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SF to Establish Office of Emerging Technology (sfexaminer.com)
58 points by Reedx on Oct 12, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 68 comments

Just one more nail in the coffin for SF/bay area as an innovation center. It's been really sad to see that rent seeking and bureaucracy have completely choked that place out. I'm not sure if there will ever be another time and place like existed in silicon valley from the 70s-2000s where forward thinking creative individuals can come together in a critical mass, with an environment that allows risk taking and innovation. Maybe it will/is happening outside the US but I don't think it's here anymore.

Silicon Valley proper (Palo Alto to San Jose) is still alive and well. All sorts of cool things happening in the corridor between Stanford and Santa Clara, as they have since radar and transistors were invented there a half century ago.

Startups locating in SF was done more recently because young startup employees wanted more of a city-based, young adult social life, vs the more college student or family-oriented one in Silicon Valley. But if SF is choking itself out, those startups will just move back down to South Bay/Silicon Valley or in some cases the Berkeley/Oakland area.

SF screwing itself up as an innovation hub isn't the best thing for the Bay Area, but it's far from the end of the Bay Area as a whole as an innovation center.

  since radar and transistors were invented there a half century ago.
Radar was not an SV invention. There were many attempts at radar worldwide, but I (an SV native, BTW) would credit the UK first, especially with their invention of the cavity magnetron.

As a San Francisco native, it has always astonished me that people would want to start tech companies here. The city government is just so hostile.

Kevin Erdmann wrote an interesting thesis about this. In the past, American cities were built densely, but in the 20ᵗʰ Century they all embraced cars and NIMBYism.

The few existing densely built cities thus have become a sort of limited natural resource, impossible to replicate elsewhere in the country and (in purely economic terms) worth the extreme cost of entry.

You sound just like to co-creator of AltaVista in 1993: https://mobile.twitter.com/MikeSchiraldi/status/110534581682...

lived it ! was fun, everyone knew the finance people would f- it up

One problem with this is that's ex-ante, not ex-post. Eg, it asks a bunch of bureaucrats to evaluate a technology before it's deployed, before they and the public get to see how it actually works, as if they have some insight into the relative pros and cons and public reception of an innovative new thing in its formative stages. Not very empirical.

A better ex-post structure would be to blacklist/regulate something after the fact, only after it's evident that its public harm outweighs its public benefit. For things that are quite obviously harmful, like toxic/medical waste handling and stuff of that nature, there are already ordinances in place for that.

But most tech businesses are not that obviously harmful, and strict ex-ante regulation of them will stymie creativity more than protect the public.

It also prematurely shuts down possible systemic adaption. For example, the introduction of Scooters and eBike rentals in SF started a conversation there about whether the city should ban cars for anyone who is not a resident of SF.

Eg, build a bunch of parking garages ringing the outskirts of the city, and anyone coming to SF who doesn't live there, either has to take CalTrain/BART into the city, or park at a garage on the outskirts and take Muni/BART/train/car service/taxi/scooter/bike/etc. into the city.

That was an interesting discussion worth having, but ex-ante blacklisting of new tech will reduce the impetus for that kind of innovative solution finding and public discussion.

This is a great take.

finally the city is doing something about those whizz-kid whippersnappers and their goofy gizmos. i'm tired of shaking my cane at these freaks when they blast by me on an electric ouija board or whatever new-fangled gadget is in mode this week. between this and the city banning all new housing developments, we're finally going to clean up the problems that really threaten quality of life here.

This is about JUUL.

Also, if you don’t know what’s happening with development, please do not vote.

Pretty sure the parent comment was being satirical.

His point was well taken. Nobody is against development; this is misinformation.

Nobody is against housing development in San Francisco? It is not really a controversial position that it is very difficult to build new housing supply. There have been numerous well studied articles on this fact and a variety of first hand accounts from real estate developers who have had enormous difficulty in building new housing in the bay area.

edit: candidates may run on new housing development as it easy an easy thing to say and run on. But when rubber meets the road, local planning boards and strict zoning requirements mean translate into orders of magnitude less development than people would like or the market would have.

there are both city wide studies and the specific examples like the infamous laundromat or garage-door based house that are deemed too historic or architecturally significant (standards that would not hold up else anywhere in the nation)

for info on the two examples, google "Largent House" or "SF Mission Laundromat redevelopment"

Look at the D5 race. All the candidates are pro development, the discussion is about to what extent this should happen via mixed rate units vs market rate.

