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South Bend Mayor Peter Buttigieg says he's still deciding whether he's going to run for mayor again, dodging a question about whether he's also considering a presidential run at a time when even former president Barack Obama has reportedly met with him to discuss running in 2020.
If so, technology titans could be happy about it.
Buttigieg has made inroads with Silicon Valley because the Rust Belt city he runs has undergone a tech transformation. For instance, before Lime became one of the hottest companies of the year and raised hundreds of millions for its electric scooter business, one of its first partnerships was a dockless bike program in South Bend. Buttigieg, a Democrat, thinks that local officials are now helping shape the national conversation on things like tech policy, leaving him well positioned on the issue if he runs for higher office.
Buttigieg told me that starts with making sure voters understand how technology affects them.
“We need to make sure that these don’t sound like abstract conversations,” Buttigieg told me at a Technology 202 live event on Thursday. “People want to know about what’s going to happen to me. If it does become about what’s going to happen to my data, then that’s going to become a very urgent conversation.”
Buttigieg warned tech issues will hit closer to home as the United States falls behind other countries in bringing government services online. He criticized the United States for failing to even modernize its Social Security system, while small countries such as Estonia are enabling citizens to vote online.
“We’re getting lapped right now when it comes to technology,” Buttigieg said. “When that starts to hit home, in the form of missed economic opportunities or people being taken advantage of, that’s when it becomes a salient political issue.”
Buttigieg joined Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke and Charlotte transportation official John Lewis for a conversation at The Post about how city officials are responding to new technologies. He has been called the “most interesting mayor you’ve never heard of” by my Post colleagues, and on tech policy issues the Democrat may have a sharper perspective than other potential 2020 contenders.
Mayors and city officials have been on the front lines of regulating emerging technologies at a time when Washington lawmakers are largely still just talking about cracking down on tech companies. Despite the circus-like hoopla at a string of high-profile technology hearings this year, lawmakers have ye to pass any meaningful legislation that would rein in the tech sector.
In the decade since ride-hailing companies such as Uber and home-sharing services such as Airbnb hit the market, much of the regulation of technology companies has been determined in city council rooms.
City leaders have still largely been reactionary, but Thursday's panel highlighted how they're increasingly focused on new transportation technology and creating tech sector jobs in their cities.
In a wide-ranging discussion that hit on issues ranging from Amazon’s HQ2 to the invasion of electric scooters on city sidewalks, the city leaders got real about the challenges they face in reining in technology companies that idolize Uber’s regulatory ethos of apologizing later rather than begging for permission first.
Berke said it’s difficult for city officials to respond to such tactics, especially when trust in technology companies as well as government has faltered. He said local officials have to “trust but verify” when dealing with companies that seek public-private partnerships.
“You have to talk to them, understand what they bring to the table,” Berke said.
Lewis, the Charlotte transportation official, said this year his city thought it was staying ahead of the curve and just getting used to the idea of a dockless bike-sharing program. “And then literally we wake up one morning and scooters are everywhere,” he said.
Despite companies allowing scooters to show up anywhere on sidewalks with little discussion, Lewis said it has been beneficial because companies then share data with officials the city can use for planning purposes, especially as it thinks about new forms of transportation.
“We wanted to know how the people are using it, where they’re using it, and then try and develop some kind of rules in the short term for how they utilize our right of way,” he said.
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BITS: Violent extremism and hateful videos on YouTube are attracting increasing public scrutiny. But that type of content represents only a small portion of the videos the platform removed from July through September. Overall, the company took down more than 7.8 million videos, over 1.6 million channels and more than 224 million comments during the third quarter, according to YouTube's Community Guidelines Enforcement Report. Most of the videos and channels that YouTube removed contained spam or inappropriate adult content, The Washington Post's Craig Timberg and Tony Romm reported.
“YouTube said that 6,195 videos it removed in September were found to have violated guidelines against ‘hateful or abusive’ content, about 0.2 percent of the total deleted that month,” my colleagues wrote. “And 94,400, or 3.4 percent of the total deleted in September, were found to have violated guidelines against ‘violent or graphic’ content.” According to the report, automated systems — rather than humans — first spotted 81 percent of the videos that were eventually taken down, and “of this group, the detection happened before a single view by users in 3 out of 4 cases,” Craig and Tony reported.
