San Francisco Approves New Regulator of Emerging Technologies

The new Office of Emerging Technology has sweeping discretionary powers to reject or condition the approval of new technologies.

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What's the best way to streamline government bureaucracy? In San Francisco, the answer is to create another government department.

On Tuesday, the city's Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to create the Office of Emerging Technology (OET). The new office will act as a regulator of first-resort by requiring companies looking to test out new technology "upon, above, or below" city property or public rights-of-way to first obtain a permit from OET.

The past few years have seen any number of new technologies, from sidewalk delivery robots to dockless electric scooters, put out on San Francisco streets by innovating companies, each time irritating a vocal minority of residents and forcing city regulators and elected officials to play catch-up.

The hope is that the new OET will allow city officials to vet technologies before they're rolled out en masse in public places. The new office is also supposed to give companies a "front door" to city bureaucracies, helping them to understand all the different government permissions and permits they'll need.

"If you have a company that is offering an interesting and new technology that does not put our residents' safety at risk or have a negative impact to our public infrastructure then this office will welcome you," said Supervisor Norman Yee, who sponsored the OET legislation, at a Tuesday hearing. "If a technology offers a net common good there is now a path for approval through this office."

The new OET legislation tracks pretty closely with recommendations made by the city's Emerging Technologies Open Working Group, which was helmed by City Administrator Naomi Kelly, and included representatives from tech companies and various technology trade associations.

The San Francisco Examiner reports that both sf.citi, a tech trade association, and the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce have come out in support of the OET, each expressing their hopes that the new office will facilitate a more collaborative relationship between innovators and regulators, and help streamline the regulatory process.

That's understandable given the antagonistic relationship startups have had with city regulators when they've tried to test out new ideas.

When dockless e-scooters were first deployed in San Francisco without permits (because it was a new technology for which no permit existed), officials took a pretty heavy-handed approach, impounding hundreds of scooters, and forcing their owners to cease operations while the city crafted new regulations for the vehicles. The creation of an OET offers the chance to avoid all that drama.

But there's still plenty of reasons to think the new office will actually make things worse, not better.

For starters, Tuesday's legislation gives the OET sweeping discretionary powers. Companies looking to test out new technology will have to submit a pilot project proposal before they can get a permit. OET will evaluate these pilot projects based on criteria it itself will come up with. It then has the power to reject permit applications, or impose on them any conditions it deems necessary to protect "public peace, safety, health, and welfare."

On top of that, the law also gives members of the public a right to request a public hearing on individual emerging technology permits, allowing opponents of new tech, or change generally, to delay or derail pilot projects they don't like.

Indeed, we really don't have to speculate what this new regulatory regime for emerging tech will look like in practice.

The city already has a very similar set up for building permits, which require people looking to build a home or set up a business to obtain permits from city hall first. Members of the public are then empowered to demand public hearings on any individual project. The city's planning commission has the authority to reject or condition approval of most projects.

The system has generally served to frustrate, not facilitate, business formation (not to mention housing construction) by making even the most minute permit applications the subject of intense public debate.

Obviously, emerging technologies in public spaces can be disruptive and cause safety hazards or other issues that might require government regulation. The best way to do that, however, is to write the broadest possible rules aimed at mitigating specific harms. This is an approach that can protect public safety without unduly burdening entrepreneurs.

With San Francisco's new emerging tech regulator, all that isn't explicitly allowed is now forbidden. The end result will be a patchwork of politicized and arbitrary regulations that will kill off the innovation the city says it's trying to accommodate.

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  1. If you have a company that is offering an interesting and new technology that does not put our residents’ safety at risk or have a negative impact to our public infrastructure then this office will welcome you…

    Thank Gaia none of that is the least bit subjective.

    1. This is just the kind of thing that will keep San Francisco at the forefront of technological innovation?

      1. It’s our betters winning.

    2. I highlighted the exact same sentence. It seems like just about anything that has a physical presence could be considered a risk or negative impact. SF sucks so bad.

  2. Let’s just blame emerging technology on Prop 13 and move to the next subject. It’s faster that way.

    1. Hell no. Blame it all on Trump. Safer that way.

      1. I blame everything on Global Warming…everything!

  3. The hope is that the new OET will allow city officials to vet technologies before they’re rolled out en masse in public places.

