In the past, regulation has been limited in its ability to achieve its major goal: avoid future incidents where individuals, the environment, or other public goods suffer because of some sort of action, from a pipeline leak to an airplane crash. That’s because the responsible companies or regulators could only intervene after a catastrophe had happened. Equally important, once a product had left the factory, a manufacturer had no idea how it actually operated in the field — until it broke down or malfunctioned. Because of the IoT’s ability to share data instantly and its ability to report on operating problems in their earliest stages, it is technically possible for companies and regulators to have real-time access to data about a possible violation while it is in progress. In some cases, such as with pipeline leaks or potential crises on off-shore oil rigs, that would make it possible to actually intervene before there’s a violation, in time to take corrective action.
A legacy from the communalist movement that I think is pernicious is a turning away from politics, a turning toward the self as the basis of political change, of social action. I think that’s something you see all through the Valley. The information technology industry feeds off it because information technologies can so easily be aimed at satisfying individual needs. You see that rhetoric leveraged when Google and other firms say, “Don’t regulate us. We need to be creative. We need to be free to pursue our satisfaction because that’s ultimately what will provide a satisfying society.”
That’s all a way of ignoring the systems that make the world possible. One example from the ‘60s that I think is pretty telling is all the road trips. The road trips are always about the heroic actions of people like Ken Kesey and Neal Cassady and their amazing automobiles, right? Never, never did it get told that those road trips were only made possible by Eisenhower’s completion of the highway system. The highway system is never in the story. It’s boring. What’s in the story is the heroic actions of bootstrapped individuals pursuing conscious change. What we see out here now is, again, those heroic stories. And there are real heroes. But the real heroes are operating with automobiles and roads and whole systems of support without which they couldn’t be heroic.