“It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future,” says a proverb often attributed to Yogi Berra. Imagine the world of freedom, or lack of it. Who could foresee the technologies that make our lives so rewarding and convenient? The same technologies have us all under the government’s giant microscope. Thankfully, the brave have turned the microscope around.
In the months since Edward Snowden revealed the nature and extent of the spying that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been perpetrating upon Americans and foreigners, some of the NSA's most troublesome behavior has not been a part of the public debate.
The problem for NSA apologist is that when guys like Snowden disclose that the government conducts comprehensive surveillance in ways that would have made 1984’s O’Brien drool, it puts the entire progressive agenda in jeopardy.
The east coast and parts of the southern U.S. were to varying degrees paralyzed by blizzards a few weeks ago. The snow as expected rendered the roads treacherous, and in anticipation of slick streets, shoppers flocked to the grocery stores in advance.The rush into grocery stores, and its aftermath, offers worthwhile lessons in economics.First up, […]
The financial world is plodding along like a drunken sailor avoiding debt collectors by keeping no cash in his wallet. It’s not the kind of calm that’s going to last or end well. But the storm will have to wait until after the Olympics.What a game! We’ve never watched ice hockey closely before. But watching […]
In times of war and national emergency, it’s sometimes necessary to sacrifice civil liberties to secure vital gains in public safety. In those cases, we may have to accept a loss of privacy or freedom rather than invite mass slaughter of Americans.The National Security Agency’s domestic phone records collection is not one of those.Never have […]
Last year was quite the year for Bitcoin. We’ve seen exponential growth in Bitcoin’s exchange rate and extensive coverage in the media. Another phenomenon we have witnessed is the proliferation of alternative cryptocurrencies, five of which we’ve provided below.What all of these cryptocurrencies have in common is that they rely on a decentralized network to […]
Image: ShutterstockBitInstant CEO Charlie Shrem, along with alleged co-conspirator Robert Faiella, was arrested by federal authorities last week for allegedly laundering more than $1 million worth of Bitcoins. This is a tiny amount compared to the largest drug-and-terrorism money laundering case ever. Yet when British bank HSBC was found guilty in 2012 of laundering billions, […]
The exercise had an awesome name, inspired by the movies: “Quantum Dawn 2.”On July 18, scads of U.S. banks, stock exchanges and government agencies took part in a digital fire drill — a practice run in the event all of Wall Street came under massive cyberattack.This isn’t the first time banks have come under an […]
The faces of the Detroit bankruptcy are the thousands of pensioners whose promised benefits are suddenly part of the restructure negotiation. When Motown filed for Chapter 9 last July, the city had $11.5 billion in unsecured liabilities. The vast majority of this was pension and health care benefits owed to retired city employees.The images of […]
The New York Times published an interminable article on health care recently. Plenty of facts — how scrupulous are these journalists! — but the article displayed absolutely no comprehension of the basics of cause and effect. I was left wondering about the whole point.The article details how the health care system rewards specialists to an […]
We’ve pointed out in the past that President Obama’s views on the surveillance state shifted completely from when he was Senator to when he was President. As Senator, he supported a bunch of reforms that are very much like the ones his panel have suggested — and which he’s about to ignore. The NY Times […]
Bitcoins are largely considered digital currency (or “crypto currency”) so you’d expect it to be treated like currency on a retail web site. But the Internal Revenue Service might not think so.
The great inventors/businessmen of the First Industrial Revolution, such as James Watt and Matthew Boulton of steam-engine fame, were not just smart but privileged. Most were either born into the ruling class or lucky enough to be apprenticed to one of the elite. For most of history since then, entrepreneurship has meant either setting up […]
Both research and production look poised for a revolution as 3-D printing applies its high-tech charms to the business of creating chemical compounds and turns the production of medicine into a DIY project.
“Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.”When Capt. Jean-Luc Picard wants a steaming beverage in his ready room aboard the starship Enterprise, he just utters those words. The ship’s “replicator” then assembles the necessary atoms — including those for the cup — and produces it, ready for the drinking. Picard thinks nothing of it — it’s hardly more […]
The market has selected different things as money throughout history. Some of these items have served as money in isolated places for specific periods of time — for instance, cigarettes in prisoner-of-war camps. Cigarettes continue to be a currency in prisons if allowed, but if not, according to Wikipedia, “postage stamps have become a more […]
[Ed. Note: This article originally published on Jan. 24, 2013]Stocks up. Gold down. Bitcoin… waaay up.The S&P 500 busted through the 1,500 mark this morning. Stocks haven’t been this expensive since 2007… right before they got a whole lot cheaper… for a whole lot longer. Gold, meanwhile, dipped a tad. This, despite central bankers of […]
Before the housing market collapsed and the government pumped billions into the economy to save it, there was a programmer named Satoshi Nakamoto. And without much fanfare, he created an idea that’s in the process of changing the world. His idea was Bitcoin.Some background information is in order before I go any further.Think back to […]
Americans are still trying to get a handle on the full extent of the government’s domestic spying activities, including the recent revelation that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been collecting and storing the email address books of ordinary Americans using online messaging services. Many users of such services are looking to tech executives for […]
The online Internet exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act are up and running.OK, they’re up. Uhh, OK, some of them are sort of up.It has been almost a week since last Tuesday’s initial launch, and there have been more than a few problems.Website crashes, excessive response times and other problems have plagued the exchanges. […]
A growing consensus of IT experts, outside and inside the government, have figured out a principal reason why the website for Obamacare’s federally sponsored insurance exchange is crashing. Healthcare.gov forces you to create an account and enter detailed personal information before you can start shopping.This, in turn, creates a massive traffic bottleneck, as the government […]
As much as I love technology, part of me hates being so dependent on a live wall plug wherever I go. You find yourself trapped in some setting without accessible wall plugs and your phone is dying. You charge from you laptop, but that is dying too. You take recourse to your tablet, but that […]
U.S. and British intelligence agencies have successfully cracked much of the online encryption relied upon by hundreds of millions of people to protect the privacy of their personal data, online transactions and emails, according to top-secret documents revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden.The files show that the National Security Agency and its UK counterpart GCHQ […]
Today, like most days, I fired up my computer.I read freely available information on the latest developments in technology that would, in the not too distant past, have required a drive to a library to flip through journals too numerous for me to afford. I read the latest national and global news without having to […]
On a Sunday afternoon swim, a 6-year-old boy was bugging me in a sweet sort of way. He rode up and down the handrail on the stairs in the shallow end of the pool where I was trying to sit in peace. He was laughing and talking, but I couldn’t understand a word through the […]
I’ve just completed a heavy schedule of talks at the Agora Financial Investment Symposium in Vancouver. All my talks centered on information economics, Web startups, and the productivity of the Internet and its meaning. As usual, I learned as much from the attendees as (I hope) they learned from my talks. The research I did […]
We crossed another milestone in industrial history last week. Over the weekend of May 4-5, 2013, the world’s first handgun was printed on a 3-D printer. It was fired and it worked. The implications are dazzling for people all over the world. The printers will become cheaper over time. The files for printing can be distributed all over the world through the Internet.
