Tech regulations are on the horizon and no one should be surprised
The field of tech may have grown past its fledgling state as the Wild West of unregulated growth and conduct, but no one in the field should expect eternal freedoms. Every industry went through its formative steps and found itself breaching basic human rights in one way or another only to be met with rules and expectations as their failings became public. For technology, that time could be sooner than we think.
The forward-facing dilemma
Finding the breaking point for when regulation becomes a necessity seems to hinge on how the public perceives a field and its importance versus the impact it has on the world at large. For technology, the public’s reception to the internet and consumer technology as a whole has been ushered in as a positive on the whole. After all, the internet is now considered a human right as it gives unfettered access to the whole of mankind’s knowledge, which is impressive in and of itself.
Yet the dark side that comes with constant surveillance and an apparent disconnect between people in the real world has begun to sour some of that initial warm response. A significant number of people now believe social media has been more harmful than helpful and that national governments won’t do enough to curb privacy breaches and regulate large companies. Public perception of the impact caused by interconnectivity is starting to slide into the negatives for the first time in a great many years, raising questions about future government responses to breaches and malicious acts.
Tim Cook of Apple has gone on the record stating regulations are inevitable and seems prepared to shift Apple’s corporate goals to comply before they strike rather than later. It seems to be a sentiment that hasn’t reached all of Silicon Valley despite the writing on the wall telling a very unflattering tale of what will come for those who fail to adapt. When Facebook’s recent scandals continue to make headlines in a news cycle where stories evaporate within a two-day span, it’s clear that the public’s eye is very squarely on those who claim to innovate for the good of mankind.
Pivoting towards a friendlier future
All hope is not yet lost. We’ve stepped away from a time when Google once reminded its employees not to be evil, but there are still voices who claim tech giants never deserved trust in the first place. Divining how the technological landscape may have developed without that trust is an exercise in hoping for a world that will never exist. It’s far better to work towards adjusting what we can actually change.
At its most basic level, courting a job in the IT field doesn’t mean giving up on scruples and basic human decency. For every tech bro with dreams of being the next Facebook of data mismanagement, there are thousands of individual employees working themselves to the bone to create the infrastructure necessary to give that dream a hope of reaching the end consumer. It’s not as if those ill intentions trickle-down rewards to those who sustain the machine.
It may be unfair to paint the entirety of the field’s problems simply on human greed, too, as managing the unintended consequences of tech proliferation requires almost as much time and attention as managing those with ill intent in the first place. Algorithms and artificial intelligence are still in their relative infancy and are pushing individuals towards extreme content at an alarming pace. It’s going to take efforts of diversity, retraining and outright restructuring to undo some of the damage, but preparing for the future requires a serious change in goals for the field.
The era of flying under the public’s radar is coming to a close. Every breach and misuse of data brings the field of technology closer to the same kinds of regulations imposed on every other industry in regards to consumer safeguards and guarantees of privacy. It may be too late to undo the damage, but it’s still early enough to ensure the future isn’t lost to overregulation and greed.
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