Advanced Search

Please click here to take a brief survey

Technology Is Legislation

By Worldchanging Canada contributor Karl Schroeder

Introducing a new technology is not a neutral act--it is profoundly revolutionary. If you present a technology to the world you are effectively legislating a change in the way we all live.

Although this is quite obvious if you think about it, what continues to astonish me is that we don't think about it. We seem to completely lack the ethical and social frameworks needed to address technology's political power, despite abundant evidence of that power and its outcomes good and bad.

Canadians are taught the legend of the last spike--we're told from an early age that it was the transcontinental railway that made our nation possible. For us, this is the canonical example of technology as legislation; it wasn't enough to declare the Dominion over a geographical area, that area had to be occupied and there was only one way to do that: through technological fiat. Two other pivotal examples of technology's political power can be seen in the use of fax machines to organize resistance during the Velvet Revolution, and the use of text-message chain letters to pressure Joseph Estrada to resign as president of the Philippines. More subtly, you could make a case for the Pill as having legislated a more balanced male/female work force within all the countries where it's been implemented. It allows women to pursue long-term educational and career goals without fear of being sidelined by multiple pregnancies, without at the same time having to sacrifice their romantic lives to those goals. This is a huge change that as a society we're only just starting to come to terms with.

top_homepage_cell.jpg Many people respond to this situation by proposing that some sort of legal--i.e. legislative--mechanism can or should be created to put the brakes on unbridled technological change. (Ban stem cell research, for instance.)

faxmachinescropped206.jpg This is an amusing idea because it completely misses the point. Technology is already legislation; what's more, it's trans-national in scope, therefore can't be controlled by any one legislative body. There's no clearer example of this principle in action than today's copyright wars. Technology has legislated away the current business model of the entertainment giants; they're responding with a two-pronged attack. The first side of this is an attempt to legislate the technological genie back into the bottle (the RIAA, for example); the other side is an attempt to create technologies that circumvent unbridled copying (digital rights management or DRM for short). The first way won't succeed because, for instance, the internet is by definition a system for copying files; there is no way to legislate around file sharing without making the fundamental function of the internet illegal. The second way could work (because technology is legislation)--it just can't work in this particular case, because an uncrackable digital rights management system cannot be created. (The reason, if you're interested, is that DRM is by definition a cryptographic system. Person A wants to send a message to person B without person C being able to copy or read (or listen to) it. The problem is that with all DRM schemes B and C are the same person.)

megaphone_article.jpgWhat's hiding here is a huge lesson for anyone who wants to change the world. The slow, tortuous, inch-by-inch way to do it is by trying to change people's minds about something. Many activists are tilting at the windmills of popular opinion in Europe and America, trying to do just this with regard to climate change. Fundamental changes in societal attitudes take generations; in the case of climate change, we don't have that kind of time. Changing people's minds is a great idea, we just can't do it in this case.

A second way to change the world is through legislation. This is only marginally less painful a process than changing people's minds. Some people thrive on political conflict, and for many people, engaging in an all-out political war feeds their sense that they're actually doing something--even when no progress is made. Protests and actions have their place, but once again political activism represents a slow, steady pressure that measures its accomplishments across years, if not decades.

The third way to create change is through the market, which is fast, but morally neutral. But the engine of market innovation is technological change.


Technology circumvents the political process. This gives it a peculiar power that we can exploit. For example, it's important that we stop building new coal plants, and even more so, that we shut down the ones we now use. Getting this accomplished by pushing for legislative changes could take decades--time we don't have. But current trends show solar power decreasing in cost by 40% in the next three years alone. DARPA is pouring money into an effort to reach 50% efficiency with photovoltaic cells, and it looks like cheap roll-to-roll techniques may be usable to print such cells in bulk. So what happens a few years further on when photovoltaics become cheaper than coal?

I'm not saying that people fighting against coal on the political front are wasting their time; what I am saying is that they are the ones who are holding the line; technology is the cavalry that will win the battle.

We don't always have the convenience of new and transformative technologies with which to circumvent the political process; the cold war could be seen as a tragic period during which millions of people lived out their lives waiting to acquire the means for change. Luckily, the present moment is different. We now have, or are rapidly developing, disruptive technologies on many fronts. Green power systems will supplant coal; computers and the internet promise new systems of political and social organization.

You may loath technology; many people do. Its power to circumvent the political process is a danger--but it's also a virtue. In the past that power has hurt us, but technologies like the internet have the potential to take us where we want to go. What's important--now more than ever--is to be aware that the systems, devices and products we use are not passive objects that we manipulate to achieve our ends. They are actors in and of themselves.

Bookmark and Share


Energy Independence begins with Energy efficiency - It's cheaper to save energy than to make energy.

