The Great Innovation Race Technology vs. Governance
The Great Innovation Race Technology vs. Governance
The rates of change I want you to think about are very specific and very big; so big that they frequently escape our notice. The first is the rate of change of technological innovation (Î?IT). All of us are aware that every day is seemingly filled with new scientific and technological advances and the frequency of these advances seems to be steadily increasing. In large part, this has to do with how easily knowledge is communicated via various communications technologies such as the Internet. It also has to do with the fact that many advances are objectively feasible-a drone flies and can be controlled remotely.
The second rate of change I want you to think about is the rate of change of governance innovation (Î?IG). We are all painfully aware of growing complexity and the management challenges it poses. In governance, the availability of information has slowed down this process because lawyers and government officials must pore over an ever increasing body of rules and subjective interpretations to make new rules and interpretations. Our perceptions are not mistaken. The US State Department's recently published Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review also warns about a crisis in governance.
These two rates have change have not remained constant across human history but have responded to very specific technological changes.
People communicated knowledge before the printing press through speech and laboriously hand written documents. The latter required one to have acquired that new and suspicious skill literacy. This skill was a privilege of clergy and government officials in many places around the world. Managing technological change by law was easy as the spread of ideas could take decades. Absent the printing press, the Catholic Church would have more easily have suppressed the scientific discoveries of Galileo and the religious rebellion of Luther. The rate of governance innovation was also slow, but faster than that of technology. Governments alternately embraced autocracy, democracy, and feudalism with varying levels of success. Wars as a placeholder for logistics or resource management were a proxy of for governance success other things being equal. The industrial governance technology of governments was up to managing agriculture and light industry.
During this period the rate of technological and legal innovation achieved uneasy parity. Technological innovation flourished with the rebirth of engineering, the university and widespread literacy. Science and technology research received strong governmental support in Europe and the United States. The widespread availability of books and growth of literacy also accelerated the rate of governance innovation. Political revolutions around the world created opportunities for new innovations and experiments in governance. Mass media spread news of these changes globally. Modern representative democracies, judiciaries, and parliaments emerged and interacted. The end of this period saw the rise of computers enabling the effective digital governance of industrial mechanisms.
The Internet further accelerated the spread of knowledge, especially among the technical elite and slowly working its way through the global population. The content ecosystems that emerged afforded users the opportunity to innovate cheaply and frequently. The Internet also facilitated the emergence of "big data" analysis and the sharing of ever larger bodies of information in new and innovative ways. Conversely, the end of the Cold War which occurred at roughly the same time reduced the previously competitive governmental ecosystem by acknowledging a winner of sorts. The rate of governance innovation slowed as complexity embodied in the ever more searchable body of precedent became a weight and drag on legal systems. Governments still use digital governance systems, to try and manage web 2.0 with predictably unsuccessful outcomes.
What does it mean for us?
The differing rates of innovation for governance and technology are a big problem. Optimists suggest that technology will solve this problem. Pessimists would have you believe that weakened governance and control enables humanity to more easily run itself off the edge of a technological cliff. The truth likely lies somewhere in between. The solution to this conundrum lies somewhere in between, so returning us there is probably a sound goal.
Â· Incentivize Improved Governance Technology: We need much greater investment and innovation for governance technology. We have many large prestigious awards for pushing the boundaries of science and technology. The list for pushing the boundaries of effective governance is glaringly short. Society extolls and rewards science and technology innovation and it is frequently and directly rewarded by the market. Governance technology is not so fortunate.
Â· Diminishing the Likelihood of Technological Black Swans. While we are trying to improve our governance technology, it's important to also limit and be watchful for technological extreme innovations or black swans which might present catastrophic threats. One way to do this is to support draconian intellectual property protections. Complex technologies rely on hundreds if not thousands of patents and creating new devices requires access to those patents or the creation of new ones. This creates high barriers to entry and the result is slow, corporate rates of change as individual innovation in science and technology slows. However, extra vigilance is required because the black swans that emerge tend to be extreme and outside the bounds of existing market imagination. On the other hand, weak intellectual property protections enable fast incremental change but reduce the likelihood of black swans because innovators are able to easily capitalize on small changes to existing technologies. Change is fast but not particularly radical like fashion.
The growing disparity between the rates of technological and governance innovation is dangerous in and of itself. While technological innovation might provide solutions to our problems, it might just as easily provide threats to our society. Our ability to manage technological change has at some level always resided within our governance structures and this has worked reasonably well as long as governance has had an edge on technology. This is no longer true and we need to consider that the threat we face is not any particular technological threat but by the technological uncertainty we face and our diminished capacity to manage it.
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