Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Book Review: The Future of Ideas

'The Future of Ideas: THE FATE OF THE COMMONS IN A CONNECTED WORLD',
 by Lawrence Lessig, speaks about the rebirth of technologies of control, as institutions “dis-intermediated” by the Internet learned how to alter the network to reestablish their control. "The forces that the original Internet threatened to transform are well on their way to transforming the Internet" Too much dis-intermediation, which can interfere with collective governance, and excess of mediation, which can regulate our lives, are equally unhealthy; some balance is needed. 
In part I, the book examines the environment of the Internet that we are observing now alter the balance between control and freedom on the Net. How today, those who prospered under the old regime are threatened by the Internet and how they react.Further chapters tell us how, the environment created by the mix of technical principles and legal rules operating upon the telecommunications system paralleled an end-to-end design at the network layer. This mix of design and control kept the telephone system open for innovation, and, it was that innovation, which enabled the Internet.
 The book goes on to discuss the nuts and bolts of 'free' functioning. How networks function as a commons. It is a resource that is made available generally to everyone connected to the network. Of course, everyone on the network must request permission to use the resource. But this permission can be content neutral. Liberating the other significant element of making such networks, spectrum, from the control of the market is then outlined. A discussion about the benefits from commons, decentralized innovation, and the way that can create the opportunity for individuals to draw upon resources without connections, permission, or access granted by others is then covered.
Next part starts with the examination of constraints, contrasting the physical world of things, and how we addressed the issue of creativity versus patents, with the world of cyberspace, which perhaps need a different treatment on this respect. With those changes, both government and commerce increased the ability to control behavior in cyberspace. Technologies were being deployed to better monitor and control behavior, with the consequence, for better or worse, of limiting the liberty of the space. As the architecture changed, the freedom of the space would change, and change it did. Something similar is occurring with respect to innovation too, the book says. Here, the architecture of the space is changing, interfering with the features that made innovation so rich. And the consequence again will be a decrease in this value that we thought defined the original Net.Next and last part is about the constant race between those who are used to controlling the society and all its parts, and those who are enamored by the beauty of free growth, they witness in cyberspace. 
The book ends with a rather sombre note. "We move through this moment of an architecture of innovation to, once again, embrace an architecture of control—without noticing, without resistance, without so much as a question. Those threatened by this technology of freedom have learned how to turn the technology off. The switch is now being thrown. We are doing nothing about it.I agree with the author. The hindrances the new technology is introducing in our life, in the form of sophisticated restrictive mechanisms, is far more than the productive use, we are putting such technology to. We are blindly accepting many practices of restrictive nature, merely on the strength of anecdotal evidence. Or rather our inability to convince those traditional, of the desirability of experimenting. Perhaps we ourselves are not that sure of what the future has in store. For example, two companies—AOL Time Warner and Microsoft—will come to define the next five years of the Internet’s life. Neither company has committed itself to a neutral and open platform.8 Hence, the next five years will be radically different from the past ten. Innovation in content and applications will be as these platform owners permit. Additions that benefit either company will be encouraged; additions that don’t, won’t. We will have re-created the network of old AT&T, but now on the platform of the Internet. Content and access will once again be controlled; the innovation commons will have been carved up and sold.
I have mixed feelings about this book. How well placed is the lamentations we see throughout the pages, that we are more comfortable with shackles than without, is a debatable issue. It is true; the technological innovations of the times shall get appropriated to the times. Those are interdependent.