As for what people want... is there any good way to be run out of town because you don’t have money? Unrestricted development wouldn’t address the needs of current residents at all and would result in people being forced out in addition to creating more homeless.

I think you're missing the point. Everyone says they're pro-development, sure. But what politicians say and what actually happens are two very different things.

> Before any new tech device is used, tested or piloted in The City, the office would coordinate the review with relevant departments and would “issue a Notice to Proceed if the net result is for the common good,” according to the announcement.

This sounds like a fantastic idea. - The Rest of the Country

This aside, it might be useful to have the opposite as well (or instead).

Ie: Some portion of some city designated friendly and relatively unregulated for the testing of new technologies in public spaces... Like the Chinese special economic zones, but smaller scale.

Instead of arguing about what approach is unequivocally better, we can just have some of both. This isn't like housing where market fungibility makes it impossible (unadvisable) to have uncoordinated policies, There will still be people living there who don't like it, but you have that regardless. There will also be an element of choice, to the extent that people can/will move.

The actual function of China's special economic zones is control, not freedom.

Passing into one is identical to passing through an international checkpoint, with minor differences. When driving, the guards basically ignore white people and party members while non-party members have to pull over and go through full scanning and scrutiny to prove they are allowed to enter.

Once in the zone, setting up any kind of business that requires actual capital equipment is completely impossible for anyone who is not a party member.

Even for party members it is close to impossible. China is actually highly regional with provinces having a lot of power. You have to get permission from the province to do anything, and the local powerful elite will only permit those they can control to establish industry.

With this in place, they do not have to care about anyone outside of these zones, so they are free to enact whatever brutal policies they desire.

Special economic zones are only for powerful, rich, and well-connected. Everyone else loses.

This really fits in the greater scenario that:

Once an emerging technology has gotten popular enough (no longer limited to few inventors and early adoptors). You've got people that understand barely anything about it trying to get a slice of a pie. This can come in any directions, some of it as job applicants/VC management deals, some of it posing as regulatory bodies, and it happens both inside and outside of the company/circle that created tech.

Sometimes it works out as the new tech is competitive enough to absorb the cost of these overheads, other times it just sink with edge/non-contributing members sucking the blood out of it.

Here is the file for the proposed ordinance (https://sfgov.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=4160578...). Any company operating an “Emerging Technology Device” is required to apply for a $2,006 permit prior to operating on sidewalks and public rights of way, and these devices are limited to 3mph, are prohibited from parking on the sidewalk, and are required to operate only on sidewalks wider than 6ft. Any violations are subject to $1,000 per day administrative fine, $500 per day civil penalties, and up to $500 per day criminal penalties. The definition of “Emerging Technology” means any new technology which has characteristics including a “beta” label or absence of a federal or state safety certification. The permit application is subject to a public hearing. The OET Director is required to evaluate, e.g., “effects… on public health, safety, welfare, and convenience,” “whether the Emerging Technology … are likely to have a measurable economic and/or social impact in the three- to ten-year period following the use,” “effects … on the labor market,” etc., and the OET Director may reject applications on the basis of these potential impacts.

In my opinion, this definition of “Emerging Technology” is vague and expansive enough that Public Works employees could give you a $1000 ticket for playing Pokémon Go, wearing Google Glass, operating an electric skateboard, or perhaps even vaping.

The author, Norman Yee, is the councilman who in May 2017 became alarmed at autonomous delivery robots on the sidewalks and introduced an ordinance that required delivery robot startups to apply for a permit, capped them to 9 testing robots per permit, and required an operator to be present at all times (https://sfbos.org/sites/default/files/o0244-17.pdf).

