Andrew Yang, the outsider US presidential candidate running on a promise to save America from Silicon Valley, has predicted "mass riots and violence" if nothing is done to mitigate job losses caused by technology.

The former tech entrepreneur, who is seeking the Democratic nomination in 2020, said the United States could suffer "catastrophic" disruption from angry workers made obsolete by automation.

He described his flagship policy, a universal basic income of US$1000 ($1530) per month for every adult US citizen, as an "emergency measure" necessary to reverse the country's declining life expectancy and surging suicide and drug overdose statistics.

He said he has looked at the numbers and found a "direct line" between the past automation of manufacturing jobs and support for President Donald Trump. Almost half of those workers never worked again, unleashing a wave of suicides and drug overdoses that have driven the first falls in American life expectancy since 1993.

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Yang framed himself as the only Democratic candidate willing to address the problems that led to the election of Trump, inviting comparison with the far more popular Joe Biden, currently the front runner.

"We know that AI is coming. It's going to displace hundreds of thousands of jobs in the most common categories: Call centres and retail and food service and driving," Yang said in an interview with the Daily Telegraph. "In the first industrial revolution there were mass riots that killed hundreds of people and caused the equivalent of billions of dollars' worth of economic harm.

"Most experts predict that this industrial revolution will be two to three times faster and more disruptive than that one. So if that one included mass riots and violence, there's no reason to expect this one would not either."

Yang, who has rapidly gained a small but loyal following in the crowded Democratic primary, said he decided to run "because my country does not understand what is happening". "We are scapegoating immigrants for a set of economic dislocations that immigrants have very little to do with."

That has the peal of truth: as the child of two Taiwanese professors, this is something he mentions a lot at his rallies.

Though only polling at 1 per cent to 3 per cent, he has raised roughly US$2m from more than 65,000 donors, qualifying him for the first stage of television debates this year.

His campaign has been unconventional, making hundreds of detailed promises, from the pragmatic to the surreal, and emphasising his status as an "Asian math nerd" who makes arguments from data.