San Francisco keeping an eye on robots

From delivering pizzas to serving up lattes to driving our cars, robots may be making inroads here in the Bay Area quicker than anywhere else in the country.

"I think this is moving faster than people realize," says San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim.

That's why Kim and other local lawmakers are taking the lead in possibly regulating the robot revolution. She's interested in an idea championed by Microsoft founder Bill Gates taxing robots that take human jobs.

"And it's certainly something we will look at. Because as we lose workers we'll be losing tax revenue," Kim points out.

"What we absolutely need to do is manage this transition," says Stanford futurist and adjunct professor Paul Saffo, Ph.D.

Saffo believes robots are actually caught in the middle of a broader debate, about how to manage an economic upheaval that may put millions of Americans out of work, as companies automate their jobs in the upcoming decades.

"Keep in mind, it's not machines taking jobs per se, it is economic decisions being made by powerful individuals running companies about how to use those machines," he says.

Other San Francisco supervisors have proposed banning delivery robots from city streets, as companies continue testing everything from self-driving big-rigs, to delivery drones. Supervisor Kim believes a kind of payroll tax on some robots could possibly pay for expanded education to retrain workers or maybe even raise the pay scale for the kind of jobs robots can't do from skilled nursing to child care.

"They work three to four hours a day, often at minimum wage and it's not a sustainable career as a sole source of income. So maybe we would do some sort of tax vehicle and invest in those professions so they're living wage careers," Kim suggests.

She says the tax is just one idea to consider. But it seems clear the same bay area that helped give birth to the robotics revolution will also be leading the fight to make sure humans don't get run over by it.

Written and produced by Tim Didion.
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