NIBBLES: Apple's announcement it plans to build a $1 billion campus in Austin highlights the rise of Texas's capital as a tech powerhouse. Austin already is the home of Apple's largest campus outside California and many computer programmers are based in the area, according to the Wall Street Journal's Russell Gold. “It has a relatively low cost of living compared with other tech hubs such as San Francisco, and several local universities, including the University of Texas’ main campus, are churning out a steady stream of young programmers,” Gold wrote.
The comparatively lower levels of taxation — including the absence of a state income tax in Texas — are also an asset for the city. “The Austin Chamber of Commerce boasts that per-capita state and local taxes are less than the national average, and one-third less than in California,” the Journal reported. Apple said in a news release that its new Austin campus could make the company the largest private employer in the city. It is set to add 5,000 employees initially, and the number of workers could eventually reach 15,000, Apple said.
BYTES: The American Civil Liberties Union praised Google after the tech giant said it does not intend to offer its facial recognition tool until questions around the potential misuse of the technology have been addressed. “This is a strong first step,” Nicole Ozer, technology and civil liberties director for the American Civil Liberties Union of California, said in a statement. “Google today demonstrated that, unlike other companies doubling down on efforts to put dangerous face surveillance technology into the hands of law enforcement and [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement], it has a moral compass and is willing to take action to protect its customers and communities.”
In a blog post describing a new research pilot in Thailand to detect diabetic eye disease with the help of artificial intelligence, Kent Walker, senior vice president of global affairs at Google, said the potential misuse of AI applications such as facial recognition could have harmful consequences. “We continue to work with many organizations to identify and address these challenges, and unlike some other companies, Google Cloud has chosen not to offer general-purpose facial recognition APIs before working through important technology and policy questions,” Walker said.
— Facebook's damaged public image and a flurry of recent controversies are taking a toll on the company's ability to recruit talent for its small blockchain team as it seeks to make a push into digital currency, according to Cheddar's Alex Heath and Tanaya Macheel. “Many in the crypto and blockchain industry see heavily centralized, data-hungry companies like Facebook as the very entities they are trying to disrupt,” they wrote. As Cheddar noted, Facebook has tried to hire product managers and engineers as well as academics and legal experts for its blockchain initiative.
— Journalists who fact-check stories as part of a partnership with Facebook to help curb misinformation on the platform are increasingly frustrated with the initiative. “Current and former Facebook factcheckers told the Guardian that the tech platform’s collaboration with outside reporters has produced minimal results and that they’ve lost trust in Facebook, which has repeatedly refused to release meaningful data about the impacts of their work,” the Guardian's Sam Levin reported. “Some said Facebook’s hiring of a PR firm that used an antisemitic narrative to discredit critics – fueling the same kind of propaganda factcheckers regularly debunk – should be a deal-breaker.”
— Amazon filed a patent application that suggests the company may consider using facial recognition to further expand its home surveillance business. The patent application “offers a vision of how doorbell cameras could be equipped with new technology that would allow the devices to gather data and identify people considered to be ‘suspicious,’” my colleague Peter Holley reported. (Amazon founder and chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Post.)
— More technology news from the private sector:
— A survey conducted by the venture company First Round Capital found that a majority of founders of start-ups say they doubt the industry will become diverse anytime soon, Wired's Paris Martineau reported. “The survey polled more than 500 venture-backed founders, around 17 percent of whom identified as female,” Martineau wrote. “According to the survey, most startup founders think it’ll take more than a decade for the tech industry to become representative of the general population when it comes to gender and racial diversity. More than a third think it will take more than two decades.”
— More news about tech workforce and culture:
Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) joined the board of software development company Techtonic, according a new release from the company.
— Today in funding news:
- Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao delivers a speech at the CES technology show in Las Vegas on Jan. 9, 2019.
Virgin Galactic launches the first manned U.S. spacecraft to reach space since 2011:
Naughty, instead of nice: Santa Clauses behaving badly:
Kombucha just got boozier, and we're here for it.