Eventually technical standards…

…will become as important as laws.

Laws are codified social standards; but in the future, codified technical standards will be just as important as laws. Harvard Law professor Lawrence Lessig says, “Law is becoming irrelevant. The real locus of regulation is going to be (computer) code.” As networks mature, and make the transition from ad hoc prestandard free-for-alls to fluid hot spots of innovation, and then into full-fledged systems with deeply embedded standards, standards increasingly ossify into something like laws.

Standards also harden with age. They become resistant to change and they descend into hardware. Their code gets wired into the backs of chips, and as the chips spread, the standard infiltrates ever more deeply.

An elaborate process of legal overview monitors and analyzes our lawmaking. So far we have little of the sort for our standard-making, although these agencies, such as the ITU (International Telecom Union) will soon be as influential as courts. Standards are not just about technology. They are about soft and fuzzy things such as options and relationships and trust. They are social instruments. They create social territory.

A network is like a country in that it is a web of relationships regulated by standards. In a country citizens pay taxes and adhere to laws for the benefit of all. In a network, netizens feed the web first for the benefit of all.



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