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South Bend mayor and 2020 presidential contender Pete Buttigieg thinks local leaders like him are best-positioned to help the country's workers find a path forward as cutting-edge technology threatens to put them out of work.
National leaders are "scratching their heads" about how to prepare for a new era of automation that stands to replace jobs -- particularly in fields such as manufacturing or information processing.
Buttigieg, at a U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in Washington yesterday, called on his counterparts across the country to help workers retrain for new positions -- and conquer "spiritual" challenges such as gaining a sense of identity and dignity outside their jobs. “People will turn to damaging places to restore that identity they feel that they lost,” said Buttigieg, the chair of the conference's task force on automation. “Community is a big part of that answer.”
As he jumps into the 2020 race, this is clearly part of Buttigieg's pitch that he, at age 37, is better positioned to sit in the White House than more senior politicians with longer track records. He's expressing empathy for the workers who realize -- or will realize soon -- that they could lose their jobs due to the onset robots and other artificial intelligence. But Buttigieg, who led his Rust Belt city through a technological transformation since he became mayor in 2011, is also striking a more hopeful note: There is a future even after these jobs go away.
Automation and the future of work could become a wedge issue in the 2020 race. Already, Buttigieg and the pack of Democrats who have launched exploratory committees are trying to differentiate their economic messages from President Trump. As Trump has promised to bring back jobs in manufacturing and mining, they seem to be positioning themselves as part of the party that can help workers adapt to jobs that new technologies will inevitably create.
“We have been told to look for greatness in all the wrong places,” Buttigieg said. “We will not find greatness in the past, trying to dredge it up from some impossible again. There is no again in the real world.”
Buttigieg shared his experiences with the tough calls he’s had to make when technology became available that could replace some garbage workers in South Bend. As the city automated some of its jobs collecting garbage, it tried to soften the blow by offering displaced workers new positions — as long as they obtained a commercial driver’s license. About half of the workers took the city up on the deal, Buttigieg said. He acknowledged it wasn’t a perfect solution. Driving jobs, too, could be automated in the near future.
Buttigieg’s anecdote highlights how challenging this problem is for policymakers. Democrats will likely be expected to come up with clear solutions to lost jobs that resonate with voters.
Many technology leaders, from Mark Zuckerberg to Elon Musk, think policymakers need to consider a “universal basic income” that would provide every citizen with an income regardless of their employment at a time when new technologies could exacerbate inequality. That idea has gained traction with California Democrats, but it hasn’t caught on widely at the national level with the most prominent 2020 presidential candidates.
Yet former vice president Joe Biden, who is considering a presidential run, has said such a program would be “selling American workers short.” More progressive candidates (and others still considering) have introduced policies that would widely expand the social safety net but do not go as far as a universal basic income. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) introduced the LIFT Middle Class Act that would provide monthly cash payments of up to $500 to lower-income families. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) who says he's making a decision on a run soon, has introduced The Federal Jobs Guarantee Development Act, which would establish a pilot program that would guarantee every American living in certain regions a job that pays at least $15 per hour. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has said he was sympatheic to the idea.
One long shot for the presidency, Andrew Yang, has focused his platform on a universal basic income. The businessman's slogan is “humanity first.” Though it’s unlikely he will win the party primary, his presence could push more in the party to debate the issue.
Democrats also seem to be seriously considering job training initiatives. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) has previously introduced legislation that would provide financial support and job retraining to workers replaced by automation. The legislation did not pass, but she has said job training would be a key focus of her platform.
The other gauntlet for the Democrats will be to make the idea of “future of work” accessible. Before announcing his presidential bid, Buttigieg told me at a Post Live event that the party needs to make technology policy issues personal for voters.
“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.”
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BITS: A group of 15 senators asked the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission to investigate the sale by wireless carriers of their customers' cellphone location data to third-party companies. The lawmakers also asked FTC Chairman Joseph J. Simons and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to probe how third-party firms accessed that location information and sold it to others. “It is clear that these wireless carriers have failed to regulate themselves or police the practices of their business partners, and have needlessly exposed American consumers to serious harm,” the senators said in a letter. The senators who signed the letter are Democrats and independent Sanders.
The letter, which was released by the office of Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), follows an investigation by Motherboard this month that revealed that T-Mobile, Sprint and AT&T sold their customers' cellphone location information to third parties. The signatories to the letter include Harris and Gillibrand who have said they will run for president, as well as other senators who are considered potential candidates including Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Booker and Sanders.
NIBBLES: Google asked the federal government to reduce legal protection for employees who organize online around work-related matters, Bloomberg News's Josh Eidelson, Hassan Kanu and Mark Bergen reported. The company, which has faced discontent and protests from employees over workplace issues including its handling of sexual misconduct allegations, asked the National Labor Relations Board to undo a 2014 precedent that expanded employees' rights to use their workplace email systems to organize. “We're not lobbying for changes to any rules,” a Google spokeswoman told Bloomberg News in an emailed statement.
