The impact of technology

I've read 2 articles recently that touch on the impact of technology on everyday life and the political and societal implications this entails.

The first one is from Ludovic Dubost, my boss at XWiki (FR):

Nevertheless, I think that today we have still not seen the changes that technological innovation will have on society. The impact on the old economy is accelerating. New business models continue to emerge not only in the technology world but especially in the non-technological world. Innovations continue to arrive and things you never thought possible just 10 years ago are emerging today. [...]

These books say the same thing about technology. The possibilities offered by technology arrive sooner than we think and the changes to society and the economy are likely to be faster than society's ability to absorb sudden changes.

Ludovic makes the point that technological change will have and ever-increasing impact on society over the long term. No part of the economy is immune to change: technology will touch more and more parts of the economy, oftentimes with a negative effect for existing industries that are getting disrupted.

The second article is from Ben Thompson of Stratechery:

The ease of communication and distribution on the Internet is rendering vast swathes of the economy uncompetitive, even as certain sectors, companies, and individuals reap absolutely massive profits. I am by no means saying this is a bad thing, but I am certainly sympathetic to those who can no longer compete. I am also extremely concerned that recourse for these changes will increasingly be sought through the political process without tech having a seat at the table, much less a coherent solution for dealing with the human fallout of technological progress.

We as an industry absolutely need to wake up. SOPA, net neutrality, the Google bus protests – all of these are of a piece, and they are only the beginning. [...] The world is changing because we are changing it, just like we all wanted to, and now it’s time to grow up and deal with the consequences in a serious way. I truly hope that the fight for net neutrality will only be the beginning.

Ben takes the viewpoint of the tech industry: the industry will have to organize itself if it is to try and have influence over society's reaction provoked by the changes that society brings to our lives.

Ludovic also quotes Eric Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee:

"Kurzweil’s point is that constant doubling, reflecting exponential growth, is deceptive because it is initially unremarkable. Exponential increases initially look a lot like standard linear ones, but they’re not. As time goes by—as we move into the second half of the chessboard—exponential growth confounds our intuition and expectations. It accelerates far past linear growth, yielding Everest-sized piles of rice and computers that can accomplish previously impossible tasks."

Paul Graham has similar thoughts in "Farming Black Swans":

In startups, the big winners are big to a degree that violates our expectations about variation. I don't know whether these expectations are innate or learned, but whatever the cause, we are just not prepared for the 1000x variation in outcomes that one finds in startup investing.

That yields all sorts of strange consequences. For example, in purely financial terms, there is probably at most one company in each YC batch that will have a significant effect on our returns, and the rest are just a cost of doing business. I haven't really assimilated that fact, partly because it's so counterintuitive.

This is related to the 2 previous points: most people are not really prepared to grasp the full meaning of "winner takes all" situations and the impact is has on society at large. Redistributive policies could be a way to balance out the need to motivate innovators while trying not to leave people on the side of the road.