“Innovation accelerates and compounds. Each point in front of you is bigger than anything that ever happened.” – Marc Andreessen
Back in 2011, Marc Andreessen famously surmised that software would eat the world. Less than half a decade later, that prediction has come true. As a result of the mass proliferation of the Internet and global communication technologies, software has rapidly consumed almost every industry imaginable. The rate of technological progress over the past few years has been astounding.
But technological progress is never a foregone conclusion. A policy landscape that promotes regulatory forbearance and a healthy tolerance of disruption and innovation are key to ensuring economic growth and a flourishing ecosystem of opportunity.
Innovation requires experimentation, which necessitates a culture that embraces optimism and tolerance. If we cannot maintain an optimistic outlook on what the future may bring, we are less likely to embrace a tolerance for failure; and if we cannot tolerate the failure that inevitably accompanies experimentation, we’ll never reap the benefits of change. At the Niskanen Center, we believe innovation and technological progress are driving forces for economic growth, individual empowerment, and the betterment of humankind.
Pessimism and fear mongering over robots taking our jobs, artificial intelligence, and an increasingly interconnected world should not be the focal point for policy debates. Instead, policymakers should weigh potential benefits against real, knowable costs associated with emerging technologies. Stoking fears over hypothetical harms, and couching the rhetoric in apocalyptic terms, doesn’t spawn good policy. Instead, debates over new and innovative goods and services should focus on how we can maximize benefits, minimize costs, and tear down barriers for future innovators and entrepreneurs.
A dynamic economy and society are only possible if we embrace an optimistic disposition towards the future. Tolerating dissent, embracing a culture of experimentation, and investing trust in our fellow citizens are crucial to actualizing a future of abundant possibilities. Such an ecosystem, however, requires more than just regulatory forbearance: it requires a wholehearted embrace of free speech. To that end, government policies that favor a maximalist approach to surveillance do more than simply violate the civil liberties of average Americans—they reduce the potential for opportunity and economic growth.
Mass surveillance has been largely normalized in modern American society. Although the costs and benefits of such an apparatus merit public discourse, much of that debate, though rightly focused largely on the loss of civil liberties, has ignored the disruption caused to the marketplaces of commerce and ideas. Where once courts produced warrants in the public forum, the process has now become opaque as secret courts ordering secret warrants under secret interpretations of law have become a way of life. Under such a system, there can never be a presumption of innocence, or the guarantee of a free and open exchange of ideas. Nor can a society of trust flourish under such a regime.
Developments in artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, drones, the Internet of Things, and the ongoing commercialization of space are all emerging as the next major battlefields in technology and innovation policy.
By embracing techno-optimism and political pragmatism, we can ensure that innovation continues to flourish. Silicon Valley is filled with architects of the future. We at the Niskanen Center believe the future they help construct will continue to improve on what the Internet and software revolutions have already built: a better world for all of us.