The case: for or against a tax on robots. Continuing to guarantee the financing of our social model in the face of robotization and artificial intelligence

On 28/29 January 2021 the MCL/EFAL seminar (Movimento Cristiano Lavoratori / Ente Nazionale per la Formazione e l'Addestramento dei Lavoratori) took place in Rome in cooperation with EZA and with financial support of the European Union on the topic “The case: for or against a tax on robots. Continuing to guarantee the financing of our social model in the face of robotization and artificial intelligence”. Participants came from Italy, Portugal, Spain, Croatia, Austria, Greece, Germany, and Albania. The seminar began with a presentation by EFAL President Sergio Silvani.

First, the problem of artificial intelligence (AI) was dealt with and the question of the extent to which robots are changing the way we work and their use stir up fears that employees could lose their jobs as a result. While the situation is not without risk, it is unlikely that AI and robots will completely replace humans, except in very specific areas.

Of course, we will have to see to retrain or support those who are to be replaced by robots; but since more and more people will work with AI in the future, the main challenges are: to ensure that the collaboration between man and machine is as profitable as possible and that productivity, safety, and quality of work are increased; to avoid the risk of human labour being replaced. The way we work will change dramatically over the next 15 years. 70% of today's youth will do jobs that don't exist today and people will certainly continue to work in new ways. One thing is certain: if we want to maintain a central role, it is time to create the best conditions for retraining and continue further training of employees and, above all, to radically change the school system, which today is very little preparation for the speed. with which the world changes around us.

Another much-discussed topic was the question of whether robots and AI are either allies or enemies of humans? Their use can improve people's wellbeing and promote their dignity as well as violate and manipulate their dignity. The use of robots promotes the dignity of workers, if it helps to reduce or eliminate dangerous, repetitive, and degrading tasks, and thereby make work more efficient and humane. Algorithmic monitoring of workplaces can increase worker safety; however, ubiquitous surveillance can pose a threat to dignity and privacy. Self-driving cars can improve the quality of life, but they can also endanger or even kill people, e.g. by technology or sensor errors or by hacker attacks.

The topic of robots and humans and the new forms of work and learning are important challenges for social dialogue.

At the end of the seminar, we had a general discussion about robots and the future of work and, in particular, about what is happening in specific EU countries. It became clear that the jobs of around 51 million workers in Europe could already be lost within 10 years due to competition from robots. Other studies suggest that automation and robotics will cut 7 million jobs by 2037, but could also create 7.2 million new ones. The employment impact of digitisation depends heavily on professional areas of activity. Research on industrial manufacturing and other studies suggests that more jobs (20 million) could disappear faster (by 2030) in the coming years. Predicting the future impact of robotics and artificial intelligence on the labour market is difficult to make. Therefore, the topic should be dealt with in further seminars, because only by social dialogue is it possible to find the right ways to use robots and AI, which do not replace employees but do support them without weakening the human input.