Relatedly, councilman Aaron Peskin introduced ordinances to require permits for bike rentals on the sidewalk in Feb. 2017 (https://sfbos.org/sites/default/files/o0081-17.pdf) and for scooter rentals on the sidewalk in March 2018 (https://sfbos.org/sites/default/files/o0099-18.pdf).

And this is how Democratic voters become Republicans..

Never pitch this office. These people are trying to centralize control and create a political elite-- insiders who may pass through their imaginary gates to the city. Pay to play.

> Never pitch this office

If you didn't get the memo, it won't be optional. If you come up with any idea on how to improve anything at all around you, better run it by Norman Yee first. Now get your ticket and wait in line for a few weeks to get reviewed.

San Francisco is full of Republicans who don’t know it. This would be a welcome change.

No mention of the scope. What types of emerging technology falls under this office? Will it require approving every new app used within city limits?

My cynical take is that this is just another gatekeeper to pay off and appease. The city wants more money from tech.

No the purpose of this legislation is to provide a one stop shop for businesses that would have to interact with city departments anyways: scooters with SFMTA, rental startups with DBI or planning. It is not in theory supposed to be a gatekeeper for businesses that can operate independently of local regulation, though Mar has written bad legislation before.

The Hacker News outrage is non-sensical. These are businesses that would have to interact with the city no matter what; a single department instead of many is a strict improvement from status quo. The United States used to have an office of emerging technology too, and it was for the most part very good. Their reports are fun to read.

I'm not ruling out that you're right. Only time will tell, I guess.

Though, if this is such a reasonable, common sense idea, there must be other cities that have also implemented something like it. What are their track records?

This is a great question, and I wish it were the direction the larger discussion took instead of hysteria. I'm not sure about other examples, and the USA's office of emerging technology was more of an advisory body to Congress than a regulatory invention. I'm not certain that any city has had quite the mix of bureaucratic morass and eager solutionism of San Francisco. A single point of contact with latitude to interpret existing law for new use cases is, per many, the advantage of more authoritarian governments. It would maybe behoove our community to capture this office and use it to preempt more conservative city departments.

This is coverage of the proposal from a year ago. It is the outcome of a process to actually _improve_ what everyone can agree was a totally disastrous rollout of scooters in SF, with blame to be assigned to both the city and operators: https://www.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco/news/2019/01/11/eme...

Furthermore, the above makes it even more clear that the proposal only applies to people who are trying to test products that use sidewalk and road spaces.

> Before any new tech device is used, tested or piloted in The City, the office would coordinate the review with relevant departments and would “issue a Notice to Proceed if the net result is for the common good,” according to the announcement.

This is exactly how the Amish do it. The elders evaluate new technologies and decide if the technology will help or harm the community before authorizing it.

Too comical. Scooters are a threat to society but not record level property crime, car break ins, and opioid addiction and mental health issues among the homeless

Not to mention re emergence of medieval diseases like Typhoid [1], large and widely spread amount of human feces (which is a biohazard), and lack of housing supply which contributes to untenable housing costs.

[1]: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2019/03/typhus-tu...

Yep. Can’t wear sandals anywhere either for fear of stepping into a used needle and contracting something.

Counter-point: every fourth person wearing Birkenstocks this weekend.

Counter-counter-point, of course you'll see people in open footwear but in many busy, populated areas (especially near where people work) such as around market, civic center, soma you'll see needles and feces everywhere. Open toed shoes near those things is probably unadvisable

That's not a counter-point, it's movement of goalposts.

I stepped on a piece of metal in FiDi and in my limp to the ER to get it removed I thought long and hard about how much I like wearing sandals and what works have happened if that was a needle. I don't anymore in the city.

This is also Fleet Week, when you have people coming in from the suburbs and out-of-town who won't be as prepared.

I don’t understand what this proves other than the individual risk tolerance of every fourth person you saw this weekend.

At this point it's strange how the property price in SF haven't been affected by a homeless population almost as large as the housed population.

