You want your kids to be good citizens, conscientious & responsible; but also resilient to new challenges and hardships (as “sh** happens”). So, how do you come up with guidelines for their growth that are as dynamic as the novel circumstances they’ll face?
Ditto for economic and social health and growth?
As noted elsewhere as a comment to my post “Lords of AI,” the news cycle this past week contained commentary on former FCC chair Tom Wheeler’s new book: Techlash: Who Makes the Rules in the Digital Gilded Age?
Steven Levy’s latest newsletter (cited below) provides more background on the state of regulation. In particular, his mention of the phrase “permissionless innovation” [vs. “precautionary principle”]. I looked that up, and found it a helpful (and well established) way to frame the policy debate. A vital divide in history, both for the United States and elsewhere.
… “Permissionless innovation” is a phrase of recent (but uncertain) origin … Permissionless innovation refers to the notion that experimentation with new technologies and business models should generally be permitted by default. Unless a compelling case can be made that a new invention or business model will bring serious harm to individuals, innovation should be allowed to continue unabated and problems, if they develop at all, can be addressed later [as in the trope, “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission” – “It’s better to ask forgiveness than permission”].
Permissionless innovation is not an absolutist position that rejects any role for government. Rather, it is an aspirational goal that stresses the benefit of “innovation allowed” as the default position to begin policy debates. It switches the burden of proof to those who favor preemptive regulation and asks them to explain why ongoing trial-and-error experimentation with new technologies or business models should be disallowed.
This disposition stands in stark contrast to the sort of “precautionary principle” thinking that often governs policy toward emerging technologies. The precautionary principle refers to the belief that new innovations should be curtailed or disallowed until their developers can prove that they will not cause any harms to individuals, groups, specific entities, cultural norms, or various existing laws, norms, or traditions.
When the precautionary principle’s “better to be safe than sorry” approach is applied through preemptive constraints, opportunities for experimentation and entrepreneurialism are stifled. While some steps to anticipate or control for unforeseen circumstances are sensible, going overboard with precaution forecloses opportunities and experiences that offer valuable lessons for individuals and society. The result is less economic and social dynamism.
Of course, Wheeler’s book discusses additional history of the interplay (e.g., trust-busting), collateral damage, and implications.
And China’s approach to innovation is profiled in Keyu Jin’s book The New China Playbook: Beyond Socialism and Capitalism (2023). In particular, the pseudo-government roles of state-sponsored enterprises. And co-opting of state capacity.
Clearly, economic and social dynamism is a balancing act, as discussed in the 2019 book The Narrow Corridor: States, Societies, and the Fate of Liberty by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson.
Any position which casts in concrete a “setpoint” or “default” – as an absolute guideline – compromises state and societal resiliency. An attitude of “set it and forget it” is unwise, only “gaming” our future.
Do all Americans have access to broadband yet? Regulatory capture …
• Wired > email Newsletter > Steven Levy > Plaintext > The Plain View > “Here’s a new plan to rein in the gilded tech bros” (October 27, 2023) – Is it possible to come up with “regulation that is as innovative as the digital innovators themselves?”
Once Wheeler [formerly head lobbyist for not one, but two industries: cable TV and cellular telecom] took over, he displayed a bent for bucking the big communications and tech giants, and looking out for the people. He managed to get net neutrality rules passed. He went to Facebook’s headquarters and argued with Mark Zuckerberg about the company’s self-serving scheme to provide free data to India and other underserved countries. He came to despise the term “permissionless innovation,” which cast public-minded regulators like himself as nosy opponents of progress.
When I note this to Wheeler [the strident tone in his book], the former lobbyist hastens to say he’s not really arguing for revolution. “I’m a capital-C capitalist,” he says. “But capitalism works best when it operates inside guardrails. And in the digital environment, we’re existing in a world without guardrails.”
“The digital platforms collect, aggregate, and then manipulate personal data at marginal costs approaching zero,” he writes. “Then after hoarding the information, they turn around and charge what the market can bear to those who want to use that data … It is, indeed, the world’s greatest business model.” While the subtitle of his book is a question, the answer is obvious and depressing. “Thus far it is the innovators and their investors who make the rules,” he says. “At first this is good, but then they take on pseudo-government roles, and start infringing on the rights of others, and impairing the public interest.”