Thursday, 6 October 2016

How will society interact with the Internet of Things?

It is pretty much a given that social, economic, and political forces shape the demand for new technologies. Demography is “destiny” in the sense that the demand for new products and services depends on the number of people and on their ages, genders, locations, and cultural heritages. Economics also matter because the arrangement of economic activities and the amount and distribution of wealth affords some people the opportunity to purchase new goods and services while constraining the ability of others. Politics plays a messier role by providing ways for incumbents to hinder the entry of competitive new technologies and at the same time allowing enthusiasts opportunities to direct subsidies to favored options.



Many frustrated technologists with Libertarian sympathies agree with Sir Ernest Benn (in a quote that is widely misattributed to Groucho Marx) who said that “politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedies.” Others look skeptically at the evolving direction of technology and desire political interventions to protect security, safety, health, and human dignity.

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This brings the story back to politics. When technological innovations begin to diminish our lives, people react. They demand protections, regulations, and public oversight. Savvy technologists anticipate this dynamic and work hard to design the undesirable features out of the system, impose codes of conduct to discourage malfeasance, and avoid unsavory business models. Yet self-regulation has limits, especially in a global context lacking universal norms. Governments need to backstop self-regulation with strong legal liability laws and clear regulations that prohibit bad behavior. When governments themselves are the problem, their citizens need to step into the voting booth or onto the street to redirect society’s institutions.



Calls for governmental intervention and political action are rarely welcomed in tech circles, where more Libertarian views often prevail. However, politics is clearly part of the toolkit for ensuring that the IoT and other innovations improve the human condition. Good design, strict professional norms, and honorable business practices play key roles, but so do tort liability and governmental regulation, as well as social protests and political action. Creative leaders as diverse as architect Frank Gehry and writer Ernest Hemingway (who never had quotes misattributed to Groucho Marx) uniformly agree that constraints drive genius. This outcome has also been confirmed in technology development, so those creating the IoT should embrace its emerging political constraints.

See more at: iotevolutionworld.com

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