Just as I was finishing the manuscript for “The Laws of Disruption,” my old friend David Post published “In Search of Jefferson’s Moose ” a wonderful monograph on, as he says, the state of cyberspace.
Unlike many law professors who write books about Internet technology, Post is no dilettante. He has a deep understanding of the engineering underlying the basic network protocols, and weaves that knowledge into an extended historical metaphor of the founding principles of the American Republic, particularly of the philosophy of government embraced and expanded by Thomas Jefferson.
Post ‘s section on Internet governance wisely stays out of the weeds and sticks with the most important high-level decisionmaking–how new protocols are propagated, how domain addresses are maintained, whether digital life is “governable” by traditional legal institutions. I share his view that cyberspace is not simply a new technology that can be regulated as well or as poorly as previous technologies. Rather, it is a new frontier and, like earlier frontiers, is one that is and will develop its own approach to governance.
It’s a fast read, and well worth the time.
File under: Someday they’ll be sorry they said that in print.
In the early days of e-commerce, when many of my audiences were deeply in the stage of the grief process known as “denial,” executives in a variety of industries tried to wish away the revolutionary (though ultimately liberating) potential of the Internet to re-create stable, musty, inefficient old supply chains. I wish I had written down more of the odd deflections I used to hear, but they included classics such as “Our customers prefer to interact with us using traditional channels,” (though no one who said this had ever asked the customers).
One of my favorites, usually a non-sequitur, was that “No one will ever buy a car on the Internet,” meaning that e-commerce might be fine for things like software and books, but since the Internet was a digital channel, it had nothing to say to producers of physical goods. That is, since cars couldn’t be delivered over the Internet, somehow no part of the transaction could take place there. This was a strange prediction, always made by people who didn’t sell cars in the first place.
As we know, these days many if not the majority of car buyers in the U.S. do some or all of their research, negotiating, and ordering on-line. That is, people do buy cars on the Internet, and it turns out to be a very good way of buying them at that. Ten years later, I was pleased to see (see “GM, eBay to Test Online Car Sales,” Wall Street Journal, Aug. 11, 2009) that one side-effect of the meltdown of the U.S. auto industry is a greater willingness to embrace the disruptive. In a new joint venture between eBay (which has long been in the car business) and GM, California shoppers can explore the available inventory of dealer vehicles and use eBay to negotiate a price.
Of course the people who said this would never happen have all moved on, and probably wouldn’t admit they were ever so naive. Still, we know.
A fascinating article last week by CNET’s Brooke Crothers on efforts by IBM to use carbon DNA molecules to extend Moore’s Law. Readers of my books will remember that Moore’s Law is the prediction by Intel founder Gordon Moore that improvements in semiconductor manufacturing technology translate to computer chips (the basic building blocks of computing applications) getting smaller, faster and cheaper all the time.
As the “smaller” part of the equation moves into the realm of nanotechnology, some researchers have worried that Moore’s Law may reach its limit, largely because the cost of new fabrication facilities could escalate dramatically. IBM is experimenting with using the carbon molecules as a kind of scaffolding on the substrate, giving a template for carbon nanotubes to “self-assemble” on the surface. The attractiveness of this approach is that traditional semiconductor technologies could still be used.
I stand by my prediction–based largely on promises from those who know much better than I do–that Moore’s Law will continue to drive the information economy at least for the duration of my working life, and maybe even a few generations after that.
Rights to The Laws of Disruption in China have been sold to Cheersbooks, a preeminent publisher associated with China Renmin University Press. Given the prominent (and increasingly important) role played by China in many of the issues associated with Internet regulation, I’m excited to see how the book is received there.