The Iron Laws

There are iron laws of economics.  When someone goes against them, they always get a comeuppance in the end.  It turns out, there might be iron laws of technology. Chris Mims wrote an article about them. Here is a link talking about why the following laws of tech are “iron”.  It’s in the WSJ, so not available without a subscription.

1. ‘Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral’

2. ‘Invention is the mother of necessity.’

3. ‘Technology comes in packages, big and small.

4. ‘Although technology might be a prime element in many public issues, nontechnical factors take precedence in technology-policy decisions.’

5. ‘All history is relevant, but the history of technology is the most relevant.’

6. ‘Technology is a very human activity.’

Melvin Kranzberg, a professor of the history of technology at Georgia Institute of Technology wrote these back in 1986.  He said, “Many of our technology-related problems arise because of the unforeseen consequences when apparently benign technologies are employed on a massive scale.”

Interesting to think about today. I saw this tweet and starting thinking about it.


Does Facebook have an incentive or not? Clearly, there is a singular incentive.  People stop using Facebook. No one says you have to be on the platform. It’s opt-in. The same goes for Google which is opt-in. If everyone quit using Google for search, they wouldn’t be able to monetize it.  Does Facebook violate one of the six laws, or not?  Should they be regulated like ATT?  If so, how?

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  • ZilWerks

    Rule #6: “Technology is a very human activity”, is one I am very aware of. I work daily with massive databases with sensitive information. Much of this information can be, and has been, automated via process – sometimes software, at other times soft technologies such as forms and simple filing. The main problems arise from all too human issues. Automation, like software, handles repetition very well. However it doesn’t handle unique or edge cases at all.

    Case in point: criminal history, the filing and lookup part, is nearly entirely automated now. This would be a miracle to detectives in fifties and sixties. Determining the guilt of a suspect is an all too human activity fraught with comprise, deceit, and limited information.