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Robots & Taxes

Robots are a topic that fascinates even the little ones. My little son for example recently asked me the following question: «Daddy, if robots really replace people at work, who will then pay taxes?». Dark clouds gathered above my head, but I also heard the voice of Bill Gates in my ears «Do not worry, robots will pay taxes.»

The subject sounds like science fiction at first, but is probably an inevitable future which might be closer than we think. However, answering my son’s question is not that easy because as different as we humans are from each other, the same applies to robots. In our homes we have small robots that help us vacuum our houses who are dependent on humans, on the streets we have self-driving cars that can move on their own … and ongoing projects show that robots will also be able to charge their own batteries, thus acting independently. This causes more questions than just regarding tax payment, such as, who is liable for damage caused by robots?

While people pay income taxes and make social security contributions, robots are not yet involved in such matters. They are intended solely to assist companies in making larger profits. Therefore it seems like the best solution would not necessarily be a robot tax but instead to create a tax which targets the profits made by the companies using robots. However, this solution does not provide an answer to the question about liability. People have a legal personality – they have rights but also obligations. Robots on the other hand, do not. A possible solution could be to assign each robot with a physical or legal person which would be liable for any damages caused by the robot. Another solution could be to create a kind of «legal personality for robots» which could then acquire rights and obligations.

Article 35.4 General Spanish Tax Law (Ley General Tributaria) establishes a standard dealing with the tax liability of economical entities which do not have a legal personality. The question is whether that would be a solution for the taxation and liability of robots? No certain answer can be given; instead we have to see what the future holds. The clouds have started to clear and my son and I can return to talking about more fun topics.

Dr. David Elvira 02.07.19