more on: rules

The Coevolution of Rules and Technologies

+ Kari Kohn

There is an old saying that captures the nonrivalry of a technological idea like the way to catch fish. It deserves an update:‘Give someone a fish, you feed them for a day. Teach someone to fish, you destroy another aquatic ecosystem.’This update captures more accurately what has happened throughout most of human history. It also warns us that we need more than new ideas about technology to achieve true progress.

That’s Paul Romer’s rewrite of a traditional fishing parable. His point is that human progress comes not from improvements in technology alone, but from the coevolution of technologies and rules. Because our technologies for fishing have outpaced the adoption of new rules for fisheries (such as individual tradable quotas, or ITQs), we’re facing the serious prospect of collapse in global fisheries.

The potential to democratize 3D printing might be another example of a space where our rules may fail to keep up with changes in technology.  John Paul Titlow at ReadWriteWeb recently posted on 3D printing and the issue of gun control:

Wiki Weapon is just the latest – and most dramatic – example of how technology can evolve more rapidly than…our laws and societal norms. Just as the Internet and file-sharing platforms turned copyright on its head before any of the world’s legislatures and media companies knew what hit them, the already complex and tense debate over gun control may be about to take on an entirely new shape. And just as in the copyright wars, controlling the distribution of digital files is a lot more challenging than clamping down on the sale and distribution of physical goods, whether they’re a bootleg DVD or a semiautomatic rifle.
Back to top
see comments ()