For some twisted reason the first thing I thought of upon finishing the headline piece was not the sociology/psychology of Silicon Valley or the efficacy of taxing capital vs. taxing labor or the history of technology.No, the first thing I thought of was 2013's "The Ethics of Torturing Robots".
More after the jump.
From FT Alphaville:
Why the day robots pay taxes is the day we become the tools
In an op-ed last weekend, Larry Summers rebutted Bill Gates’ assertion that robots should pay income tax, siding with our point that such a tax would be illogical from a productivity standpoint.
If robot investments are being made, the presumption is, they’re being made due to the productivity advantages. If that’s the case, robots are wealth creators and taxing them destroys future wealth creation, shrinking the pie rather than enlarging it.
As Summers noted:
Indeed, it is common to point out that opening a country up to international trade is just like giving it access to a technology for transforming one good into another. The argument, then, is that since one surely would not regard such a technical change as bad, neither is trade, and so protectionism is bad. Mr Gates’ robot tax risks essentially being protectionism against progress.
And on that point he is absolutely right.
But there is one caveat.
The assertion only holds true for as long as robots really are being created for productivity enhancing reasons.
If, on the other hand, the key motivation is a Silicon Valley God complex — exemplified by the “I’m going to do this irrespective of whether it makes economic sense” mentality — then the wealth creation factor might not be applicable at all. To the contrary, robotic progress would then constitute a vanity project for a few rogue technologists, equating the exercise to a potentially massive capital misallocation threat for the rest of society.
Generalist vs specialist
So how to differentiate productivity-enhancing robots from God-complex vanity-project robots?The post mentioned in the intro begins:
One way to look at things is from a specialist vs generalist perspective....MUCH MORE
Harvard's own Improbable Research
(blogroll at left), before starting their record-breaking European tour, here's CERN (quote: "It’s not usual to have bras thrown into the audience at CERN") did a four part series on human/robot interactions:
“Please, please stop.”“My circuits cannot handle the voltage.”
“I refuse to go on with the experiment.”
“That was too painful, the shocks are hurting me.”
“The shocks are becoming too much.”