I haven't been to SF anytime recent, but upon visiting New York I found that McDonalds there doesn't have _anything_ within public reach, no fountains, no trays, not even napkins, and I imagine that is totally justified judging by the amount of homeless people residing in/around it. It would be a nightmarish place to live and I'm surprised people would pay so much for properties in these environments.

It’s a gold rush town. People put up with a lot when there’s billions to be made.

For the most part, I already know how to not step in shit on the sidewalk, but I don't know which way to jump when a scooter comes barreling through, or whether or not I can throw a scooter in the garbage if I find it in my yard. Dealing with new issues shouldn't be contingent on solving every prior issue.

It’s called prioritization

Nobody said those aren't a problem. Is SF only allowed to work on one problem at a time?

No but with limited resources what they prioritize is telling. Scooters should be near the bottom the list, not the top.

> and there is $250,000 in the current fiscal year’s budget to fund the effort.


SF spends 2 orders of magnitude more on homeless and housing annually

Feel free to check I dont mind being wrong, the actual point is that this whole article and thread is about a new office on a $250,000 budget and people think this materially effects the city’s resources at all

This actually makes this announcement even worse. A $250k budget is an utter joke, so it begs the question if this was all done as a troll move toward the entire startup ecosystem in SF to get everyone riled up.

One form of obstructionism that has been used by Peskin is to require a new or expanded type of permit and then decline to fund the permitting agency, so it doesn't have the resources to issue any permits.

No, but it seems like SF has made the choice to ignore one and restict the other, and most residents would probably prefer the opposite.

Well ups & downs in petty crime have been going on forever, and we’ve been policing it the best we know how for years and ... it doesn’t stop & society hasn’t failed.

If you have a better plan than “sit and complain about how everyone else isn’t focusing on undefined3840 priorities”, put it out there.

Is there any thing novel to our social methodology you’d like to see considered? Or ya just gonna highlight a problem as you see it and leave it to others to deal with (while still being dissatisfied?)

Seems like being forward thinking about NEW problems is at least partially what you want.

It’s not as if one city can solve problems that are societies as a whole.

Needs an office of picking up trash. That city is disgusting.

I sometimes watch SFGOVTV https://sfgovtv.org/

You can literally see the sausage being made.

You know what? These folks don't seem like mustache-twirling Machiavellian monsters to me. They seem like people just like you and me that are doing their best to manage a city. It's not easy.

We techno-elite have been shouting "Disruption!" in their faces for about two decades now, eh? So here's the counter-reaction, the pushback. If you don't like it, participate. Maybe I'll see you on SFGOVTV.

Not saying SF politicians are monsters per se, but Machiavellian monsters don't look like it in real life.

That's one of the first rules of Machiavellianism.

If anyone wants to actually participate in the public comment portion, check out this thread: https://twitter.com/YvonneLeow/status/1183231713843077122?s=...

This is incredibly demoralizing for somebody trying to pursue their dreams in San Francisco as an entrepreneur.

> in San Francisco

Why would you choose that city of all places though? The bay area as a whole is dysfunctional and San Francisco doubly so. You can do more elsewhere. I can understanding staying for the sake of family ties or an existing bigcorp job, if you're free, why would you use that freedom to walk into a nightmare?

What is the alternative?

SF is flush with VC money and rich customers eager to try new products. Add to that the perfect weather, quality of life, and ability to get around without a car. There's no better place still, by far.

As somebody who lived in Europe, China, Israel, and the US, I have no attachment whatsoever. I would move in a heartbeat I there was viable alternative. I sincerely wish there was one.

How so? This could be seen as a positive. They don't have any qualification of what defines an "Emerging tech" and now it gives you somebody at the government to potentially work with.

It's a location for you to pitch your services to the city. Nothing in the article says they can prevent you from running your business. If you aren't breaking laws, it doesn't seem there is anything this office can do.

Hmm - will the OET offer NDAs for companies, or perhaps be able to leak plans and details to prospective competitors? Staying tuned.

Welcome to New York! [1]

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L0N3C6DsisQ

Too hot in summer and too cold in winter. Not enough VC money relatively to SF. Otherwise I'd move.

Lack of humidity is a huge advantage for the west coast.

