In the Washington Examiner, Glenn Reynolds cogitates on Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler's important new book Abundance: The Future is Better than You Think:
As recounted by Pliny the Elder, a goldsmith proudly displayed to the Roman Emperor Tiberius a shiny plate he'd made from a new metal extracted from clay (aluminum) using a secret method only he understood.
The emperor was indeed impressed: He saw this new shiny metal as a possible threat to the value of his large gold and silver stockpiles, so instead of rewarding the goldsmith, he had him beheaded….
Today we see the motion picture and recording industries threatened by technology, and using lawsuits and legislation, rather than the headsman's axe.
But the pattern is the same: Technology is a disruptive force, and the first instinct of a ruling class is to take control, because any such disruption, however good it might be for humanity at large, is a threat to their own power.
Over the past couple of centuries, things have gotten better because science and technology have advanced faster than the ruling classes have been able to respond….
Reynolds is less sanguine than the Aundance authors on the continued ability of innnovators to keep working around regulators, who are often bought off by last year's innovators:
[O]ne of the most valuable ways of turning government regulation to one's side is to use it to shut down competition. When that happens, innovation slows or stops and society as a whole suffers even if individual special interests benefit.
Read Reason Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey's review of Abundance here.
Reason.tv interviewed Diamandis and will be releasing that vid soon. In the meantime, check out our conversation with him about private space flight, the X Prize Foundation (which awarded the Ansari X Prize to Bert Rutan for creating a reusable suborbital space ship), and the problem with becoming "such a risk-averse society" as we've become: