To Innovate or Protect?
Photo Credit: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg
It was during a recent dinner discussion in the heart of the European Union quarter of Brussels that one of the guests asked the American keynote speaker: “Have you ever decided not to innovate, not to create a wonderful technology, because you could not find a way to meet the standards that you set yourself in protecting the privacy of those who would be using this new technology?” It was a straightforward question, for which there was actually no possible straightforward answer.
The evening’s debate had tried to address Europeans' growing concerns that technological innovation – in particular data-driven innovation – is not taking into account the concerns of citizens, consumers and eventually governments. The debate itself reflects a growing resistance on this side of the Atlantic toward innovations that may have a transformational impact on societies and economies. To a certain extent, this debate challenges the process of "creative destruction," what Joseph Schumpeter described as a “process of industrial mutation ... that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one.” But Schumpeter’s gale takes a whole new resonance when long-standing social structures are being challenged in the process.
Guillaume Xavier-Bender is a transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Brussels.