[e2e] the evolution of deployability
hgs at cs.columbia.edu
Thu Dec 5 07:38:20 PST 2002
There is probably a somewhat rational explanation for this (this is
common political-science stuff, I believe):
For any change, there will be people who will suffer or pay (transition
costs, lost functionality, lost markets, products obsolete, etc.). These
people generally know about this, can estimate the downside fairly
precisely and will rise in protest.
There will also (hopefully) be people who benefit from the change, but
they often don't know that they might, have a hard time estimating their
personal benefit and don't know the risks and costs involved precisely.
In addition, if the benefits are diffuse, none of the beneficiaries
cares enough to accelerate the change (by bribing, eh, supporting your
local congressperson, say). The downside is often more tightly focused,
so those on the losing end care a lot, as it may end their (commercial)
Just as one example, even if a company that made old-technology goods
assumes that it can make new-technology goods, it has no precise idea
what its market share and IPR position will be. Thus, this company will
not be motivated to defend the change.
It is well-known that most humans are risk-averse, i.e., they do some
approximation of maxmin rather than maximizing the expected benefit.
Thus, unless the drawbacks of the current systems are overwhelming or
there is some external forcing function, change is very difficult in a
democratic society where incumbent interests are well-organized. (This
is true for corporate interests that maintain sugar quotas as well as
the AARP and teacher's unions.)
One reason Europe could make changes is that, at its top level, it is
largely undemocratic, accountable only in the most indirect way, with
very diffuse responsibility ("but all the other EU partners forced me to
do it"). If there had been a vote in Germany, the Euro would have never
happened. See Sweden - they defeated the Euro and are only now, that the
benefits are more obvious and the drawbacks of being left out start to
appear, possibly changing their mind. Sweden's behavior was rational -
there was little downside to waiting a bit to see how the Euro would
play out. If it turned into a disaster, waiting would infer a huge
benefit, if it worked, you'd only lost a year's worth of money exchange
costs. Thus, there's generally a benefit to being in the second wave to
implement a disruptive change. With technologies with a large network
effect, this then delays deployment even longer, since the benefit only
starts when lots of other people have gone first.
If it had been possible, I'm sure many countries would have preferred to
delay January 1, 2000 by a week or two, to see how other countries were
This is one reason why doing new things in parallel is often better, if
less efficient. If Al Gore had said that the phone system would be
replaced by the Internet in 1992, it would have fared as well as
Clinton's health-care proposal.
Adrian Lahanas wrote:
> Inability to change things that are already deployed is a peculiarity of
> particular economies or cultures. For example,
> In US it was impossible to change inches and yards, once they were deployed,
> into centimeters and meters.
> In US it was impossible to change ounces or pounds into grams and kilograms.
> In US it was impossible to change from 120 Volt to 220 Volt.
> In US it was impossible to change from Fahrenheight to Celsius
> In US it was impossible to change big cars into small cars.
> In US it was impossible to change steam engines into fast electric trains.
> Sorry for the sarcasm but that's how things look to an outsider.
> The rest of the economies of the world took the decision and did the transit
> into meters, kilograms, liters, etc. EU countries in the nineties replaced all
> old cars with new cars that emit less CO2 and less Sulphur in the atmosphere.
> In January 2000 the same countries changed all their old monetary system into
> a new one. It took a great effort but the will was not lacking.
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