    They’ve learned their lesson from the disrupters. Take Uber as an example. Turns out, the taxi cartel actually sucks for consumers, and Uber is too popular to stop.

    Not going to let that happen again. Basically, this is an attempt to make sure that the “unseen” of Bastiat remains just that–lest the plebes get too uppity.

  4. Today is that day where my mood tells me to shrug and wonder why people bother to do business in San Francisco because they were warned.

    1. Because even the lofty tech gods that are inventing the future one app at a time get confused.

  5. Hey speaking of this, is Reason going to cover the biggest tech news of possibly the last five years? Youtube/Google appear to be making good on their promise that they “wouldn’t let 2016 happen again” and I’m not hearing a peep.

    1. Cuz orange man bad iz why.

      1. Very very bad! How bad? Quid Pro Quo bad!

        1. “Very very bad! How bad? Quid Pro Quo bad!”

          Almost as bad as fucking lefty ignoramus. Are you hoping they get him on a late library return?

          1. Are you suggesting he actually reads?

    2. Is time now a wholly owned subsidiary of Alphabet?

      1. According to Youtube… yeah, kind of. They’re quite literally going back in time and retroactively applying their new community guidelines and deleting iconic videos that have been up for years and garnered millions and tens of millions of views.

        1. Link? I believe you, but I want to read more.

          1. Here’s Rage’s summation, which in my opinion is very succinct.

            Fair warning, Rageaholic is a polarizing character, but all too often his bombastic statements end up coming true down the road.

            1. Interesting points. Also kudos to him for trying to get ahead of things and starting on another platform. It’s not easy, but I think it’s a valuable thing for people to do.

          2. One reason I don’t have a problem using Rage’s channel as an exemplar of what’s happening with youtube in this context is because he does a very good job of connecting the historical dots.

            Razor (his actual nickname as opposed to his channel name) has a pretty good reputation for assembling timelines and facts related to them– so much so he did one of the most thorough debunkings of the Michael Jackson scandal that the surviving Jackson family members actually reached out to him and did a podcast with him to discuss the scandal.

        2. Was Jean Claude van Damme involved at all?

          1. Yeah he was fucking your wife.

    3. They should also report on the noteworthy post by Jack Dorsey re: his intention to turn Twitter into a decentralized social network. Who knows what will come of it, but it’s worth a shot.

      1. Fuck off jeff

  6. Some one coming out with a new tech the last thing they want is the government getting first look before implementation and putting their two cents into it making unfeasable economically, but then they will take it over or subsidize it .

    1. On the other hand, several of the companies in the area can probably buy off the entire Board of Supervisors and their extended families.

      1. Ooh gosh.! Successful companies!

      2. The job is prime for extra income opportunities

  7. In unrelated news, 327 companies have withdrawn plans to move to San Francisco. 836 existing companies are actively searching for new cities.
    And the sidewalks are still covered in shit.

    1. But San Francisco is now the home of the Golden State Warriors?

    2. You asked, they delivered: map of SF shit cleanups

      1. Wow! What an innovative use of mapping!

        1. I’d be more fascinated if it were down to the individual turd piles.

          Moose Turd Pie, by Utah Phillips.

          1. SQRLSY One
            December.12.2019 at 6:06 pm
            “Is anyone with knowledge of the operation alleging ICE promised an actuall education…”

            Please get yourself an ACTUAL education on how to use simple spell-check that’s even embedded into the posting software right here! OK, I am a grammar (and spelling) NAZI, so be it… When you are lazy about these things, readers will assume that you are ALSO lazy about BASIC THINKING about what is right and what is wrong! ICE is lying out their ass in order to trap and punish people! Real human beings are the victim here! You want this done to YOU? If not, don’t support it! And ICE is NOT using their LYING to prevent murder or mayhem either!

            Hints about single v/s double v/s triple “L” use:

            The one-L lama, he’s a beast,
            The two-LL llama, he’s a priest,

            The 3-LLL lllama, he’s deceased!

