Z is for zabeta

We made it! This is the final post in my series, “Digital: From A to Z,” that explores what it means to be digital. What’s in your A to Z of digital? Find me on Twitter @Max_Hemingway or leave a comment below.

“Zabeta” is a British word meaning tariff or tax.

“The robots are coming! So is the tax!”

As we move towards an automated society, with robots and automation playing a big part, there are ongoing discussions and debates at the moment around the position of taxing companies that use them, to balance the loss of jobs they may cause.

Several key figures have raised the subject of a robot tax of some sort, with Bill Gates being one of the key speakers on this subject:

Bill Gates 

“Right now if a human worker does you know, $50,000 worth of work in a factory, that income is taxed. If a robot comes in to do the same thing, you’d think we would tax the robot at a similar level.”

Bill Gates, in an interview with Quartz

Source: Marketwatch

Elon Musk

“There is a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income, or something like that, due to automation,” says Musk to CNBC. “Yeah, I am not sure what else one would do. I think that is what would happen.”

Source: CNBC

Stephen Hawking

Hawking replied: “The outcome will depend on how things are distributed. Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution.”

Source: The Independent

The debate has been discussed within the political landscape of the world, with South Korea already making a move to introduce a robot tax:

In its recently announced tax law revision plan, the Moon Jae-in administration said it will downsize the tax deduction benefits that previous governments provided to enterprises for infrastructure investment aimed at boosting productivity.

Source: The Korea Times

In the US, the state of California is considering a robot tax:

Included among those folks is San Francisco supervisor Jane Kim, who Wednesday launched a campaign called the Jobs of the Future Fund to study a statewide “payroll” tax on job-stealing machines. Proceeds from the tax would bankroll things like job retraining, free community college, or perhaps a universal basic income ― countermeasures Kim thinks might make a robotic future more bearable for humans.

Source: wired.com

In the UK, the political parties are discussing the subject, with Labour wanting to introduce a tax in their policies:

The Labour leader wants to use the money to create a fund to retrain staff who lose their jobs because of new technology. He said that “we should all get the benefits” from “greedy” global corporations such as Amazon which have “made a great deal of money out of incredibly advanced technology”.

Source: The Telegraph

However, the EU position is against the tax due to what has been seen in countries such as Germany, where robots have been introduced yet the unemployment figures are low:

Andrus Ansip, the European Commissioner in charge of the bloc’s push for a Digital Single Market (DSM), isn’t a fan of a robot tax. “No way. No way,” Ansip said when asked if he would support a robot tax.

Source: CNBC

The definition of what this is applied to is an important subject as well. When you mention the word “robot” it conjures up images of a factory with robots producing cars, a humanoid type robot, or something from a sci-fi movie. However, should this include cobots that are there to aid a worker to do their role, or even RPA (Robotic Process Automation) that uses software to carry out a task?  It’s easy to carry out a visual inspection of a site and see the big machine-type robots, but hard to spot the software variants.

What are the exceptions to the rule? For example, consider robots that enter a hazardous zone that is potentially dangerous or fatal for a human to carry out a task, such as mine clearance, clearing a nuclear site or diving to deep ocean depths. How far should such a tax system go?

This is one subject that will have the politicians and industries debating for some time to come.

What do you think? Should there be a tax of some sort?

Further Reading

This entry was originally posted in Max’s blog. See the previous post in the series, Y is for yottabyte.

Max Hemingway — Senior Architect

Max is a senior architect for DXC Technology in the United Kingdom. With more than 25 years of experience, he has a broad and deep range of technical knowledge and is able to translate business needs into IT-based solutions. Currently a chief technologist in the UK, Max has a proven track record acquired through continual client engagement and delivery of leading edge infrastructures, all of which have delivered positive results for end-clients, including IT cost reduction, expansion of service capability and increased revenues.


  1. Milan Sterba says:

    Well, absurd things happen all the time and you can essentially put taxes on everything. But in principle a tax is a portion of a person’s wealth, that this person gives away to the community to achieve common community goals. In essence it is a part of person’s power delegated to the community. The way how this portion is further used is matter of community decisions. So far, robots are not person’s and are not (yet) part of the community and subject of law (cannot acquire rights). Therefore there is no foundation to tax them in any way. We should and we do tax person’s who use robots and that’s fine. But we should not tax them because they use robots, but rather based on the wealth they generate.

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