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People who live in heartland states such as Kentucky and Indiana are most at risk of losing their jobs to robots or other artificial intelligence compared to those who live in other parts of the U.S., according to a new report published today from the Brookings Institution.

President Trump carried many of these states in the 2016 election with promises to improve job opportunities for these “forgotten” Americans he said were left behind as other parts of the country recovered from the 2008 financial crisis.

But the think tank found an impending wave of artificial intelligence could disrupt jobs even more in these states. Repetitive tasks that involve processing information, performing physical activities or operating machinery will be the first to be replaced by artificial intelligence — which could hit manufacturing jobs hard. 

“The next 30 years and the transition from the computer era into the AI era will continue to affect manufacturing,” said the Brookings report’s co-author Rob Maxim. “It still hasn’t hit the bottom.”

The problem is so massive, researchers say the federal government needs to address it — and fast. “It’s urgent. I think it’s something Congress should have worked on yesterday," Maxim tells me. 

While the idea of tech replacing workers jobs’ may seem abstract, the Brookings findings take on increasing importance as experts in Washington and on Wall Street alike are worried about the prospect of a looming recession. Since companies tend to invest more in technologies that cut labor during economic slowdowns or downturns, even more jobs could be lost in the coming years. 

This leaves a prime opening for Congress to address the problem — particularly through bills that would provide more funding for programs that retrain displaced workers and offer financial assistance between jobs. Workers are more likely to participate in new trainings or certifications during a downturn, too. "It will need a very productive federal government effort as well as state and local efforts," Maxim says. 

However, that’s easier said than done. It seems unlikely Congress will be especially proactive on a problem that would require a major societal shift -- given its inability to solve the most urgent problems right in front of it, such as reopening the government.

But the report, which emphasizes the states and demographic groups that would be most impacted by the rise of AI, could give politicians some incentives to act. After all, several states in the Midwest are expected to be a key battleground in the 2020 election. While Democrats have primarily led the charge in creating policies that would support workers displaced by automation, Republicans have skin in the game on this issue also because geographically, many of the workers most vulnerable to AI are in the rural and Midwestern states that went for Trump in 2016.

The researchers calculated a score that measured each state’s exposure to automation based on existing research about what jobs are most likely to be replaced by machines. Heartland states were most at-risk, while states like Massachusetts and New York were the safest. The gap was even wider when the researchers drilled down further into states and found rural communities stood to see more jobs displaced by AI than urban areas.

They also found Hispanic and American Indian workers are more likely to be replaced by machines due to occupational segregation. Hispanic and American Indian workers, who are more likely to work in fields like construction, were far more at-risk than White and Asian workers. The research underscores that this is a trend that should concern both political parties because it hits demographics that are key to both.

Despite the research, many in the tech industry are skeptical that lawmakers will take a proactive approach when it comes to artificial intelligence. Many technologies such as food prep and delivery robots are already here, and other technologies such as self-driving trucks aren’t likely too far off.

The Brookings researchers say there’s no “silver bullet policy” that can address the threat artificial intelligence poses to many positions, but they recommend that policymakers consider initiatives that would invest in re-skilling workers and expand accelerated learning and certifications.

They also say policymakers should create a “Universal Adjustment Benefit” that would support workers that are displaced with retraining and financial support during extended unemployment. Already, there are limited programs like this available for workers, especially who are displaced because of trade policies. But the study’s authors believe such programs need to be expanded quickly to cover workers who are displaced by new technologies.

Efforts to expand such protections have largely faltered in Congress. Last summer, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced legislation that would support Americans displaced by automation with job retraining and financial assistance. The TAA for Automation Act of 2018 stalled in the Senate. As Gillibrand enters the 2020 race, she could potentially elevate the issue. She mentioned job training programs as a key issue when she announced she was forming a committee to explore a presidential campaign on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.”

Another effort in Congress has been the Artificial Intelligence Caucus. Members of the caucus have introduced legislation that would create a formal federal panel on artificial intelligence that would study the impact it will have on jobs. Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.) was recently named the caucus co-chair in December.

“The rise of artificial intelligence offers a host of new benefits for Americans — including new job opportunities,” McNerney told me in a statement. “However, as our economy shifts, it’s critical that we examine the impact of AI on our nation's workforce and potential displacement that may result.”


BITS: The Chinese government appeared to block Microsoft's search engine Bing on Wednesday, even though the company had already censored its results to gain acceptance by the government, according to the New York Times's Paul Mozur and Karen Weise. "Under China’s president, Xi Jinping, the last vestiges of the global internet have slowly disappeared from an online world that had already shut out Twitter, Google and Facebook," they wrote. 

The move appeared to be "a startling renunciation of more than a decade of efforts by Microsoft to engage with Beijing to make its products available," The New York Times said. Microsoft has long cooperated with local companies to provide its Windows and cloud services, and it has established a research and development center in the country. If the block is permanant, it would signal that it's becoming more difficult for Western companies to operate in the world's largest Internet market by users. 

NIBBLES: U.S. politics followed tech leaders all the way to Davos, Switzerland, where they are facing questions about taxes and the partial federal government shutdown. Michael Dell, the founder and head of Dell Technologies, said he opposes a proposal by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) to tax the rich with a 70 percent tax rate on income above $10 million, The Washington Post's Hamza Shaban reported. “No, I am not supportive of that, and I don’t think it would help the growth of the U.S. economy,” Dell said at a panel on tech and global inequality. When he was asked why he feels that way, he replied: “Name a country where that’s worked — ever.”

