New Essays about Permissionless Innovation & Why It Matters

by on April 27, 2014 · 1 comment

This past week I posted two new essays related to my new book, “Permissionless Innovation: The Continuing Case for Comprehensive Technological Freedom.” Just thought I would post quick links here.

First, my old colleague Dan Rothschild was kind enough to ask me to contribute a post to the R Street Blog entitled, “Bucking the ‘Mother, May I?’ Mentality.” In it, I offered this definition and defense of permissionless innovation as a policy norm:

Permissionless innovation is about the creativity of the human mind to run wild in its inherent curiosity and inventiveness, even when it disrupts certain cultural norms or economic business models. It is that unhindered freedom to experiment that ushered in many of the remarkable technological advances of modern times. In particular, all the digital devices, systems and networks that we now take for granted came about because innovators were at liberty to let their minds run wild.

Steve Jobs and Apple didn’t need a permit to produce the first iPhone. Jeff Bezos and Amazon didn’t need to ask anyone for the right to create a massive online marketplace. When Sergey Brin and Larry Page wanted to release Google’s innovative search engine into the wild, they didn’t need to get a license first. And Mark Zuckerberg never had to get anyone’s blessing to launch Facebook or let people freely create their own profile pages.

All of these digital tools and services were creatively disruptive technologies that altered the fortunes of existing companies and challenged various social norms. Luckily, however, nothing preemptively stopped that innovation from happening. Today, the world is better off because of it, with more and better information choices than ever before.

I also posted an essay over on Medium entitled, “Why Permissionless Innovation Matters.” It’s a longer essay that seeks to answer the question: Why does economic growth occur in some societies & not in others? I build on the recent comments of venture capitalist Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures noted during recent testimony: “If you look at the countries around the world where the most innovation happens, you will see a very high, I would argue a direct, correlation between innovation and freedom. They are two sides of the same coin.” I continue on to argue in my essay:

that’s true in both a narrow and broad sense. It’s true in a narrow sense that innovation is tightly correlated with the general freedom to experiment, fail, and learn from it. More broadly, that general freedom to experiment and innovate is highly correlated with human freedom in the aggregate.

Indeed, I argue in my book that we can link an embrace of dynamism and permissionless innovation to the expansion of cultural and economic freedom throughout history. In other words, there is a symbiotic relationship between freedom and progress. In his book, History of the Idea of Progress, Robert Nisbet wrote of those who adhere to “the belief that freedom is necessary to progress, and that the goal of progress, from most distant past to the remote future, is ever-ascending realization of freedom.” That’s generally the ethos that drives the dynamist vision and that also explains why getting the policy incentives right matters so much. Freedom — including the general freedom to engage in technological tinkering, endless experimentation, and acts of social and economic entrepreneurialism — is essential to achieving long-term progress and prosperity.

I also explain how the United States generally got policy right for the Internet and the digital economy in the 1990s by embracing this vision and enshrining it into law in various ways. I conclude by noting that:

If we hope to encourage the continued development of even more “technologies of freedom,” and enjoy the many benefits they provide, we must make sure that, to the maximum extent possible, the default position toward new forms of technological innovation remains “innovation allowed.” Permissionless innovation should, as a general rule, trump precautionary principle thinking. The burden of proof rests on those who favor precautionary policy prescriptions to explain why ongoing experimentation with new ways of doing things should be prevented preemptively.

Again, read the entire thing over at Medium. Also, over at Circle ID this week, Konstantinos Komaitis published a related essay, “Permissionless Innovation: Why It Matters,” in which he argued that “Permissionless innovation is key to the Internet’s continued development. We should preserve it and not question it.” He was kind enough to quote my book in that essay. I encourage you to check out his piece.

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