A cowboy, 1888

Above: The Cow Boy, South Dakota, 1888. Credit: John Grabill.

Automotive Evolution

At a presentation in Central London this week, CEO of cyber security firm S-RM, Heyrick Gunning, was considering the narrative of the Digital Revolution--he calls it the Data Revolution. Gunning referred back to the evolving narrative of the automotive industry. As he noted, during the first thirty years of that industry's evolution (1910-40), safety regulation was scant--there were few controls on auto design or road-traffic laws organizing cars on the roads.

Gunning drew a parallel between between the first thirty years of the auto industry and these past thirty years (1988-2018). His thesis is that far greater regulation of the online space is coming and is inevitable. His perception is that we have just lived through the "wild west" era of the Digital Revolution. An age that was basically lawless. For him, the State will gain firm control in the near future and the online space will become progressively organized and regulated. Up to a point that parallels the modern automotive scene (in the Western liberal democracies at least). There will be online equivalents to the hyper-regulation of design, engineering, fuel supply, etc.; and counterparts to the hyper-regulation of the driver and road traffic. Fifty years from now the World Wide Web will be entirely civilized, subdued, controlled.

Gunning's thesis is compelling but not at all convincing. And the reason is this: the Web is intrinsically trans-national. The State has very few levers (mechanisms) by which to enforce controls over the online space. The only options for a State seeking to censor and control Internet access are patently draconian measures as seen in the States which currently limit their citizen's access--North Korea, Burma, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Iran, China, Syria, Tunisia, and Turkmenistan, for example. That is to say, unfiltered access to the Internet has already become entrenched as being connected to democratic rights--in fact it is probably the one right that could cause citizens of the West to protest and riot if it were to be withdrawn or affected.

(13 April 2018)