The Software, Standards and Society in 2020 Series: 2. Software's Connectedness Paradox

The software industry changing rapidly these days. Technologies and business models with mass appeal are very much part of this picture, but more incremental change is also gaining momentum and the results are adding up. Software has become ubiquitous in 21st century life. In addition, consumer demand continues to push for change. Government demand is also a factor.

New technologies, however, also bring with them new ways of doing business and this can occasionally make existing regulation obsolete. Some of the major trends that the industry, consumers and policy makers need to adapt to and embrace are: specialization, service oriented architecture, and increasing importance of user-generated content. A draft report report of an industry expert group on a European software strategy, initiated by the European Commission's DG Information Society and Media, but with independent conclusions, called Software 2.0: rebooting Europe's software industry from April 2009, Version 3.0, calls the Internet the global network of the 21st century, and has ample evidence of such trends.

A while back, the sociologist Anthony Giddens emphasized in his book Modernity and Self-Identity (Polity Press, 1991) that modernity is characterized by extreme confidence in abstract expert systems. His analysis is now updated with what he calls the Giddens Paradox of climate change: its consequences are not easily observable by those that are affected by it. The situation is much like the contrarian economist Robert J. Schiller sees the Irrational Exuberance (2005) of stock markets and real estate markets—we trust the experts to know better—even though the market is equally influenced by non-experts.

Hence, one could conclude that the situation has become worse. In 1991 we trusted the expert systems, which by that time was a mixed bag of things like government authorities, university professors, computer systems, and electricity providers. Few of these things were connected, so even though were were in a sorry state, most of us being totally ignorant about the workings of society, our ignorance did not have such an excessive price. If those systems failed, they could be fixed, or for the most part they could be abandoned.

In 2009, however, many systems are connected, it turns out the natural and human ecosystem is connected to everything. We still only trust the observable, and have no time for the analysis of systemic risk. That risk has increased drastically in two decades. Software has become the enabler of interconnection within vertical industries—and across. There is no Battlestar Gallactica, the fictional battleship in the eponymous Sci-Fi series that was without an Internet connection and hence narrowly avoided destruction in the alien Cylon attack on Earth. Or, if there is, it would be unable to come to rescue (after all, life is not television, right?). So, let's consider our predicament: we are bound to be connected—but we can choose whether we want strong bondage or weak ties, and we cannot abandon ship, unless we are interested in life without the Internet or indeed, without Earth itself. (more tomorrow)

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Trond Undheim, Ph.D, Director of Standards Strategy and Policy at the Oracle Corporation, speaker, entrepreneur, blogger, and author, is one of the world’s leading experts on technology and society. LinkedIn profile

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