implement a "Robot Tax" in a bold effort to face the "challenge" of automation. This proposed tax is part of his larger plan to "urgently manage" the evolution of robotics and technology for the sake of society. And, while this may seem like a daring statement, it's not exactly the first time it's been proposed. A handful of other leaders around the globe, including Bill Gates and the South Korean government, have quite recently raised similar points. But when broken down, is this hostility towards the evolution of technology really warranted?
It's no secret that the media has had a huge part to play in the current state of automation. Since the first mention of robots hit the 24-hour news cycle, hundreds of articles have warned of a robotic takeover and an impending meltdown of society. What's usually left out of these articles, however, is the thorough research highlighting the benefits robotics and automation have on society. For example, it has been found that use of robots within manufacturing has increased labour productivity by 0.36%. While that may sound insignificant, it's key to point out that 0.36% accounts for 16% of total productivity growth between 1992 and 2007. And while robotisation has traditionally been adopted by financial and manufacturing sectors, its contribution is not limited to these particular verticals. For example, a report by London's Centre for Economic Research shows that contrary to popular belief, robots have been a huge driver of productivity and economic growth within most markets. This is due to the fact that robots have been able to successful integrate within a number of professions, eliminating the costs, risks and wasted time associated with manual tasks. Yet robots still seem to be the victim of fear mongering rhetoric within the media, mainly due to one particular topic--the dissolution of jobs.
The Question of Employment
There is no denying that with the introduction of robots comes a slight shift in the overall employment landscape. With that said, it's unfair to suggest that automation will be the be all and end all of the job market. As a society, we've been through this before. When the Industrial Revolution occurred, the entire job market went into a frenzy, leaving about half of workers wondering what to do next. But with time came great change. The job market rapidly began to evolve in conjunction with technology, resulting in the creation of jobs that had never even existed before.
While it's difficult to predict the exact outcome, it seems as if history is due to repeat itself. Britain's unemployment rate is currently at a 42-year low, showing that regardless of the increase in automation, jobs seem to be largely unaffected. Luckily, this seems to be a direct representation of the future. According to a recent report by PWC, it's predicted that AI and robotics will both create new jobs, specifically in the digital technology area. These new jobs will generate additional wealth and spending that will then support additional jobs of existing kinds, primarily in sectors that are historically harder to automate.
Arguing Against Robot Tax
In comparison to other leading nations, the U.K unfortunately still slightly lags behind when it comes to robotisation and AI. And while this may be due to our modern fear of the robotic revolution, it's ultimately a dangerous game to play. In order to stay competitive within the global economy, it's extremely important to put an emphasis on the future of technology and innovation. Instead of shying away from what we're uncomfortable with, we should be focusing on where to go next.
Continuous innovation is an essential part of a robust economy. Yes, without a doubt, technology will shift our lives as we know it today. But, why should we approach this change with fear? Measures such as a "Robot Tax" are nothing more than a step backwards when it comes to productivity and the overall well-being of society. As a forward thinking society, we have a huge amount of opportunity to utilise this innovative technology to create positive change, not only when it comes to supporting the economy, but to create new channels for society that we may not reach otherwise.