Archive for September, 2009

Smart Grids, Not-So-Smart Bloggers

Cameron Scott, a self-described “claustrophobic nature-lover” and blogger on SFGate.com recently wrote an article asking “are smart grids too smart?” The smart grid is intended to revolutionize electricity transmission and consumption, much like the Internet changed communication, by allowing utilities to use real-time data from sensors and advanced meters throughout the power grid to better understand specific supply and demand requirements, spot failed or failing equipment, and better manage their resources. Consumers can receive price signals from the utility so that they know when electricity rates are higher—and save money if they choose to lower their usage either manually (e.g. using the clothes dryer in the evening) or automatically (e.g. using a “smart” appliance that adjusts energy usage automatically based on price levels). Society benefits from having a less carbon-intensive economy.

So what’s the problem? Scott argues that this “is a hit to one’s privacy” and posits that the utility will know too much about individual consumer behaviors. There are at least three things wrong with his argument. First, this is an entirely opt-in system—consumers choose whether to respond to the price signals or not. Personally, I’d prefer to have … Read the rest

Innovation and Its Army of Opponents

More than 50 years ago, noted economist Joseph Schumpeter wrote, “The resistance which comes from interests threatened by an innovation in the productive process is not likely to die out as long as the capitalist order persists.” He might have been more prescient if he had said that such resistance would actually strengthen over time.

A growing array of neo-Luddites (they get their name from Englishman Ned Ludd, whose followers sabotaged textile factories at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution) views new technology as a threat, not as progress. A host of organizations—ranging from liberal groups such as the ACLU to conservative ones such as the Eagle Forum—is fighting innovations like mobile commerce, smart IDs, behavioral targeting on the Internet, and the use of IT in health care, decrying them as threats to privacy and civil liberties.

What is especially troubling is that in contrast to a generation ago, when neo-Luddites were largely consigned to the fringes of political debate, today they are accorded more widespread legitimacy. Twenty years ago, a person who wrote that the government plans to forcibly implant radio frequency identification (RFID) chips under the skin of … Read the rest