Meanwhile, Uber chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi said federal employees who have been furloughed have started to work as drivers for the ride-hailing company, according to CNBC's Sara Salinas. “We love it when new driver partners join the platform, but this is most definitely not how we want new driver partners to join the platform,” Khosrowshahi said on CNBC's “Squawk Box.” “We haven't quantified [how many new drivers have joined], but it's definitely happening in D.C., and it's happening to the most needy. We're hoping that this ends.”

Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said at Davos that the social network must regain the public's trust following data privacy scandals, Reuters's Jessica DiNapoli reported. Sandberg also said she intends to stay at Facebook. “I think I have a job to do,” she said, according to Reuters. “It’s a job I really want to do.”

BYTES: Zumigo, a company that sold cellphone users' location data, asked the Federal Communications Commission to relax requirements about user consent for data sharing, Motherboard's Joseph Cox and Jason Koebler reported. “As breaches become more prevalent and as consumers rely more on mobile phones, there is a tipping point where financial and personal protections begin to equal, or outweigh, privacy concerns,” reads a slide that was part of a presentation that Zumigo gave to the FCC in late 2017. A Motherboard investigation this month revealed that T-Mobile, AT&T and Sprint sold their cellphone users' location information to third-party companies such as Zumigo.

But FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said the commission doesn't plan to end consent requirements for sharing personal data. “The FCC’s position is that we have no interest in removing consent requirements around the sharing of personal data, and that extends to having no interest in working with Congress to remove any of those requirements,” Pai said in an email to Motherboard.


— Alex Karp, co-founder and chief executive of the data-mining company Palantir, scolded tech companies that refuse to work with the federal government to make the United States safer, CNBC's Berkeley Lovelace Jr. reported. “Now Silicon Valley is creating micro communities that break the consensus of larger society while simultaneously telling the average American, ‘I will not support your defense needs,’ and then selling their products that are adversarial to America,” Karp said on CNBC's “Squawk Box.” Karp also lamented the government shutdown: “It's damaging for the American brand to have something that from the outside doesn't seem to make sense.”

— Microsoft is expanding its efforts to fight online disinformation with the mobile versions of its Edge browser, according to the Guardian's Jim WatersonThe company this week started installing the NewsGuard plug-in, which informs users about the reliability of news sites, on its mobile Edge browsers — the service had only been downloadable until now. The NewsGuard start-up says on its website that its ratings system aims to tell readers “if a website is trying to get it right or instead has a hidden agenda or knowingly publishes falsehoods or propaganda.”

— Amazon said it will start testing six cooler-sized autonomous devices called “Amazon Scout” to deliver packages near Seattle as the company seeks to automate the expensive last mile of delivery, Bloomberg News's Spencer Soper and Matt Day reported. The company will use the robots, which roll on sidewalks at walking pace, to make deliveries in Snohomish County during daylight hours Monday through Friday. But Dan Kara, vice president of robotics at WTWH Media, expressed skepticism about the initiative. “These might work in a brand new neighborhood that is well lit and has new sidewalks, but most of the world isn’t like that and neither is most of the United States,” Kara told Bloomberg News. “Congratulations for experimenting, but in terms of full implementation, I don’t see that any time soon.” (Amazon founder and chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

— More technology news from the private sector:


— Google said it plans to appeal a $57 million fine from France's top privacy agency CNIL for violating the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation, the Hill's Harper Neidig reported. “We’ve worked hard to create a GDPR consent process for personalised ads that is as transparent and straightforward as possible, based on regulatory guidance and user experience testing,” a Google representative said in a statement, according to the Hill. “We’re also concerned about the impact of this ruling on publishers, original content creators and tech companies in Europe and beyond.”

— House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) suggested using $5.7 billion in border security funds that President Trump has requested toward technology such as drones, sensors, X-rays and more agents on the border instead of a wall, Reuters's Richard Cowan and John Whitesides reported. “Using the figure the president put on the table, if his $5.7 billion is about border security then we see ourselves fulfilling that request, only doing it with what I like to call using a smart wall,” Clyburn said, according to Reuters.

— More technology news from the public sector:


— Apple dismissed more than 200 employees from its secretive autonomous vehicle project, known as Project Titan, according to CNBC's Lora Kolodny and Christina Farr.  An Apple spokesman told CNBC that the company continues to see an opportunity in autonomous vehicles. "As the team focuses their work on several key areas for 2019, some groups are being moved to projects in other parts of the company, where they will support machine learning and other initiatives, across all of Apple,” the spokesperson said. 

— Elon Musk’s Tesla said it has reduced production hours for its Model S sedan and Model X SUV after the electric car company laid off workers last week The Washington Post’s Drew Harwell reported. The reduced production will help focus the company on the Model 3, which is less expensive. “But Tesla has struggled for months to handle production, cost and delivery issues surrounding the Model 3, and Musk has said the company can’t sell the car at its long-promised price of $35,000 while remaining profitable,” my colleague wrote. “Wall Street analysts have said the company has not yet proven it can lose out on those premium sales and still function in a competitive market.”

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