Pete Buttigieg, the 2020 presidential candidate and mayor of South Bend, Ind., singled out Facebook, Google and Amazon for their “monopoly power” and said America is falling behind China in the race to harness artificial intelligence.
During an interview with Axios, the 37-year-old Democrat, who formed an exploratory committee in January and has campaigned and tried to amass 65,000 unique donors, also told the outlet the U.S. needs to think differently about the threats automation pose to workers.
Buttigieg, who is reportedly friends with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and spent time showing him around South Bend in 2017, told Axios that U.S. regulators have largely failed to rein in Big Tech.
“There’s no question that the U.S. has let down its guard when it comes to monopoly power. Too often, the concentration of wealth has become a concentration of power,” Buttigieg said on the Axios Pro Rata podcast. “When competition is being squelched, when the dominance of one part of the marketplace is being turned into another. It requires greater attention to the controls on monopoly power to keep our economy competitive and democratic.”
The millennial mayor, who served for seven months in Afghanistan in 2014 as a lieutenant in the Navy Reserves and was reelected to a second term the following year after he came out as gay, is voicing concerns amid calls from Democratic and Republican lawmakers to crack down on Big Tech’s power. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is already investigating Facebook’s business practices and recently staffed up a major task force to examine anti-competitive behavior in the technology sector.
When asked specifically if firms like Facebook, Amazon and Google are monopolies, the Midwestern mayor said he doesn’t want to “prejudice” any potential future regulatory efforts.
“There’s no question that the concentration should set off alarms from a market perspective. There’s a whole set of other issues, too, on ownership of data,” Buttigieg explained, adding that the European Union has taken the issue of data privacy and security much more seriously than the U.S.
Regarding the AI race between China and the United States, Buttigieg said America will seriously lag behind in 10 to 15 years if Washington doesn’t change its policies and ramp up funding.
“If you look at the investments being made [in China] in the billions and you look at what was offered up as an early entry of an AI strategy that came out of the administration recently, it assigns nothing close to those resources. This is not a game where we can afford to be left behind,” Buttigieg said. “There will always be some form of important and basic research that is not going to happen with the private sector and corporate world alone, it requires a national strategy.”
According to Buttigieg, workers need more than just job training to equip them in a world where automation could threaten up to 40 percent of jobs. He cited a lifelong learning program being piloted in South Bend as an example of a model he supports.
“It’s about making sure people are resilient. [AI and automation] is going to leave us with the parts that have the most to do with critical thinking and human interaction. Building up those skills, not just for people in universities, but for everybody — that’s going to be the name of the game if we want to equip people to be resilient and succeed as technical changes come along that we can’t adequately predict. We have to make people resilient.”
“The U.S. is behind and not being served well in some of these spectacles where you see legislators attempting for political reasons to show that they can hold tech executives accountable, but in these hearings making it abundantly clear that they barely understand the thing that they’re supposed to be regulating.”
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