It appears that once again, the technological genie has been unleashed from its bottle. Summoned by an unknown person or persons with unclear motives, at an uncertain time in history, the genie is now at our service for another kick at the can—to transform the economic power grid and the old order of human affairs for the better. If we will it. The first four decades of the Internet brought us e-mail, the World Wide Web, dot-coms, social media, the mobile Web, big data, cloud computing, and the early days of the Internet of Things. It has been great for reducing the costs of searching, collaborating, and exchanging information. It has lowered the barriers to entry for new media and entertainment, new forms of retailing and organizing work, and unprecedented digital ventures. Through sensor technology, it has infused intelligence into our wallets, our clothing, our automobiles, our buildings, our cities, and even our biology. It is saturating our environment so completely that soon we will no longer “log on” but rather go about our business and our lives immersed in pervasive technology. Overall, the Internet has enabled many positive changes—for those with access to it—but it has serious limitations for business and economic activity. The New Yorker could rerun Peter Steiner’s 1993 cartoon of one dog talking to another without revision: “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” Online, we still can’t reliably establish one another’s identities or trust one another to transact and exchange money without validation from a third party like a bank or a government. These same intermediaries collect our data and invade our privacy for commercial gain and national security. Even with the Internet, their cost structure excludes some 2.5 billion people from the global financial system. Despite the promise of a peer-to-peer empowered world, the economic and political benefits have proven to be asymmetrical—with power and prosperity channeled to those who already have it, even if they’re no longer earning it. Money is making more money than many people do. Technology doesn’t create prosperity any more than it destroys privacy. However, in this digital age, technology is at the heart of just about everything—good and bad. It enables humans to value and to violate one another’s rights in profound new ways. The explosion in online communication and commerce is creating more opportunities for cybercrime. Moore’s law of the annual doubling of processing power doubles the power of fraudsters and thieves—“Moore’s Outlaws”1—not to mention spammers, identity thieves, phishers, spies, zombie farmers, hackers, cyberbullies, and datanappers—criminals who unleash ransomware to hold data hostage—the list goes on.
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