This legislation has only been introduced. It will take months before it is passed into law, and in the meanwhile you can protest at its hearing dates, whenever they get scheduled, and lobby your local Supervisor to defeat it.

I do put its chances of passing pretty high, though. The veto-proof majority of the Board of Supervisors are anti-capitalists who hate individual freedom. They’ve been agitating for this law for quite some time now.

Excuse me, we hate individual freedom of rich assholes such as landlords, developers, and JUUL. You’re free to blow vape smoke in Tom Ammiano’s face.

Void for vagueness.

Directive 10-289:

In the name of the general welfare, to protect the people's security, to achieve full equality and total stability, it is decreed for the duration of the national emergency that:

Point One. All workers, wage earners and employees of any kind whatsoever shall henceforth be attached to their jobs and shall not leave nor be dismissed nor change employment, under penalty of a term in jail. The penalty shall be determined by the Unification Board, such Board to be appointed by the Bureau of Economic Planning and National Resources. All persons reaching the age of twenty-one shall report to the Unification Board, which shall assign them to where, in its opinion, their services will best serve the interests of the nation.

Point Two. All industrial, commercial, manufacturing and business establishments of any nature whatsoever shall henceforth remain in operation, and the owners of such establishments shall not quit nor leave nor retire, nor close, sell or transfer their business, under penalty of the nationalization of their establishment and of any and all of their property.

Point Three. All patents and copyrights, pertaining to any devices, inventions, formulas, processes and works of any nature whatsoever, shall be turned over to the nation as a patriotic emergency gift by means of Gift Certificates to be signed voluntarily by the owners of all such patents and copyrights. The Unification Board shall then license the use of such patents and copyrights to all applicants, equally and without discrimination, for the purpose of eliminating monopolistic practices, discarding obsolete products and making the best available to the whole nation. No trademarks, brand names or copyrighted titles shall be used. Every formerly patented product shall be known by a new name and sold by all manufacturers under the same name, such name to be selected by the Unification Board. All private trademarks and brand names are hereby abolished.

Point Four. No new devices, inventions, products, or goods of any nature whatsoever, not now on the market, shall be produced, invented, manufactured or sold after the date of this directive. The Office of Patents and Copyrights is hereby suspended.

Point Five. Every establishment, concern, corporation or person engaged in production of any nature whatsoever shall henceforth produce the same amount of goods per year as it, they or he produced during the Basic Year, no more and no less. The year to be known as the Basic or Yardstick Year is to be the year ending on the date of this directive. Over or under production shall be fined, such fines to be determined by the Unification Board.

Point Six. Every person of any age, sex, class or income, shall henceforth spend the same amount of money on the purchase of goods per year as he or she spent during the Basic Year, no more and no less. Over or under purchasing shall be fined, such fines to be determined by the Unification Board.

Point Seven. All wages, prices, salaries, dividends, profits, interest rates and forms of income of any nature whatsoever, shall be frozen at their present figures, as of the date of this directive.

Point Eight. All cases arising from and rules not specifically provided for in this directive, shall be settled and determined by the Unification Board, whose decisions will be final.

I agree with the goals of this directive, but it's written in a deliberately silly way. No non-fictional agency would put restrictions on increasing production or creating new technology. On the contrary, abolish the USPTO and let people invent all they want, but the new inventions can be used freely by anyone for the good of the country, too.

Preventing people like d'Anconia from shutting down their manufacturing sites seems reasonable in the abstract, but in a world where so much interesting technology is digital and therefore copiable, what's the need? If Steve Jobs wished to torpedo Apple, that's fine, we've got enough other OSes.

Moreover, it's quite clear that much of the interesting and productive technology of our generation has come from people with no profit motive. AT&T was legally forbidden from profiting from UNIX, so UNIX became a standard. Netscape failed to make money and became reborn as the donation-supported Firefox, which immediately became better than Netscape could have been. And so forth.

Googling "Directive 10-289" would give you more context.

I'm aware of the context, as you might have been able to tell from my mention of d'Anconia.

Sorry, I missed that.

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