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🛰 Tech Regulation and new loci of innovation – The VUCA Observatory

September 16 · Issue #23 · View online
The VUCA Observatory
Hi there,
glad to see you again.
I feel it’s always issues 2 and 3 that are the most demanding to write – I’m uncertain whether the format works, whether what I’m thinking about actually is in some form interesting to you, the reader. And the lightness of just sending this out into the void, the beauty of starting with an issue 1, is gone.
Anyway, the world has turned a little further this week, and what a week it was. So onto the update!

On the back of the EuroParl vote approving the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market, and especially the controversial Art 13, I think it’s interesting to contrast the generally tensioned responses to the vote with Bruce Schneier’s notions on information security in this day and age, and how to deal with it:
But won’t things like strict liability laws have a chilling effect on innovation? 
Yes, they will chill innovation—but that’s what’s needed right now! The point is that innovation in the Internet+ world can kill you. We chill innovation in things like drug development, aircraft design, and nuclear power plants because the cost of getting it wrong is too great. We’re past the point where we need to discuss regulation versus no-regulation for connected things.
I’m having trouble reconciling the divergent responses, both towards Bruce’s call for a de-facto heavily regulated internet, and the responses to the EU’s copyright directive. Structurally, both these efforts seem to end up in the same place.
Not that any of this is new, or indeed as black and white as it is portrayed. But trying to solve the collective action problem towards restraining behaviour in an environment that is unpermissioned to begin with and has very low barriers to entry tends to be the policy problem that isn’t necessarily easy to solve. Especially if these are the preconditions that give you massive innovation, but also economically (and dare I say socially) destructive behaviour on a massive scale.
Technology Drivers
I’ve long been excited about the nexus of electricity and the internet, two very large non-standard markets, and their convergence in mobility. BNEF’s Michael Liebreich puts a finger on it:
So far, the operating assumption is that the power required to electrify vehicles will be needed at the edge of the grid, to power charge points on streets, in car parks, driveways and petrol stations. In many places the distribution network will be a bottleneck, and the costs of strengthening it could be huge. However, when you look at the delivery of power to commercial vehicles, train lines, ships and aircraft, it may make more sense to connect directly to the transmission grid.
Airports, ports, train stations, logistics centers and the like could become energy hubs – offering low-cost charging, batteries to smooth demand, and ancillary grid services, resilient power for server farms and the like, maybe even heat and cooling to local businesses and homes. That is, as well as transport hubs, offering a range of transportation and logistics services, mass transit, car-sharing and flying taxi terminals.
With all the talk (and focus, in my work too) of digital transformation, I guess one shouldn’t forget that while digital is a significant, it’s not the only driver of lasting economic change. Granted, deep electrification wouldn’t be possible without digital, but the interesting developments going forward are going to be the ones building on top digital, not pushing digital a little further. But given the convergence effects electricity, digital and mobility are going to see, this market is going to display some interesting characteristics.
Levelling off
Talk to anyone in technology about Moore’s Law and you’re likely to elicit a long yawn, or a puzzled look. It feels like it was another time when computers were aggressively marketed on their clock, and feeds and speeds were the advertising unit that mattered.
With the internet, and ubiquitous clouds, why would anyone still care, right? And yet, there’s something uncanny about the pure performance that Apple is capable of delivering these days, fare outrunning even its laptop segment where it doesn’t have control over the chip architecture.
When it comes to the new iPhones, many including some members of media are participating in a collective shrug. Bloomberg was impressed by the “pricing” and not the technology? When I read that, I went really? I mean that new shiny new A12 Bionic chip with more cores in its neural engine, ability to do way more with its GPU and CPU isn’t enough technology? I mean seriously — this is the most impressive work.
It’s even more uncanny if you consider that Moore’s Law is slowly but surely entering End of Life management. The easy gains are undoubtedly over. There’s some headroom (lot’s, actually) for GPU-compliant processes, such as deep learning etc, but for general purpose, the road ahead looks limited. Which might be a good thing, after all, as it induces competition along different axes, and forces companies to think a bit differently around their approaches.
So, what does this mean for consumers? First, high performance applications that needed very fast computing locally on your device will continue their move to the cloud (where data centers are measured in football field sizes) further enabled by new 5G networks. Second, while computing devices we buy will not be much faster on today’s off-the-shelf software, new features– facial recognition, augmented reality, autonomous navigation, and apps we haven’t even thought about –are going to come from new software using new technology like new displays and sensors.
Assorted Links
That’s it for this week – I hope you enjoyed it. Let me know what you think at and forward this to your friends and colleagues if you think they might get value out of this.
And as I said last week, I’m still experimenting with the format, so if you have any specific feedback, please do not hesitate to reach out.
Until next week,
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