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Questions about Regulation

What constraints if any would it be useful for society to put on the production and use of digital technologies?

Yep, this next newsletter batch is going to be about regulation. Get hyped.

This is a topic that always feels very current. There's the debate around breaking up big tech, ever present privacy concerns, data rights, AI ethics.

I have lots of questions, but very few of them are about any specific issues. This newsletter is going to chart out some areas I hope to explore over the next couple weeks.

What's the history?

Specifically what laws, court cases, or legislation have shaped digital technology today?

This is particularly tricky given the interconnected nature of it all. Does the bill that created DARPA count here? What about the laws that shaped the venture capital industry that spawned the technology giants we have today?

Speaking of those platforms Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is definitely up there. As is whatever copyright laws underpin the licenses that regulate the software ecosystem that they depend on.

Related, there's this an incredibly foggy notion of software patents. They don't seem to be as widespread today as they once were (perhaps due to the Alice ruling) but they've definitely had an impact.

Perhaps the High Performance Computing Act was important? It was a bill introduced by Al Gore that funded the institution that built Mosaic, one of the earliest and most popular web browsers.

In technology there's a tendency to get caught up in the present that I think leaks into the discussions around it's legislation. I'm definitely guilty of it myself, and I'll most likely fall into it in the rest of these newsletters. But, I wonder what I could learn from history here.

I want to spend at least one of the next couple newsletters looking at the source of a couple of these important laws. If there's any that strike you as particularly essential, please send them my way!

Where are the opportunities?

What can we aspirationally achieve with tech regulation? This is especially interesting to me because my general picture of the regulation landscape today is that it feels incredibly reactive to the ills technology are causing right now. I think that's a really important class of regulation, but there's also an opportunity to shape the ecosystem to achieve more postive outcomes, not just limit the negative ones.

"Adversarial Interoperability" is one of the most interesting ideas I've heard in this vein. It's when you create something that interoperates with another product or service without the creators permission. For example, fixing your car with a product made by a competing manufacturer, or using a third-party app store on your device. It was a property that was much more widespread in the early days of technology, and was in someways instrumental to the companies we have today.

There also seems to be a unique opportunity around software copyright. It's already had a massive impact on the industry but in it's current state feels kinda like a hack. What would copyright law that takes advantage of the unique properties of digital goods look like?

What's unique?

Speaking of, what are those unique properties?

Ease of distribution, high bandwidth networks, the idea of computation itself, the massive international scale? What is it that makes digital technologies unique to regulate as compared to everything that's come before?

You may have have noticed that I didn't actually write a cumulative essay for my last batch of newsletters. I just didn't feel I could put something together that was cohesive on the topic of prayer, so I just didn't. That being said, I'm going to keep aiming at doing so, so here's some notes and references for this batch.

If there's anything else I should check out, send it my way!

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