And no government in the world is in a position to stop it.
That’s not to say that governments won’t try. “It’s stomach-churning,” said New York Sen. Charles Schumer of this remarkable innovation. “We’re facing a situation where anyone — a felon, a terrorist — can open a gun factory in their garage, and the weapons they make will be undetectable.”
A big advocate of gun control, his real goal is not to make the world a more peaceful place. He simply wants government to have all the guns and doesn’t want to make it easier for you and me to get them. He wants to retain the present disparity of power between government and the people and senses that something is upsetting the balance.
Therefore, of course, he wants to amend the law to make printed guns impossible. If you haven’t noticed, this seems to be the main thing government does these days. It puts barriers in the way of progress and tries to stop technological advance.
Legislators just can’t reconcile themselves to the new reality that they have less and less power each day as the digital age progresses. It’s the force of innovators and consumers the world over — creating and exchanging to their mutual benefit — compared with the clunky and blunt instrument of the regulatory state.
The driving energy behind the printed gun is Cody Wilson, a 25-year-old law student at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the visionary behind Defense Distributed, a website that releases the plans, provides updates, and accepts donations in Bitcoin. He calls his new weapon “the Liberator” after the inexpensive, single-shot gun manufactured by the U.S. government during World War II. They were dropped all over Europe to scare and demoralize occupying armies.
Mr. Wilson thinks like the entrepreneurs of old. He had an idea and believed it was achievable. He saw every barrier not as something that would stop him, but as something to overcome. His crowdfunding project was removed by the website that first hosted it. His first rented printer was recalled by its owners. The regulatory barriers were huge, but he responded with overcompliance. And of course, the gun-grabbers consider him to be enemy No. 1.
I’ve been intrigued to watch his vision unfold over the last year. He clearly saw that the 3-D printing revolution has profound implications for the future. Among other things, it challenges the whole basis of government regulation of the economy, which is very much tied to controlling manufacturers and the buying-and-selling process itself.
With distributable and localized manufacturing, the core power of the regulatory state is faced with a fundamental challenge. Patents and other forms of “intellectual property” become irrelevant. If a design is constrained by regulatory controls, it is a simple matter of changing the design to produce an uncompromised product.
With or without printed guns, this new technology is going to lead to continuing upheaval in the years ahead. It is already deeply embedded in the manufacturing process. Boeing has installed some 20,000 different printed parts. Pratt & Whitney, GE, and many other companies depend on it for profitability.
As the revolution advances, printing will gradually replace shipping. More people of the world will have access without transportation costs, making prosperity affordable in a way that was previously unimaginable. (For more on the origins and development of this industry, see the wonderful book Makers by Chris Anderson.)
A crucial element in this disruptive technology is the role of open source sharing. This is a completely different approach from what prevailed from the Industrial Revolution until very recently. Usually, it was believed that a company’s profitability was bound with its proprietary control and its trade secrets. But through open source innovation, companies have discovered that they can extract better ideas by drawing on the energy and skills of people all over the world, resulting in a better product and a faster pace of development.
Defense Distributed uses the open source model. It allows the company to get from here to there faster and to distribute its results universally. Open source approaches also instill the manufacturing process with that crucial element of trust. Think of this as a globalized system of peer review in which nothing is hidden. It’s sort of the opposite of how governments do things.
Think of how the pace of change is accelerating compared with the past. The Gilded Age saw astonishing changes: railroads crossed the country, internal combustion became common, homes were lit with electricity, and steel replaced iron as the building metal of choice. But all of this took 25 years to come about. We are now seeing innovations proceed at a pace that makes the Gilded Age look like slow motion. It is affecting every sector of life — now even gun manufacturing and money and banking.
None of this would be possible without two critical institutions: the Internet and entrepreneurial dreams. Put the two together and you have miracles in the making.
How will Mr. Wilson’s gun change the world? Over time, it could fundamentally upset the balance of the relationship between citizens and their governments, not just here, but around the world. It makes 20th-century-style tyranny less likely, or at least gives the people a fighting chance to hold onto their rights and liberties. Public and private predators can be checked.
Freedom is the victor here, and one would suppose that this would be something to celebrate.
Instead, we get carping politicians, annoyed regulators, and legions of peanut-gallery critics who make fun of the gun’s design and functionality. This misses the bigger picture. We are living in the dawn of a new age, and the future is going to be much different from the immediate past. People like Cody Wilson are society’s benefactors.