            (“Deceased” roughly = non-existent).

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      2. I clicked to see if I guessed right on the neighborhoods. I did.

        There’s nothing new about those areas crawling with homeless people. The new thing is the city’s inability to clean up the shit.

        1. The map does show a little bit of shit in the Marina District. But, yeah, basically the Mission and the Tenderloin.

          1. There’s a section of SF called the Tenderloin? Nevermind, I don’t want to know.

      3. Um, isn’t it a bad sign when cleaning up human shit is has a designated city program?

  8. Another government office filled with palms that need greasing.

  9. Oh, thank God someone has some sense at created a new bureaucracy in San Francisco.
    Big Tech was getting way out of hand with their new, improved and wonderful technology.
    Now, hopefully, this Commissar of New Regulator of Emerging Technologies will see the light and regulate all these new fancy pants contraptions into the tumultuous Sea of Red Tape.
    Americans don’t need tech to help them.
    They need Big Government to help them.

  10. Still not really sure how SF is intending to police technologies that don’t exist yet, but I’m sure they have a five year plan.

    One is left to wonder how long Silicon Valley can survive in California.

  11. And thus, this became the day that San Francisco began the decline into what would be known as “Detroit by the Sea”

    1. Tech has been sticking its collective dick into Bay Area crazy for too long now. That bitch might be too crazy to try to leave.

  12. “If a technology offers a net common good there is now a path for approval through this office.”

    That’s good, because you couldn’t do anything before this.

    Just fill out these 38,000 pages of forms, pay for these licenses, bribe these “activists” for permission to build near them, and pay an exorbitant “crap on the sidewalk” tax for every toilet in your building.


    1. “If a technology offers a net common good there is now a path for approval through this office.”

      A ‘net common good’ being a requirement for new technology is a curious metric. I don’t believe for a nanosecond that’s even generally possible to determine.

      After all, what ‘net common good’ does television serve? Your ability to watch reruns of Three’s Company?

      Notably, this government in particular doesn’t believe that heating your food is a common good so there’s little reason to believe any technology meets their stated metric.

      Now, start to look at who is greasing palms and you may get a better idea of what they really mean. They’re demanding you pay them for the privilege of approving things that are not actually regulated.

      1. At least the graft makes some kind of logical sense. I worry more about the True Believers (aka Cali Commies) who really do want to run the world based on common good.

      2. If the dollar value of the palm greasing is greater than the harm to the greasees from whiny communist locals, you have a net common good. Pretty simple really.

    2. There’s a business opportunity here, though, to automate much of the tedious work on filling out the form.

      1. Automation would eliminate job opportunities for administrators. I don’t think that’ll pass the “net common good” test in Frisco.

        1. Oh, man. This is complicated.

  13. Would this office work like an innovation czar, clearing away barriers other city agencies might put in the way of innovations, provided they’re been approved by the czar? If so, it might be worth it.

    1. Ha HA! Good one.

  14. “If you have a company that is offering an interesting and new technology that does not put our residents’ safety at risk or have a negative impact to our public infrastructure then this office will welcome you,”

    We recycle ordinary plastic straws into hobo seeking missiles

  15. Even the Amish are more innovation-friendly than this.

    (Not hyperbole. Most of them plant GMO corn, as it is easier to harvest)

  16. San Francisco is a very interesting government entity because they are a combo of a city and a county. So, they convince themselves that they are a state unto themselves and can pass any law they like. The city is bustling and pretty, and there is a lot of innovation in the peninsula, and a lot of money. People love living there, except for the inconvenient reality of paying outrageous rents. The city’s occasional ham handed efforts are always great examples of why overregulation by any government is bad, and really shouldn’t be allowed. Why the hell do they think they can regulate any emergent technologies in the name of public safety? Why, because they are enlightened and know better than any of us peasants. But that attitude is true of all governments, everywhere, not just San Francisco.

  17. “The new office is also supposed to give companies a “front door” to city bureaucracies….”
    All the doors to bureaucracies I have ever encountered were back doors.

  18. There is always so much room for automation as long as people think everything through. Automation can lover the cost and speed up the process of everything. We have done the same with Transensex and everything works amazing

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