Updated September 23, 2007
By Jay Draiman, Energy Consultant

Today’s energy industry is perhaps the world’s most powerful. Energy is the basis of all this world’s wealth, and for perhaps earth’s entire history, the sun’s energy has fueled all ecological and economic systems. If early humans did not learn to exploit new sources of energy, humankind would still be living in the tropical forests. Without the continual exploitation of new energy sources, there would have been no civilization, no Industrial Revolution and no looming global catastrophe.

In order to insure energy and economic independence as well as better economic growth without being blackmailed by foreign countries, our country, the United States of America’s Utilization of Energy Sources must change.
"Energy drives our entire economy.” We must protect it. "Let's face it, without energy the whole economy and economic society we have set up would come to a halt. So you want to have control over such an important resource that you need for your society and your economy." The American way of life is not negotiable.
Our continued dependence on fossil fuels could and will lead to catastrophic consequences.

The federal, state and local government should implement a mandatory renewable energy installation program for residential and commercial property on new construction and remodeling projects, replacement of appliances, motors, HVAC with the use of energy efficient materials-products, mechanical systems, appliances, lighting, insulation, retrofits etc. The source of energy must be by renewable energy such as Solar-Photovoltaic, Geothermal, Wind, Biofuels, Ocean-Tidal, Hydrogen-Fuel Cell etc. This includes the utilizing of water from lakes, rivers and oceans to circulate in cooling towers to produce air conditioning and the utilization of proper landscaping to reduce energy consumption. (Sales tax on renewable energy products and energy efficiency should be reduced or eliminated)

The implementation of mandatory renewable energy could be done on a gradual scale over the next 10 years. At the end of the 10 year period all construction and energy use in the structures throughout the United States must be 100% powered by renewable energy. (This can be done by amending building code)

In addition, the governments must impose laws, rules and regulations whereby the utility companies must comply with a fair “NET METERING” (the buying of excess generation from the consumer at market price), including the promotion of research and production of “renewable energy technology” with various long term incentives and grants. The various foundations in existence should be used to contribute to this cause.

A mandatory time table should also be established for the automobile industry to gradually produce an automobile powered by renewable energy. The American automobile industry is surely capable of accomplishing this task. As an inducement to buy hybrid automobiles (sales tax should be reduced or eliminated on American manufactured automobiles).

This is a way to expedite our energy independence and economic growth. (This will also create a substantial amount of new jobs). It will take maximum effort and a relentless pursuit of the private, commercial and industrial government sectors’ commitment to renewable energy – energy generation (wind, solar, hydro, biofuels, geothermal, energy storage (fuel cells, advance batteries), energy infrastructure (management, transmission) and energy efficiency (lighting, sensors, automation, conservation) (rainwater harvesting, water conservation) (energy and natural resources conservation) in order to achieve our energy independence.
I believe what America needs are cool headed government leaders who understand how markets function and can work with consumers, voters and oil industry leaders to develop a viable energy strategy that will help and not hinder as our nation transitions to our new energy reality.
"To succeed, you have to believe in something with such a passion that it becomes a reality."

Jay Draiman, Energy Consultant
Northridge, CA. 91325
September 3, 2007

P.S. I have a very deep belief in America's capabilities. Within the next 10 years we can accomplish our energy independence, if we as a nation truly set our goals to accomplish this.

I happen to believe that we can do it. In another crisis--the one in 1942--President Franklin D. Roosevelt said this country would build 60,000 [50,000] military aircraft. By 1943, production in that program had reached 125,000 aircraft annually. They did it then. We can do it now.

"the way we produce and use energy must fundamentally change."
The American people resilience and determination to retain the way of life is unconquerable and we as a nation will succeed in this endeavor of Energy Independence.

The Oil Companies should be required to invest a substantial percentage of their profit in renewable energy R&D and implementation. Those who do not will be panelized by the public at large by boy cutting their products.

Solar energy is the source of all energy on the earth (excepting volcanic geothermal). Wind, wave and fossil fuels all get their energy from the sun. Fossil fuels are only a battery which will eventually run out. The sooner we can exploit all forms of Solar energy (cost effectively or not against dubiously cheap FFs) the better off we will all be. If the battery runs out first, the survivors will all be living like in the 18th century again.

Every new home built should come with a solar package. A 1.5 kW per bedroom is a good rule of thumb. The formula 1.5 X's 5 hrs per day X's 30 days will produce about 225 kWh per bedroom monthly. This peak production period will offset 17 to 2

4 cents per kWh with a potential of $160 per month or about $60,000 over the 30-year mortgage period for a three-bedroom home. It is economically feasible at the current energy price and the interest portion of the loan is deductible. Why not?

Title 24 has been mandated forcing developers to build energy efficient homes. Their bull-headedness put them in that position and now they see that Title 24 works with little added cost. Solar should also be mandated and if the developer designs a home that solar is impossible to do then they should pay an equivalent mitigation fee allowing others to put solar on in place of their negligence. (Installation should be paid “performance based”).

