Wednesday, November 21, 2018

A Contribution to the Theory of Taxation

I'm a bit late to this 2017 party, but if Bill Gates, Jeremy Corbyn and Robert Shiller (professor of economics at Yale) all think that taxing robots is an idea worth exploring, chances are it is an idea worth exploring.

Years ago, I read a book called Code: and Other Laws of Cyberspace, by Lawrence Lessig (Roy L. Furman Professor of Law at Harvard) that I seem to remember suggested that it would be a good idea for individuals to own information about themselves that they could license to organisations. A scenario in which your heath records, for example, would be yours even though you allowed the NHS to use them.

I have always liked that idea, and it has led me on to inchoate notions that perhaps it might be possible to address the looming problem of the power of Artificial Intelligence, by making these disembodied robots legal entities with responsibilities, and subject to sanction if they flouted them. Is that analogous to what Gates is saying above?

It is worth recalling physicist Michael Faraday's reply in the 1850s to William Gladstone, then British chancellor of the exchequer. Questioned about the practical value of electricity, Faraday answered: “One day, sir, you may tax it.”

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