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Can you close the gate after the horse has bolted?

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We need global regulation of all technology … but can we?

Building on yesterday’s piece, there is a call in many circles for the global regulation of Big Tech. In fact it goes far further than Big Tech. It’s a call for regulating everything online. From cryptocurrencies to social media to artificial intelligence … it needs regulations. The question is: can we regaultre the network we have released?

In some ways, this was best illustrated by what happened in The Arab Spring. Remember that? The Arab Spring was a decade ago when many of the Middle Eastern nations rose up and fought back against their oppressive governments. The thing that I always rememvbered about the Arab Spring was what happened in Egypt, where Hosni Mubarak was desperate to suppress such an uprising and, at a critical point, broke the internet. The two main communication lines into Egypt were cut. Did it break the uprising? Did it end the struggle?

No.

Once the violence broke out and the internet was cut, everyone turned to SMS messaging – yes, that still works folks! In fact, many Egyptians were assisted by people all over the world, keeping them up to speed with what was going on in their own country and connections to assist them if needed. It was a talismanic moment for me, as it showed the power of our network: the network of the people.

It cannot be regulated as the horse has bolted already; but can it be managed?

Possibly, as the network of the people is weak due to the centralisation of the owners of the network. Just as with the Luddite movement, to rally against the owners of the machinery and equipment of the industrial era, we have a movement today to escape the Big Tech owners of the networked era.

And interestingly, when we talk about Luddites, are they barbarians or justified protestors? Some would say that being a Luddite is actually a good thing and we should break things at work.

In the Nineteenth-century, English textile workers responded to the introduction of new technologies on the factory floor by smashing them to bits. For years the Luddites roamed the English countryside, practicing drills and manoeuvres that they would later deploy on unsuspecting machines. The movement has been derided by scholars as a backwards-looking and ultimately ineffectual effort to stem the march of history; but, for Gavin Mueller [author of Breaking Things at Work: The Luddites Were Right About Why You Hate Your Job ] , the movement gets at the heart of the antagonistic relationship between all workers, including us today, and the so-called progressive gains secured by new technologies. The luddites weren’t primitive and they are still a force, however unconsciously, in the workplaces of the twenty-first century world.

We think of Luddites as technophobes but it’s more to do with technochange, progress and the concentration of power in the hands of the few. We live with this today, as we have for the past two centuries and more. Nothing much has really changed between the industrial revolution and the networked revolution. Power is still concentrated and centralised when, if the true spirit and vision of the networked world was realised, it should be decentralised and spread amongst the money.

It will be interesting to see if that ever happens.

In the meantime, Bezos, Musk, Zuckerberg and co will continue to get fatter from the irchness of the networked world. I wonder if anyone will ever break that?

Bring out your inner luddite and follow Tim Berners-Lee.

So, whether we are centralised or decentralised, the core question is can the network be regulated and the likely answer is that it will self-regulate. It is not down to governments to regulate the networked economy; it’s down to the people. After all, it is a network of people, and that network of people can accept or reject the offers of Bezos, Musk and Zuckerberg, in the same way that they could reject the powermongers of the industrial era and the governments of that time.

That still leaves us with the thorny issue of how to close the gate after the horse has bolted?

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Chris M Skinner

Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, TheFinanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal's Financial News. To learn more click here...

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