Codes we live by, laws we follow, and computers that move too fast to care.
Opinion piece by Vivek Wadhwa, writing for the MIT Technology Review.
Our laws and ethical practices have evolved over centuries. Today, technology is on an exponential curve and is touching practically everyone—everywhere. Changes of a magnitude that once took centuries now happen in decades, sometimes in years. Not long ago, Facebook was a dorm-room dating site, mobile phones were for the ultra-rich, drones were multimillion-dollar war machines, and supercomputers were for secret government research. Today, hobbyists can build drones and poor villagers in India access Facebook accounts on smartphones that have more computing power than the Cray 2—a supercomputer that in 1985 cost $17.5 million and weighed 2,500 kilograms. A full human genome sequence, which cost $100 million in 2002, today can be done for $1,000—and might cost less than a cup of coffee by 2020.
We haven’t come to grips with what is ethical, let alone with what the laws should be, in relation to technologies such as social media. Consider the question of privacy. Our laws date back to the late 19th century, when newspapers first started publishing personal information and Boston lawyer Samuel Warren objected to social gossip published about his family. This led his law partner, future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, to write the law review article “The Right of Privacy.” Their idea that there exists a right to be left alone, as there is a right to private property, became, arguably, the most famous law review article ever and laid the foundation of American privacy law.
The gaps in privacy laws have grown exponentially since then.