Innovation

Why regulation, new business models, and patience are necessary for fixing the future

TechRepublic's Dan Patterson talked with author Andrew Keen about the state of tech and innovation today, and the power of consumers and businesses to fix things.

Andrew Keen, author of the book How to Fix the Future, spoke with TechRepublic's Dan Patterson about his book and his vision for how to improve the future of technology.

Dan Patterson: So I understand that you have a five-point solution or at least a five-strategy solution. Can you enumerate what that is?

Andrew Keen: Absolutely, Dan. So as you suggested, there's not much different about today's disruption as earlier ones in history. And throughout history, we've always had five tools, five ways of reshaping the world to our own interest. The first is through regulation, the second is through entrepreneurial innovation, the third is through consumer activity, consumer labor activity, the fourth is through citizen engagement, and the fifth is through education. These tools have never changed and they never will change because they are our essential, if you like, our technology, our pallet as a species for shaping a better world.

Dan Patterson: Well, one of those things might be inevitable and that is regulation. Is regulation an outcome that we can expect sometimes soon?

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Andrew Keen: I don't like that word, Dan, inevitable. Why do you use it?

Dan Patterson: I'm asking you, is it inevitable?

Andrew Keen: Well, you used the word inevitable. Nothing is inevitable. Regulation isn't inevitable but it's necessary. It's one of the tools. I think there's an oversensitivity about regulation, particularly on the West Coast in technology circles is the idea that the government is going to come in and crush everything.

We're not talking about a Stalinist kind of overregulation, we're simply talking about the kind of initiatives which are actually taking place in Europe to control monopolies, anti-trust initiatives, new laws to control data, and other regulatory or legal initiatives to make sure that the society we are collectively building is in our interest rather than in the interest of a tiny minority of huge technology companies.

Dan Patterson: What role does business other than these massive technology enterprises, what role does business have to play in finding or at least helping push us down a path towards a solution?

Andrew Keen: Business is critical. We need more innovation. One of the problems with our world dominated by this tiny handful of Silicon Valley and West Coast tech companies is we have less and less innovation. The playing field isn't flat. What we need are new kind of business models by another generation of entrepreneurs to react against the surveillance capitalist model, the data model of companies like Google and Facebook. We need real innovation.

We're back in 1995. Remember in '95, Microsoft dominated everything. And had Microsoft had their way there never would have been [Web 2.0], there never would have been Google or Facebook. But we're back to the past as we always are. History works in cycles, as you suggested. And once again today we need innovators, we need entrepreneurs to rethink everything profoundly. There's too much me too thinking or absolute lack of thinking amongst entrepreneurs in tech. They need to be rethinking the very foundations of what technology is and business models, the very things that the Web 2.0 guys did 20 years ago.

Dan Patterson: And what role do consumers play?

Andrew Keen: Consumers are really important. Consumers have always shaped industry. In my book, I show how consumers shape the food industry, the automobile industry to make sure that the products were consumer friendly. Consumers need to be more demanding, more aggressive, and they need more choice.

When it comes to Facebook, for example, if it is indeed addictive, if it is indeed corrupted by Russian hackers and fake news as it seems to be, if it's designed to exploit the data of its users and turned its users into products, those users need to fight back. They need to find other products, other platforms, which respect them better. So consumers are critical too. Consumers, government, entrepreneurs, educators, workers, and citizens collectively can work towards fixing the future.

Dan Patterson: But how do we get there? How do we bring business, consumer, and every other group together and say these are our collective goals?

Andrew Keen: That's not how history works, Dan. It's not as if there's some congress of Berlin where all these people go in a room and hammer out solutions. In 1850, if we'd been here talking about the industrial revolution, we would have said, "Well, all these people need to work," and they have done over half a century. It was always slightly chaotic. Think of it like a stack in technology, these people work independently but spontaneously their work comes together. There's no top-down initiative here. We're not talking about a government or a Silicon Valley, or a VC inspired initiative. It's going to take time, we need to be patient.

One of the things that technology, I think has undermined is our patience. We think everything should be fixed immediately. We think some people might be watching this thinking, "Well, there should be an app to fix the future. Why can't Apple, or Google, or Amazon come up with that." And that, of course, not only is absurd but it's the problem.

We need to be more patient and it's that patience, which will make us realize that what we're living through is profoundly transformative. It's structural and it's going to take several generations to fix this thing. And by the time in those several generations the thing is fixed, there'll always be new problems.

History is not an engineering product. It's not as if we can perfect this thing. Human history is not a line of code. It's ongoing, it's crooked, it's imperfect. But we as human beings with our agency, we can contribute towards making it better rather than worse. But there'll never be perfection, there'll never be an app to fix the future.

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Image: iStock/foto-ruhrgebiet

About Dan Patterson

Dan is a Senior Writer for TechRepublic. He covers cybersecurity and the intersection of technology, politics and government.

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