Artificial intelligence is threatening to change employment models around the nation, including in the public sector, but San Mateo County lawmakers have acted this week to offer some protection to county employees whose positions could be affected by the developing technology. 

The Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution at its regular meeting Tuesday that ensures that if conventional AI or generative AI technology is developed that can viably replace a county employee, it will not be implemented until the employee leaves their position for another reason. 

Conventional AI includes artificial intelligence that uses algorithms to make decisions, whereas generative AI, or GenAI, can produce content like text, images, audio, video and more. ChatGPT and Google Bard are examples of GenAI. 

“The future of work in San Mateo County, and California, will include AI but its policy makers must work to ensure that AI’s implementation retains the balance of embracing innovation, without sacrificing the prosperity of our human workforce.”

Supervisor Ray Mueller

The resolution was introduced by Supervisor Ray Mueller, who quoted 20th century economist John Maynard Keynes’ use of the phrase “technological unemployment” in 1930 to describe the rise of labor being replaced by modern technology.

“The future of work in San Mateo County, and California, will include AI but its policy makers must work to ensure that AI’s implementation retains the balance of embracing innovation, without sacrificing the prosperity of our human workforce,” Mueller said. “We must ask if technological implementation also generates new jobs and raises our collective quality of life, as opposed to just eliminating the need for workforce. This is the only way we can ensure the public health and future economic stability for county residents.” 

‘First of its kind’

A 2023 report from Goldman Sachs estimated about two-thirds of current American jobs are exposed to some form of potential disruption from AI.

Potential uses of AI and generative AI at the county level could include streamlining administrative tasks, providing data analysis, public health monitoring, resource allocation and emergency planning.

The resolution noted the potential for positive uses but stressed the requirement not to force people out of existing roles just because the technology is available. It received the support of the San Mateo County Central Labor Council.

“Supervisor Mueller’s resolution is the first of its kind that I know of in California; it may even be one of the first in the nation,” said Julie Lind, the Labor Council’s executive officer. “As we continue to see technology advance, it is imperative that changes are integrated responsibly and not at the expense of a large swath of our workforce,” Lind said. 

Supervisor Ray Mueller during the Board of Supervisors’ Jan. 23 meeting. (San Mateo County)

The resolution directs the county executive and human resources department to develop strategies to help achieve its stated goals of creating a balance of the integration of the technology and workforce retention.

The Biden Administration issued a white paper it called a blueprint for an AI bill of rights in October 2022 that examined how the workforce could be impacted by AI and what rights could be threatened by its implementation. 

The blueprint suggested protections and limits for using the technology built around five principles, including protection from unsafe and ineffective systems, protections from faulty algorithms, data privacy, giving public notice when interacting with AI, and having human fallback systems.

In September, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order to prepare the state for the use of AI that included a study of how it could be used to improve access to government services and other positive uses, and potential risks to the public, including unequal benefits from its use. 

State Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, introduced a bill this month called the California AI Accountability Act that incorporates many of the ideas behind the White House’s blueprint, including required notice to the public when interacting with AI technology.