Gavin Newsom has been waiting in the wings for years as lieutenant governor. Now his campaign to result the state is taking on its golden industry: tech
The graduating computer science students at the University of California at Berkeley had just finished laughter at a joke about fleets of Google buses, Facebook shuttles and Uber-copters lining up to whisk them them to elite jobs in Silicon Valley. The commencement ceremony for a cohort of those individuals who, one professor confided, were worth around $25 bn was a feel-good affair.
Until, that is, Gavin Newsom took to the lectern and burst the bubble.
The smooth-talking Democrat, and frontrunner to win Californias gubernatorial race next year, cautioned the students that the plumbing of the world is radically changing. The tech industry that would make them rich, Newsom declared, was also rendering millions of other peoples jobs obsolete and fueling enormous disparities in wealth. Your job is to exert your moral authority, he said. It is to do the kinds of things in life that cant be downloaded.
That is not the various kinds of message computer engineers tend to hear. But Newsom, who has been waiting in the wings as Californias lieutenant governor for the past seven years, has put the consequences of automation and the center of his campaign.
This is code red, a firehose, a tsunami thats coming our style, he told the Guardian a few days after his commencement address at Berkeley. Were going to get rolled over unless we get ahead of this. California, a crucible of technological transformation that is reshaping the world, could be on the cusp of the first major election to be dominated by a debate over “what were doing” about robots.
It is a conversation that already feels overdue. San Francisco, the town where Newsom, 49, came to prominence as a two-term mayor, is a petri dish for technological advances and their social consequences. The novelty of watching driverless autoes on the roads wore off months ago, while delivery robots recently began patrolling the sidewalks.
San Francisco office workers can now grab lunch at a branch of Eatsa, a restaurant that boasts no waiters or cashiers, followed by a quick artisanal espresso at Cafe X, a coffee shop composed of the representatives of a single robotic arm. Newsom has been concerned about the numerous startups seeking to disrupt the fast-food industry.
He often complains about Momentum Machines, a secretive San Francisco startup promising to transform the fast-food industry with robotic technology. The ambition, according to the companys founder, is to completely obviate human workers.
Theres an empathy gap, Newsom said. I really feel intensely that the tech community needs to begin not just to solve these business problems but to begin to solve societal problems with the same kind of disruptive energy that they put behind developing the latest app.
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