“Advances That Would Take Decades Now Happen In Years, Sometimes Months”


It’s no secret that regulation, not traditionally the nimblest of things, has trouble keeping pace with technology, but Vivek Wadhwa states the case well in a new Washington Post column. He points out that decisions made on these thorny questions are often done emotionally–would Tim Cook be willingly working with the government if there had been a terrorist attack on Apple headquarters?–but the bigger issue is the briskness with which our tools are progressing. Think about how quickly drones and driverless have morphed in just the past few years. Wadhwa uses another example: the iPhone. An excerpt:

It takes decades, sometimes centuries, to reach the type of consensus that is needed to enact the far-reaching legislation that Congress will have to consider. Laws are essentially codified ethics, a consensus that is reached by society on what is right and wrong. This happens only after people understand the issues and have seen the pros and cons.

Consider our laws on privacy. These date back to the late 1800s, when newspapers first started publishing gossip. They wrote a series of intrusive stories about Boston lawyer Samuel Warren and his family. This led his law partner, future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, writing a Harvard Law Review article “The Right of Privacy”  which argued for the right to be left alone. This essay laid the foundation of American privacy law, which evolved over 200 years. It also took centuries to create today’s copyright laws, intangible property rights, and contract law. All of these followed the development of technologies such as the printing press and steam engine.

Today, technology is progressing on an exponential curve; advances that would take decades now happen in years, sometimes months. Consider that the first iPhone was released in June 2007. It was little more than an iPod with an embedded cell phone. This has evolved into a device which captures our deepest personal secrets, keeps track of our lifestyles and habits, and is becoming our health coach and mentor. It was inconceivable just five years ago that there could be such debates about unlocking this device.•