European robots should not be taxed!

It is undeniable that we are currently witnessing a new digital revolution in production systems as a result of automation with the use of Autonomous Robots and Artificial Intelligence systems.

The loss of human work positions impacts on the financing system of the Welfare State -retirement, health care, public and universal education- for which a growing sector of the population has proposed the creation of a specific tax. Some leaders in industry and scientific research such as Bill Gates, Elon Musk, or Stephen Hawking have argued the need for a Robotic Tax to offset the social costs created by the effects of automation. From their point of view the robots, or their owners, should pay taxes to finance a universal basic income or a guaranteed living wage. On the contrary, the European Commissioner Andrus Ansip -responsible for bringing Europe into the digital era- believes that this decision can cause the Old Continent to be left behind in the 4th Industrial Revolution. According to this Estonian politician to“tax progress” can discourage innovation and push automation technologies to escape from Europe.

On February 16, 2017, the Legal Affairs Committee (JURI) of the European Parliament presented a report entitled “Norms of civil law on robotics” with recommendations to the “Commission on aspects of civil law and ethics of robotics” where the introduction requests a registry of robots, establishing a specialized agency, and preparing the principles of civil liability for damage caused by robots. All of this should be complemented by a ethical code that would grant a special legal status -or “electronic personality”- to intelligent robots that can learn, adapt and act on their own. This legal figure would be similar to that already assigned to corporations around the world, and would make robots (and not people) responsible for their actions, including any damage they may cause.

But the proposal that would make Intelligent Machines legal entities under European law, with associated rights and responsibilities, was denounced in a letter published on April 12, 2017. This letter signed by 156 experts in robotics, jurisprudence, medicine and ethics stated that the proposal was “absurd” and “not pragmatic”. The main complaint emphasized the impossibility of offering robots legal personality since supposedly is a model that will not work under any of the main paradigms of social contract (legal person, legal entity, or the Anglo-Saxon”trust” model).

From the Frankenstein Monster of Mary Shelley, to the classic myth of Pygmalion, through the history of the Prague Golem and even the robot of Karel Čapek, people have fantasized about the possibility of building intelligent machines. Now the European Parliament considers that humanity is on the threshold of an era in which robots, androids and other manifestations of Artificial Intelligence seem increasingly prepared to unleash a new industrial revolution, therefore it’s of vital importance to consider their legal and ethical implications without stifling innovation.

It remains to be seen whether in the near future Intelligent Machines will have to fight for their social rights -as did feminists, gays, people of color, ethnic minorities, or animal liberation advocates- after being suffocated to taxes by omnipresent States that on the verge of bankruptcy have exploited intelligent robots and software denying them any civic dignity due to their artificial condition.

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