Information technology is having an immensely uneven economic impact on the world, creating huge wealth for some while leaving others behind, as it displaces jobs and fails to reach communities that lack broadband connectivity. It’s changing the face of war and peace, creating a new theater of warfare in cyberspace and new threats to democracy through state‑sponsored attacks and disinformation. And it’s increasing the polarization of domestic communities, eroding privacy, and creating an emerging capability for authoritarian regimes to exercise unprecedented surveillance of their citizens. As artificial intelligence continues to advance, all these developments will accelerate.
People argue about immigration, trade, and tax rates for wealthy individuals and corporations, but we seldom see politicians consider, or the tech sector acknowledge, the role that technology is playing in creating these challenges. It’s as if we’re all so absorbed in the resulting symptoms that we lack the time and energy to focus on some of the important underlying causes.
It’s unrealistic to expect the pace of technological change to slow. But it’s not too much to ask that we do more to manage this change. In contrast to prior technological eras—marked by inventions such as the railroad, telephone, automobile, and television—the age of digital technology has progressed for several decades with remarkably little regulation, or even self‑regulation. This hands‑off attitude needs to give way to a more activist approach.
Tech companies and the tech sector as a whole need to step up and do more to address these issues responsibly and proactively. But in the three centuries since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, no major industry has successfully regulated every aspect of its operations completely by itself. It would be naive to think the first success case will emerge now. That’s why we also need government to take a thoughtful but active approach to regulating technology. The greatest risk facing technology firms isn’t overregulation—it’s that government won’t do enough, swiftly enough, to address the technology issues affecting the world.