London mayor: Governments 'sitting on their hands' while tech revolution happens
- In a keynote speech at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Conference in Austin, TX, London Mayor Sadiq Khan called on cities, particularly politicians and policymakers, to do more to leverage the current "tech revolution" and ensure the adoption of technology will be inclusive and beneficial for all city residents.
- "One of the biggest problems over the last few years is that politicians and governments have just been passive — sitting on their hands — while the tech revolution has happened around them," he said. "In this fast-paced change, city government can cope better with digital disruption, turning technological upheavals to our advantage."
- Khan also called on social media giants to go further in protecting online users and combating divisions within communities. "What we need to see is a stronger duty of care so that social media platforms can live up to their promise to be places that connect, unify and democratize the sharing of information — and be places where everyone feels welcome and valued," he said.
The anticipation for Khan's keynote was high, as SXSW attendees lined up more than an hour before it began — in a queue that trailed down four levels of the convention floor and onto the sidewalk outside. The hype for Khan's speech wasn't surprising, though, considering the mayor has maintained substantial popularity since entering office in May 2016.
A mantra for which Khan has gained this popularity is "London is Open," which signifies that the city is accepting of all people, talents, creativity and technologies — as long as everyone obliges with rules and regulations set in place by the government. This became the crux of Uber in London, which was stripped of its operating license in September after a decision from Transport for London that said Uber "is not fit and proper to hold a private hire operator licen[s]e."
Khan spoke of this incident in his speech, noting, "Everyone, no matter how big, must play by the rules," and followed that sentiment by calling on local governments to fix out-of-date regulations. "The question now for governments — or traditional sectors — should not be how we slow down innovation in its tracks, because we can’t. And we shouldn't. It should be how we mitigate against the potentially negative impacts of disruption ... to drive up standards and to create more just and equal societies."
Another group Khan suggests could be better regulated is social media giants. His keynote referenced his experiences with social media bullies and hate speech, something that has greatly affected Khan due to his Muslim background. In a moving segment of the speech, Khan read six abusive tweets he'd received during his time as mayor — some that called him a terrorist or suggested that he kill himself. He followed by calling on governments to better regulate social media, and on social media giants to go "further and faster" in removing illicit content.
"There’s been a dereliction of duty on the part of politicians and policymakers to ensure that the rapid growth in technology is utilized and steered in a direction that benefits us all," he said.
By working to make London a more safe and inclusive city, Khan's efforts are slowly pushing the U.K. capital toward his goal of becoming the world's smartest city — however there is far more to be done. In January, Khan announced he is seeking input on the measures city hall can take to improve London, particularly in the area of technology, which is now overseen by the city's first chief digital officer, Theo Blackwell. The city is expected to launch a Smart London Plan at London Tech Week in June.
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