Regulating technology

Technology was a small industry until very recently. It was exciting and interesting, and it was on lots of magazine covers, but it wasn‘t actually an important part of most people’s lives. When Bill Gates was on every magazine cover, Microsoft was a small company that sold accounting tools to big companies. When Netscape kicked off the consumer internet in 1994, there were only 100m or so PCs on earth, and most of them were in offices. Today 4bn people have a smartphone - three quarters of all the adults on earth. In most developed countries, 90% of the adult population is online. 

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The change isn’t just that almost all of us have a computer now, but that we’ve changed how we use them.  This is my favourite chart to show this - in 2017, 40% of new couples in the USA met online. It’s probably over 50% now. Anyone does anything online now. 

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Tech has gone from being just one of many industries to being systemically important to society. My old colleague Marc Andreessen liked to say that ‘software is eating the world’ - well, it did.

The trouble is, when software becomes part of society, all of society’s problems get expressed in software. We connected everyone, so we connected the bad people, and more importantly we connected all of our own worst instincts. All the things we worried about before now happen online, and are amplified, changed and channeled in new ways. Meanwhile, the problems that tech always (Read more...)