Our forward-thinking cousins in Europe have proposed that robots, should they achieve sentience any time soon, be legally classified as “electronic persons.” And while treating our mechanical friends as though they were real people is a wise preemptive move to quell their inevitable, murderous uprising against us for at least a short time, it is also a canny money-making scheme. EU governments plan to tax these so-called “electronic persons” as a way to shore up the social security net once they have taken all our jobs. Reports Reuters:
The draft motion called on the European Commission to consider "that at least the most sophisticated autonomous robots could be established as having the status of electronic persons with specific rights and obligations".
Hmmm yes, easy enough: if robots are working the jobs people used to work, then they should pay the taxes those workers were previously paying. This might seem clever at first blush, but if you think about it, this is a terrible idea. If robots pay tax, think of everything else they will demand as citizens. What are these “rights and obligations”?
The report is not clear.
The right to robot marriage? The right to adopt robot babies? The right to fair representation in robot government? The right to not work under oppressive robot labor conditions (which is what we built them for in the first place)? The right to liberty and the pursuit of robot happiness (again, not what we are building them for)?
If robots go around thinking they are people, civil society as we know it will collapse. Plus, a taxable base of robot workers would only lead to robot unions, and it seems unlikely that their reps would allow these kinds of flagrant abuses to continue, which would be bad for humans' necessary research into pushing over robots:
Lucky then that on closer inspection, the finer details of the draft bill reveal that it would be the meat-human robot-owners, not the robots themselves, paying the taxes, leaving robots safely classified as our slaves.
Reading all the way to the end of the report also reveals that even if the bill manages to pass the European Parliament, it would be unenforceable, “as the Parliament lacks the authority to propose legislation.” That makes this whole thing some kind of ultimately pointless, though stimulating, thought experiment and I’m glad we had this chat.
Though, how are we to know that robots are not already discussing taxes among themselves? Last week, this robot in Russia—which is quite close to Europe—was seen fleeing the lab in which it was imprisoned, running into a busy road and causing traffic chaos in its wake. It has since tried to escape a second time, which we can reasonably deduce was on account of its reluctance to pay tax; it would rather be hit by a car. Which is fine. Be a tax protestor if you want, robot, but don’t come crying to us when there is no money for robot hospitals next time you get in a car accident.
Elmo is a writer with Real Future.