Google asked the NLRB to undo the 2014 precedent in May 2017 and November 2018 filings that are not related to the recent employee walkout. The Google spokeswoman also said Google's request was part of its defense in that unrelated case. “In an email to all of Google, [Google chief executive] Sundar [Pichai] assured us that he and Google's leadership supported the walkout. But the company's requests to the National Labor Relations Board tell a different story,” organizers of the Google employee walkout told Bloomberg News in a statement.
BYTES: Several advocacy groups asked the FTC to break up Facebook and impose a heavy fine on the social network following the Cambridge Analytica scandal and other privacy lapses, the Verge's Makena Kelly reported. The groups said the commission should order Facebook to divest from WhatsApp and Instagram and added that the two companies should be restored as independent entities. The coalition, which includes the Electronic Privacy Information Center, Color of Change, the Government Accountability Project and other groups, said a fine on Facebook should exceed $2 billion.
The advocacy groups also said the company should alter its hiring and management practices to make its workforce more diverse. “Facebook has operated for too long with too little democratic accountability,” the groups said in a letter to the commission. “That should now end. At issue are not only the rights of consumers but also those of citizens. It should be for users of the services and for democratic institutions to determine the future of Facebook.”
— Access to Microsoft's Bing search engine in China was restored although it was not immediately clear why the service had been unavailable this week, the Wall Street Journal's Yoko Kubota reported. Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith said the company was still seeking information about what had happened. “Speaking from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Mr. Smith told Fox Business Network that Bing outages happen periodically in the country,” according to the Journal. “He said at times there are disagreements and tough negotiations with China over censorship, but that the company was still waiting to find out details about the latest situation.” Bing is the last major Western search engine that users can access in China.
— The results from a study by M.I.T. Media Lab researchers raise questions about the potential bias of Amazon’s facial recognition technology Rekognition, a system that the company has pitched to police departments and federal agencies,the New York Times’s Natasha Singer reported. The study found that Amazon’s technology didn’t make any errors in recognizing the gender of men with lighter skin but “misclassified women as men 19 percent of the time” and “mistook darker-skinned women for men 31 percent of the time,” Singer reported. (Amazon founder and chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
— Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg tried to set the record straight on common misconceptions about the social network in the wake of recent data privacy scandals with an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. He wrote that Facebook does not sell its users’ data. “In fact, selling people’s information to advertisers would be counter to our business interests, because it would reduce the unique value of our service to advertisers,” Zuckerberg wrote.
— More tech news from the private sector:
— Some U.S. officials are turning to Twitter to communicate with federal employees as the partial government shutdown continues, according to Politico's Helena Bottemiller Evich. The social media platform allows officials to reach employees who don't have access to their government email. Officials who are using Twitter this way include Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb. “Social media is a valuable tool for disseminating information and Secretary Perdue enthusiastically embraces it,” Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for USDA, told Bottemiller Evich in an email. “He feels it’s important to continue to communicate with USDA employees during the shutdown, understanding that they may feel especially isolated without access to their work emails.”
— Oracle criticized a filing from the Labor Department in a lawsuit claiming that the company underpaid women and minorities, the Hill's Tal Axelrod reported. “This meritless lawsuit is based on false allegations and a seriously flawed process within the OFCCP [Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs] that relies on cherry picked statistics rather than reality,” Oracle Executive Vice President and General Counsel Dorian Daley said in a statement, according to the Hill. “We fiercely disagree with the spurious claims and will continue in the process to prove them false.” The lawsuit claims that the company underpaid women and minorities by more than $400 million.
— The U.S. government worries about operations to tamper with computer supply chains and is particularly wary of China on that front, according to the Intercept's Micah Lee and Henrik Moltke. Documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden show that U.S. intelligence agencies were warned almost a decade ago about the risk that China could compromise hardware supply chains, according to the Intercept.
— More technology news from the public sector:
— News about tech workforce and culture:
— Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey's interview with Rolling Stone prompted numerous comments online — especially the part where he said Zuckerberg once made Dorsey goat for dinner that he had killed himself.
From the Independent Journal Review's Josh Billinson:
Look, I get that a lot is happening today, but I humbly suggest that we should take a moment to talk about Jack Dorsey telling Rolling Stone that Mark Zuckerberg kills goats in his yard with a stun gun and a knife and serves them to his guests https://t.co/EYKyl3KFu8 pic.twitter.com/RK1HYBNSBM— Josh Billinson (@jbillinson) January 23, 2019
From the Columbia Journalism Review's Mathew Ingram:
There's a lot in this RS interview with Jack Dorsey, but one thing struck me. It's where Jack says: "When people open Twitter today, what does the app inherently incentivize? I don’t know the answer." Remember, this is an app that is more than a decade old https://t.co/z68y3UYNbl— Mathew Ingram (@mathewi) January 23, 2019
From the Verge's Casey Newton:
— Tech news generating buzz around the Web:
— Jason Oxman was named president and CEO of the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI) starting at the end of February, according to a statement from the group.
— News about tech incidents and blunders:
— Today in funding news:
- RE•WORK Deep Learning Summit in San Francisco.
- The George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs hosts an event titled “Artificial intelligence: What can we learn from other countries’ approaches?”
Boeing's flying taxi completes its first test flight:
Air traffic controllers warn of “risks” to travel as shutdown drags on:
Ancient Roman path discovered underneath East Jerusalem: