What Came First – The Tech or the Reg?

John Frank Weaver, in a 2014 blog post on Slate, argues that it is best to bring in laws to regulate future technology. His reasoning is that when technology begins to unravel, it does so at an exponential speed, making it almost impossible to regulate once this event happens. Instead, Weaver proposes that regulations should already be in place before a new technology is developed, so that it always stays ahead and wary of these speedy developments.

Precautionary as this approach might be, it is more likely to wreak a whole lot of havoc instead. It is undesirable to pass laws before the subject matter to which it would apply even comes into existence. In doing so, we might end up doing more harm than good, creating more obstacles than enabling the prevailing ones being solved organically.

Regulating technology minutely from the get go is inefficient and ineffective. Firstly, it is very difficult to say exactly which direction tech is going to proceed in. We do not know where the next big innovation, next “disruption” is going to come from. By creating a regulation well before it is time to do so, we might end up passing a law which either becomes redundant in the face of unexpected technology or worse, ends up creating a mess of an ecosystem which would have flourished otherwise.

Also, laws are enduring and it takes a lot more time and effort to undo them later. So, it would make sense to regulate things at the margin – beginning with technology that is already existing today, or an innovation on the horizon which poses concerns that are easy to imagine and to solve. For instance, it is easier to regulate a technology concern such as data protection in digital advertising than, say, artificial superintelligence.

The “regulating at the margins” approach is more desirable also because it is bound to contain useful stipulations. It also allows companies, regulators and individuals to adapt themselves to the new legal framework and to rectify their concerns quicker and more effectively.

This has the added benefit of being an innovation-friendly environment – stepping in when needed, but otherwise giving technology a defined, safe space through which it can progress.



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