Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty spoke in his longtime home of Eagan on Friday, a TED Talk-style address about artificial intelligence and human progress that didn’t touch upon speculation that he’s interested in reviving his Minnesota political career.
Pawlenty said artificial intelligence and other technological changes will advance humanity but also create new challenges for government, and the displaced workers who will rely on it.
“Some things never change, like love and hope, death and taxes, but we live in a world that is changing rapidly,” said Pawlenty, a Republican who led the state from 2003 to 2011. “Part of it is exciting, but part of it going to be disruptive and challenging.”
Asked about his political future, Pawlenty — now a highly paid Wall Street lobbyist as CEO of the Financial Service Roundtable — repeated what’s become his standard comeback of late: that he’s retired from politics. But his speech to the Dakota County Chamber of Commerce laid the groundwork for a return to public life if he decides to do so: He floated above the partisan fray, and rather than reminisce about his glory days as governor, he sketched a future of opportunity and challenge.
Pawlenty also said he would be willing to deliver the speech anywhere in Minnesota that he’s invited. He recently gave a similar address to the board of the Minnesota Business Partnership, comprising executives of the state’s largest companies, including Ecolab, Target and Cargill and many others.
Pawlenty’s successor, DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, is not running again next year, and the field of possible Republican candidates is still a work in progress. Pawlenty has said nothing publicly to encourage speculation he would run again, but his strong name recognition, established political network and potential to raise millions from his Wall Street Rolodex would instantly vault him to the front ranks. Even the remote possibility he would run again is a popular topic of speculation by insiders of both political parties.
Pawlenty spoke for more than 30 minutes Friday with just a few handwritten notes, sketching out changes primed to sweep across the economy and broader society in the coming decades. At times he used video clips to drive home his message.
Artificial intelligence is enabling computers to absorb vast amounts of data and detect patterns that will then allow them to make accurate forecasts, Pawlenty said. An IBM computer, for instance, has collected massive troves of medical information and begun diagnosing patients, with accuracy rates now approaching 80 percent, an example of how machines have begun to learn.
All the knowledge and experience of the Mayo Clinic, Pawlenty said, will soon be instantly and affordably available to patients across the globe. “That’s an extraordinarily hopeful future,” Pawlenty said.
Government, nonprofit groups and educational institutions must prepare for rapid change, which could entail further wealth polarization and massive job loss across a range of industries that will embrace the new automated technology. Pawlenty, who has long reminded Minnesotans he is the son of a truck driver, noted that driverless cars and trucks could replace 4 million Americans who drive for a living.
Despite the whiz bang tech talk, Pawlenty kept the common touch for the breakfast crowd. He called out Eagan Mayor Mike Maguire, and shared with the crowd that he had achieved a lifelong dream by buying a cabin in the Brainerd Lakes region.
Charlie Weaver, the executive director of the Business Partnership and Pawlenty’s first gubernatorial chief of staff, said the former governor would be a formidable candidate if he were to run in 2018. He called him the “Republican Amy Klobuchar,” referring to the DFL’s broadly popular U.S. senator (in his two statewide bids, Pawlenty never approached Klobuchar’s winning margins).
Weaver acknowledged that since Pawlenty left public life after a failed 2012 run for president, politics has changed considerably, culminating in the election of President Donald Trump.
“I would argue that’s why he would be more attractive,” Weaver said. “A couple of years of Trump will make people eager for someone with a record of getting things done who is optimistic and hopeful and can work across the aisle.”