Saturday, May 23, 2015

Is Technology Innovation Oblivious to Crime?

Here in San Francisco the latest police blotter item involves a woman who managed to steal at least 76 Zipcars over the course of a six weeks. Zipcar was relatively early among those technology-driven innovations that would rid us of all the discomforts associated with car rental, particularly when short-term usage was all that was involved. It is hard from the only innovation to go south in equally innovative ways. Consider all the criminal activity (including assault, stalking, and theft) that has emerged from the "sharing economy" philosophy of drivers being compensated for sharing space in their cars. Of course ugly consequences are not unique to the present decade (he said, with vivid memory of the first time spam circulated on Usenet).

I recently attended a San Francisco Opera press conference at which I was able to prompt some comments about operas based on historical events out of director Francesca Zambello. I found the experience enlightening enough to write an article about it on my national site. Not one to mince words, Zambello unleashed a beautiful take-away quote:
History teaches us lessons; we just don’t always listen.
I am not saying that the technology sector is more deaf to history than any other major segment of our economic structure. Only a few years have elapsed; but my guess is that those obsessed with seeking out innovation in finance have long forgotten This Time Is Different, by Carmen M. Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff. I suspect it all comes down to the fact that a cool new idea will always trump any lesson from history, particularly when the lesson brings bad news. It is more profitable to believe that you are making a change for the better, rather that providing human nature with new opportunities to make things worse.

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