Installation of renewable energy and its performance should be paid to the installer and manufacturer based on "performance based" (that means they are held accountable for the performance of the product - that includes the automobile industry). This will gain the trust and confidence of the end-user to proceed with such a project; it will also prove to the public that it is a viable avenue of energy conservation.

Installing a renewable energy system on your home or business increases the value of the property and provides a marketing advantage. It also decreases our trade deficit.

Nations of the world should unite and join together in a cohesive effort to develop and implement MANDATORY RENEWABLE ENERGY for the sake of humankind and future generations.

The head of the U.S. government's renewable energy lab said Monday (Feb. 5) that the federal government is doing "embarrassingly few things" to foster renewable energy, leaving leadership to the states at a time of opportunity to change the nation's energy future. "I see little happening at the federal level. Much more needs to happen." What's needed, he said, is a change of our national mind set. Instead of viewing the hurdles that still face renewable sources and setting national energy goals with those hurdles in mind, we should set ambitious national renewable energy goals and set about overcoming the hurdles to meet them. We have an opportunity, an opportunity we can take advantage of or an opportunity we can squander and let go,"

solar energy - the direct conversion of sunlight with solar cells, either into electricity or hydrogen, faces cost hurdles independent of their intrinsic efficiency. Ways must be found to lower production costs and design better conversion and storage systems.

Disenco Energy of the UK has announced it has reached important
milestones leading to full commercialization, such as the completion of
field trials for its home, micro combined heat and power plant (m-CHP).
The company expects to begin a product roll out in the second quarter of
Operating at over 90 percent efficiency, the m-CHP will be able to
provide 15 kilowatts of thermal energy (about 50,000 Btu’s) for heat and
hot water and generate 3 kilowatts of electricity. The m-CHP uses a
Stirling engine generator and would be a direct replacement for a home’s
Running on piped-in natural gas the unit would create some independence
from the power grid, but still remain connected to the gas supply
Whereas heat is supplied only when the generator is running (or
conversely electricity is generated only when heat is needed) a back-up
battery system and heavily insulated hot water storage tank seem
eventual options for more complete energy independence.

All government buildings, Federal, State, County, City etc. should be mandated to be energy efficient and must use renewable energy on all new structures and structures that are been remodeled/upgraded.
"The government should serve as an example to its citizens"

A new innovative renewable energy generating technology is in development. The idea behind Promethean Power came from Matthew Orosz, an MIT graduate student who has worked as a Peace Corps volunteer in the African nation of Lesotho. Orosz wanted to provide electric power, refrigeration, and hot water to people without electricity. He and some MIT colleagues designed a set of mirrors that focus sunlight onto tubes filled with coolant. The hot coolant turns to pressurized vapor, which turns a turbine to make electricity. The leftover heat can be used to warm a tank of water and to run a refrigerator or an air conditioner, using a gas-absorption process that chills liquid ammonia by first heating it.
New Solar Electric Cells - 80% efficient
Mr. Marks says solar panels made with Lepcon or Lumeloid, the materials he patented, ... Most photovoltaic cells are only about 15 percent efficient. ...
A major increase in daily petroleum output is deemed essential to meet U.S. and international oil requirements in 2020, and so we should expect recurring oil shortages and price increases. Only by expediting the diminishing our day-to-day consumption of petroleum and implementing of efficiency and renewable energy policy can we hope to reduce our exposure to costly oil-supply disruptions and lower the risk of economic strangulation.
Quick Facts
 Energy is vital to every sector of the U.S. economy. As our economy grows, the demand for energy rises.

 Total energy consumption is projected to increase 35 percent by 2030.

 Energy-efficiency improvements have played a major role in meeting national energy needs since the 1970s, relative to new supply.
ULTRACAPACITORS - But what if you could harness a technology that would enable you to drive 500 miles round-trip on a 5-minute charge?

That's the promise of U.S. Patent No. 7,033,406 which promises, maybe even threatens, to do away with the internal combustion engine, and the traditional car battery, all in one swoop.
The patent is the property of Austin-based startup called EEStor, which touts "technologies for replacement of electrochemical batteries." In layman's terms, that means you could use the EEStor technology to drive from Boston to Philly and back without a drop of gasoline.

Jay Draiman, Energy Consultant
Northridge, CA 91324
Posted on: 09/23//2007

Posted by: Jay Draiman, Energy Analyst on 23 Sep 07



MESSAGE (optional):

Search Worldchanging

Worldchanging Newsletter Get good news for a change —
Click here to sign up!


Website Design by Eben Design | Logo Design by Egg Hosting | Hosted by Amazon AWS | Problems with the site? Send email to tech /at/
Architecture for Humanity - all rights reserved except where otherwise indicated.

Find_us_on_facebook_badge.gif twitter-logo.jpg