Understanding The Law Of Unintended Consequences: For Every Action…

from the anyone-play-chess? dept

There isn’t much new here, but The Register is running a good article going over many examples of the law of unintended consequences as it applies to the technology world — many of which you’ve probably read about before. The simplest way to explain it, though, is that no one ever seems to think two (or more!) steps ahead. They simply assume that if they make one move to stop something “bad,” there won’t be a countermove that could make things worse. It’s like a huge chess game where everyone only makes the most obvious move for this turn and doesn’t think any further out. If you make it harder to steal parked cars, you increase the incidence of carjacking (which is more dangerous). If you make it harder to send spam through open relays, spammers will team up with hackers and send spam via zombied computers. If you shut down file sharing systems like Napster, people who want music will go further underground with systems that are harder to track and harder to shut down. If you make people think their kids are safer by wearing GPS systems, they won’t train their kids to be as street smart about threats. None of this means that people shouldn’t try to stop the “bad stuff” at all, but that in coming up with ways to do so, at least some thought should go into what the response will be.

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Comments on “Understanding The Law Of Unintended Consequences: For Every Action…”

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John Dowdell (user link) says:

"Law of Unintended Consequences"

I’ve seen a lot of linking on that phrase this week, but I’m not certain whether everyone understands that this comes out of the work of FA Hayek, who was influenced by both the economic thinking of Adam Smith and the biological thinking of Gregor Mendel.

Instead of a “can’t see two steps ahead” model, I’ve been using a model of “tries to apply mechanical solutions to biological problems”.

Organic environments adapt, while mechanical constructions just react… a car doesn’t care if you turn left, where a group of people might.

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