Discussions in the digital world about taxing robots have been brought up after Bill Gates suggested that idea. He said, “Right now, the human worker who does, say, $50,000 worth of work in a factory, that income is taxed and you get income tax, social security tax, all those things. If a robot comes in to do the same thing, you’d think that we’d tax the robot at a similar level.”
Most of us are scared that with new technology (i.e. cars and trucks which drive themselves, when robots assemble gadgets, when robot lawyers defend people with parking tickets, etc.), we will be displaced from our work and livelihood. We will not have anything to do. We will be stripped from things that we have built and things that make us whole (well, at least from our perspective). And sad to say, we equate our worth and built that connection with the work that we do or with the career that we have. We often equate self-worth with our actual jobs and professions.
Hardly do we encounter people who dig deeper into what their life is all about. I’ve seen movies and TV series where successful businessmen allot time for meditation, from Axelrod in the series Billions to Gavin Belson in Silicon Valley. This was also an advice that I got from one of my mentors way back when I was a product manager. Meditation or looking inward makes us see things clearly and makes us focus on what is essential. I guess with the demands of daily life and the responsibilities that we need to do, we lose precious time to think about what we are really meant to do.
When we ask someone about what he or she does, we often tell them our position or designation. I’m the CEO of Manila Workshops or i’m the COO of Taxumo. Related to my previous point, telling them what they can absorb quickly and what we can explain in a concise way, makes sense in the fast-paced world that we live in. We hardly hear people say that they are great moms or great husbands. We also don’t say that we are helping increase the GDP of our country or we are promoting world peace and stopping world hunger. This is obviously something that we don’t share on the onset, because the other person will think that we’re some kind of a psycho or running for office (or both… haha!). It’s okay not to be blunt about what our mission in life is. We just need to be clear on what our value is. If we are clear on what we can contribute, then there is nothing to be afraid of. And let me tell you this, all of us can contribute something.
One of the things that I think robots will not be able to do is emotional labor. Earlier today, I was listening to a podcast about this certain topic. Emotional labor is the process of managing feelings and expressions to fulfil the emotional requirements of a job. More specifically, workers are expected to regulate their emotions during interactions with customers, co-workers and superiors (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emotional_labor). This is something that I think robots will have a hard time doing. Even when some robots or algorithms can actually read sentiments and analyze how people react, it will still be humans who will be able to determine and execute the best possible reaction to a particular sentiment. Managing emotions is complex, since there are a lot of factors to consider and it’s normally different from one individual to the other. This is just one of the things that makes humans valuable.
Change in Perspective
Robots are not our enemies. We have to view new technology as something that will help make our work easier, so that we can concentrate on things that we enjoy. We can focus on things that we love. We can focus on building relationships. We can focus more on self-development and loving life.
I don’t think these screws will screw us over. I think what will screw with us is our own perception of who we are. If we feel that we will not be of any value 10 years or 20 years from now, then we’re screwed.