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Technology Innovation Versus Regulation

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Recently, we’ve been seeing an explosion of technology, which is advancing at incredibly high speed. We’re seeing incredible technologies, which not long ago were inconceivable, becoming mainstream. With this rapid advancement of new technologies, there seems to be an ongoing conflict between innovation and regulation. Do we pump the brakes on embracing these amazing solutions, or do we jump on board and wholeheartedly embrace the benefits that they bring? In this blog, I’ll use a few examples to show where regulation can either be a hindrance or a very necessary requirement, with various new technologies that are (or soon will be) taking the world by storm.

Drones

The first example we’ll use is that of drone technology. Drones are also known as ‘UAVs’, or unmanned aerial vehicles. The concept itself is not a new one, first coming to light in 1849. Over the next 150 years, drones were mostly reserved for the military, but in the last few years, they have become extremely popular for hobbyists as well as for commercial purposes. Commercial purposes include delivery of packages, search and rescue, and law enforcement, to name a few.

While the benefits of drones are potentially endless, there are potential hazards. What if packages being delivered fall and hurt someone? Could aspiring terrorists use drones to drop bombs or chemicals? How would we enforce no fly zones around areas such as airports? This is where regulation and the need for regulatory experts (with backgrounds in technology) come in. While it may slow down commercial application of drone technology, in this case it is a very necessary requirement to ensure implementation of the technology is safe.

Self-Driving Cars

The second example is autonomous vehicles. With the potential to create enormous efficiencies in the commercial sector and fundamentally change the way vehicles are used privately, autonomous vehicle technology is already being utilised. Private cars that can self-park are common place. Autonomous trucks are being trialled, with the likes of Tesla’s autonomous semi truck prototypes on the roads already. Autonomous trucks have many cost saving benefits, one of these being no need for, and cost of, human drivers.

However, current regulation states that there must be a human in the cab to take over control if required, thus negating one of the benefits of technology. I imagine that once the technology is proven safe over time, this will change. However, while this could be viewed as regulation being a hindrance, we already have the example of the technology going wrong: an incident involving an Uber-operated self-driving vehicle in March 2018. The self-driving Volvo SUV fatally hit a woman crossing the road, at night, on a largely empty street. The operator in the vehicle was not fully engaged or watching the road, so did not take control and avoid the accident. Here we have an example where clearly the technology is not ready, and more regulation is required. To advance the world of autonomous techonolgy, this should create a whole lot of opportunities for IT professionals in this space!

3-D Printing

A further example of innovative technology being used to improve society is 3D printing. 3D printing has been around for years, and has made its way into mainstream use, now being used for countless applications. In the not too distant future we could see this technology being used to print new organs, food with the perfect nutritional balance, and construct houses at a fraction of the time and price of regular construction – the list is endless.

One innovative idea, however, has not been so beneficial to society. In 2012, Defense Distributed was founded, an organisation dedicated to designing plans for 3D printable guns that could bypass metal detectors, called ‘ghost gun firearms’. Being open source, these are accessible to everyone, meaning anyone with the correct 3D printer could build undetectable firearms. The risk from this in society is self-explanatory and is another example of where potentially amazing technology needs to be regulated to ensure it is used appropriately.

Closing Thoughts

With the endless technology on the market and more yet to come, we need to be discussing the impact of slowing things down to allow regulation to keep up, and what can happen if we don’t. Technology that is unsafe or can be abused in unsafe ways is simply not ready for global application.

For technologies to reach a point where they’re usable on a wide scale, the organisations behind them will need scores of talented regulatory professionals to help in eliminating these faults. Specialists in the AI and machine learning spaces will be in particularly strong demand in the coming years. If you work within these areas, or you’re a Technology professional looking for new opportunities, feel free to get in touch.

What technology is next on the horizon, we don’t know. However, one thing we do know is that over the years to come, there will be new technology that we previously couldn’t dream of, and the world will be a very different place.