Uber’s employer status
The California Legislature on Wednesday passed a bill known as AB-5, which will make it more difficult for employers to classify workers as “independent contractors.” Widely expected to be signed into law by the governor, AB-5 squarely targets companies like Uber, Lyft, Doordash, Grubhub and other “gig economy” employers that do not consider their drivers to be employees of the company.
Following the passage, Uber’s chief legal officer downplayed the effect of AB-5 on the rideshare company, stating that he believed Uber drivers did not meet the criteria AB-5 uses to define an “employee.” “We’ll continue to be responsive to what the vast majority of our drivers tell us they want most – flexibility – drivers will not be automatically reclassified as employees,” Tony West told CNN, causing a minor tweetstorm. The law goes into effect Jan. 1, 2020.
Meanwhile, while everyone was focused on Apple’s big product reveal on Tuesday, Uber slid out the news that it had laid off more than 400 employees from its product and engineering groups. Since its IPO in May, the company has struggled to demonstrate profitability, and its share price has dropped roughly 20 percent.
Billion dollar investment
U.S. government agencies have requested nearly $1 billion toward artificial intelligence research for the fiscal year ending in September 2020. (Note that this does not include funding for the Department of Defense AI research, which is classified.) As reported by the Wall Street Journal, U.S. Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios characterized the investment as a reflection of the administration’s commitment to boosting U.S. leadership in AI at an event in Washington, D.C.
Executives in attendance from Intel and Nvidia, companies with a vested interest in the advancement of AI, however, disagreed. “A billion dollars is certainly a great thing and certainly interesting, but it’s not nearly enough,” Nvidia’s Anthony Robbins, who oversees public sector sales in North America, told the Journal.
In addition to calling on the U.S. to invest more in AI, the tech execs also called for federal regulations regarding data protection and privacy, including a formal strategy for how data could be used. While other countries in Europe and Asia have established national data policies, data laws in the U.S. have been established at the state level.
Wi-Fi turns 20
Sunday (Sept. 15) marks the 20th anniversary of the launch of Wi-Fi. To mark the occasion, Jeff Abramowitz, an author of the original wireless spec (IEEE 802.11 to us geeks) and a founder of the Wi-Fi Alliance, took a trip down memory lane in Wired to reflect back on Wi-Fi’s not-so-glitzy launch, and “what if’s” today’s world imaging what life would be like if Wi-Fi had not emerged the accepted standard.
It’s not a long read, but a compelling on for those interested in Silicon Valley history (or those who lived through it).
Related pro tip
If you’re interested in learning about more current happenings in Silicon Valley, a number of SHIFTers are reading “Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber” by New York Times tech reporter Mike Isaac. Prefer podcasts? Check out this week’s Recode Media podcast in which Recode’s Peter Kafka interviews his former colleague about the book, their approach to reporting and pretty much anything that comes to mind.