networks powered by algorithms are eating everything.
Many of the contemporary technology trends with the greatest significance for the economy and for public policy—Internet of Things, Big Data, Platform Economy, Blockchain, and Algorithmic Society—should be seen as manifestations of this larger phenomenon. Growing tensions around governance, innovation, surveillance, competition, consumer/worker protection, privacy, and discrimination are best understood within a broader frame. The algorithmic networked world poses deep questions about power, freedom, fairness, and human agency.
Ubiquitous networking means the transformation of every form of economic activity, and a large chunk of non-economic activity, along the same lines as the internet. Algorithmic control means that increasingly dynamic software will manage not just transactions and communication, but also human systems. Our cultures and institutions are not well-adapted to this new environment. Equally important, systems engineered for a distinct and limited digital world can be ill-suited for the complexities of the “real” world. Already, a number of controversies have arisen, many of which are difficult to address under established legal rules.
Twenty years ago, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission issued Kevin Werbach’s working paper, Digital Tornado, one of the first examinations by a government agency of the transformative potential of the internet. Today we find ourselves in a world where little remains untouched by the wave of digital connectivity. Yet fundamental questions remain unresolved, and even more serious new questions have emerged.
In November 2017, the Wharton School will host a major academic conference on this topic, organized by Professor Werbach. An edited volume of essays based on the presentations will be published by Cambridge University Press.