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San Francisco on the Cutting Edge of Robot Legislation: How Will We Handle Robots?

San Francisco Law Library - How Will We Handle Robots?

Image adapted from “Dr Who Cybermen” by Chad Kainz which is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Two of the Supervisors on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors are looking at local robot legislation. Supervisor Jane Kim has recently proposed a type of automation tax on companies that use robots. Supervisor Kim says she was inspired for this new possible tax by an interview of Bill Gates in Quartz Magazine where he proposed a robot tax. The thinking: If you make robots more expensive, there will be more public funds to help retrain workers, and the higher cost might keep some companies from buying robots and quickly tanking the employment rate. Kim is wondering after reading the Gates article if a robot tax would help the city deal with inequality. According to a Fast Company article, Kim believes we “need to think about investments in our society that don’t exacerbate the wealth and income gaps that we already see today.”

Supervisor Kim is now setting up a working group to see how an automation or robot tax would be implemented. She hopes to have wide raging representatives from academia, unions, tech companies and manufactures. Supervisor Kim hopes the monies raised could be dedicated to education expenses and even slow things down enough so that government and businesses could enact policies that help people with the transition.

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Yee’s legislation was sparked by seeing robots around the city. PS-C3PO in his footsteps” by Gordon Tarpley is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Meanwhile Supervisor Norman Yee is proposing a total ban on a certain type of robot. Autonomous robots would be banned from roaming the sidewalks and public right-of-ways around San Francisco under new legislation introduced by Supervisor Yee. Supervisor Yee, who represents San Francisco’s District 7, said his legislation was sparked by seeing robots around the city and realizing there’s not a way to regulate them for pedestrian safety, especially for seniors and the mobility challenged. An article in the San Francisco Business Times states that Yee “initially wanted to explore a way to craft regulations that would help keep pedestrians safe as they increasingly share the sidewalks with autonomous robots,” but after talking with several city departments he “didn’t see any viable ways to enforce that.”

The legislation would allow for criminal, civil and administrative penalties for violating the ban. The administrative penalty would be capped at $1,000 per day. If the proposal is approved by the Board of Supervisors and signed by the mayor, it would take effect 30 days later. Supervisor Yee says he does not want to stifle innovation but the safety of people on the sidewalks is of overwhelming concern.

Once again, the City of San Francisco is on the cutting edge of legislating the future.

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