By: Josh La Bella

AI overpowering and subsequently overtaking humankind has scared people for decades. Movies like I, Robot showcase the grim reality of an AI-dominated world where AI ignores the original confines humans assigned to them. Other movies—like The Terminator—toy with the idea that if AI becomes dominant, it will do anything to ensure its supreme status. Black Mirror, a Netflix show, explores various alternative societies where AI dramatically changed the universe—for better or worse. Today’s technology does not rise to any of the previous dramatic portrayals of AI . . . yet.

AB 594 does not have anything to do with replicants serving in LAPD to retire other replicants. However, it did understand the potential negative consequences that AI could bring to California’s civil servant positions and attempted to implement a framework to protect them from displacement.  Originally, AB 594 required the California Department of Technology (CDT) to appoint a Chief Artificial Intelligence Officer within CDT to oversee AI’s implementation into California government. Further, the Chief Artificial Intelligence Officer would work closely with the California Workforce Development Board to ensure that, if AI displaced any civil servants, California would reintegrate the displaced civil servants into a new civil service position. However, an amendment to AB 594 changed the CDT’s obligation to permitting—but not mandating—the CDT to designate a position to oversee AI if they so choose.

One interesting aspect of AB 594 is that it could potentially displace civil servants by implementing AI into civil service and taking jobs that do simple tasks like data input. Fortunately, if that were to happen, California civil servants have powerful precedent on their side to protect their jobs. Board of Regents v. Roth established a property right in a civil servant’s job after they become a permanent employee. The inherent property right in a civil servant’s job then triggers an additional judicial protection from a California Supreme Court case called Skelly v. State Personnel Board. When an administrative authority disciplines a civil servant, the civil servant receives a Skelly hearing. In the Skelly hearing, the administrative authority must present all the evidence they used against the civil servant in their decision to impose discipline. Therefore, if California wishes to replace civil servants with AI, the state must adhere to many different procedures.

AB 594 made it all the way to Governor Newsom’s desk; however, he ultimately decided to veto the bill. Governor Newsom’s veto letter explained that the CDT already possesses the power to evaluate and implement AI into California services. Thus, since the CDT already retains this power, there was no need for AB 594.

You can subscribe to the In Session podcast and listen to my broader conversation about AB 594 and related legislation with Thomas Gerhart on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher Radio, Spotify, or on your favorite podcast app.