Robin Hood and the Dig­i­tal Revo­lu­tion

The Covington News - - OPINION -

The lov­able legend of Robin Hood with his band of Merry Men mak­ing life dif­fi­cult for the Sher­iff of Not­ting­ham of­fers a great way to un­der­stand the pol­i­tics of 21st cen­tury Amer­ica.

As with any such story, cast­ing is key. The mod­ern ver­sion would place tech en­trepreneurs in the role of Robin Hood and his gang. They’re com­mit­ted to mak­ing life bet­ter for the masses and more than a lit­tle dis­dain­ful of the gov­ern­ing au­thor­i­ties.

The con­tem­po­rary Sher­iffs of Not­ting­ham would be played by gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tors. They have all kinds of for­mal au­thor­ity but can’t com­pete in the realm of moral au­thor­ity. While Robin Hood and the techies are com­mit­ted to mak­ing life bet­ter for ev­ery­one, the reg­u­la­tors are in­ter­ested more in rules and power rather than peo­ple.

Some might ob­ject to this cast­ing by claim­ing that the tech en­trepreneurs are in it for the money. To some ex­tent, that’s true. But you can’t hang around the tech in­dus­try with­out also rec­og­niz­ing that just about ev­ery- one in­volved has a pas­sion that comes from see­ing the world as it is while also striv­ing for a way to make it bet­ter.

Be­sides, the orig­i­nal Robin Hood had mixed mo­tives, too. He risked life and limb partly so that he could give to the poor. How­ever, a big part of his in­cen­tive plan was to win the girl of his dreams and marry into the royal fam­ily.

The spar­ring be­tween tech en­trepreneurs and reg­u­la­tors is cur­rently most vis­i­ble sur­round­ing Uber, a ride-shar­ing company that pro­vides its cus­tomers with bet­ter ser­vice than the heav­ily reg­u­lated taxi in­dus­try. With a flair that Robin Hood him­self could ap­pre­ci­ate, Uber is flout­ing the es­tab­lished or­der by set­ting up shop and win­ning the hearts of cus­tomers with­out first seek­ing the bless­ing of reg­u­la­tors. In re­sponse, in­fu­ri­ated reg­u­la­tors around the world have de­clared team Uber to be out­laws. But they are out­laws with pub­lic support.

The same dy­namic is shap­ing up on count­less other fronts.

The health care in­dus­try is about to be rat­tled by an amaz­ing ar­ray of self-mon­i­tor­ing de­vices. But the FDA is al­ready work­ing to pro­tect the sta­tus quo and slow down change. It “is ac­tively watch­ing app stores” to pre­vent new apps from be­ing de­ployed un­til the agency signs off. Only 40 such apps were ap­proved in 2012 and 2013, a piti­ful num­ber when you think of how many apps are cre­ated ev­ery day. It’s only a mat­ter of time be­fore some de­vel­op­ers take the Uber ap­proach and be­gin of­fer­ing apps that ig­nore the reg­u­la­tors but serve con­sumers.

Self-driv­ing cars are com­ing, too, promis­ing im­proved safety and more pro­duc­tiv­ity dur­ing travel time. Ed­u­ca­tion is another field filled with tech-in­spired en­tre­pre­neur­ial op­por­tu­nity.

In all of th­ese ar­eas and many more, tech­nol­ogy-driven change will come faster than the reg­u­la­tors can write new rules. That will lead to many more Uber-like con­flicts with gov­ern­ments or­der­ing in­no­va­tive com­pa­nies to stop pro­vid­ing a bet­ter ser­vice with­out per­mis­sion.

Just like the Sher­iff of Not­ting­ham long ago, the reg­u­la­tors have the full force of gov­ern­ment to back them up. There’s lit­tle doubt they will use it to pro­tect their power.

Robin Hood had the pub­lic with him, and to­day’s tech en­trepreneurs can count on more than 100 mil­lion Americans with smart phones. As long as they keep their fo­cus on serv­ing the pub­lic, the Sher­iff doesn’t stand a chance.

To find out more about Scott Ras­mussen and read fea­tures by other Cre­ators Syn­di­cate writ­ers and car­toon­ists, visit www.cre­ators. com.

SCOTT RAS­MUSSEN

COLUM­NIST

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