Illustration: Liu Rui/GT
Bill Gates recently said during a media interview that robots are going to replace human workers and should be taxable. He argued that owners or manufacturers of robots should pay additional taxes, and "people are saying that the arrival of that robot is a net loss."
Critics have applauded the computer magnate's impressive argument.
At the same time, during China's two sessions, the 2017 government work report delivered by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang says that the country would enhance the research and development of artificial intelligence technologies. Subsequently, the AI shares surged on the Shenzhen market.
Robots are artificial intelligence machines which do not have emotions; they have integrated into our society but they are not one of us. Governments often tax natural-born or legal citizens for secondary income distribution, purchases of common goods and public services. The government revenue can be used to find solutions for negative side-effects of economic development such as pollution and waste.
Robots can replace human workers. Considering that their functions can be perfected through innovations, they can bring huge economic benefits to society. Robots are productive assets which can add value to a variety of organizations or individuals at work or in life.
Technological innovation can raise productivity. The more advanced science and technology become, the fewer workers are required in production lines; thus, owners or managers of factories recruit fewer workers nowadays than before.
Bill Gates is recognized worldwide as an outstanding businessman and a great philanthropist. While he pointed out human society operates at a loss as robots come into being, the artificial intelligence development is one of the top priorities on the agenda of the two sessions in Beijing.
The situations in the two countries seem to be different. US President Donald Trump blamed China joining the World Trade Organization for the closure of 60,000 American factories and Gate said this is due to robotic innovation. But, the problem the US is facing does not lie in neither trade nor innovation, but in income distribution.
China encounters a similar challenge to that of the US, and inequality is an important issue in both countries. As China's economy has steadily grown in the past four decades, its labor and other business operating costs have also risen. Thus, there is a necessity for this developing economy to improve the competitiveness of its manufacturing industry and continue to raise its workers' income.
Necessity is the mother of invention. And technological innovation can push China to attain to higher level of achievement. The Chinese government's Made in China 2025 plan focuses on developing information technology, robotics and other high-tech industries. That is not a propaganda campaign, but caters to the need of China's economic development.
While China is a dual economy and has a huge population, its regional industry is still capable of absorbing a massive influx of surplus labor from rural areas, and retrenched workers from sluggish old industries which reduces excessive production capacities under the government's plan.
Yet, blue-collar workers have turned into white collars in the US since the second half of the last century. It is comparatively difficult for workers who are replaced by robots to find a good pay job in the service industry.
Last but not least, the Chinese government is in a sound financial situation with both a trade and a fiscal surplus. In China, the government is influential in the domestic market.
It is just an illusion that robots are displacing human workers. In reality, robots are there to lighten the workload of laborers, but can never sit in for those who create robots. In the agricultural era, horses and buffaloes were used to aid humans in their work; and the same applied to machines during the industrial revolution.
Robots actually are the machines of our era; by the same token, they are helpful, not threatening.
The author is a commentator based in Hong Kong. email@example.com Follow us on Twitter @GTopinion