Luddites never win.
I started my career in politics by working for a member of the British Parliament at the House of Commons in London. I was very privileged to be in that position.
It was everything you could imagine and a lot, lot more. My weeks were peppered with a heady mixture of the mundane, the high drama, constituency visits, hilarity at the most unexpected of occasions, the constant thrill of bumping into the most interesting people, intense and heated policy conversations with passionate people, some of whom aligned with our political view but many did not—looking back, I learnt the most from the latter. I spent hours and hours writing speeches and briefing notes, answering letters to constituents (yes, physically mailed letters) and attending receptions to celebrate or commemorate events for many good and noble causes.
Long before the advent of the pervasive nature of the internet and the integration of massive data sets, one of my passions, from a political perspective, was the concept of privacy.
I campaigned hard, mostly in the background and literally in the corridors of power, against legislation that would have a direct or indirect impact on the privacy we in the UK had come to expect and have a right and duty to protect.
In this task, I took no prisoners.
When I started in Westminster, I have to confess I was an idealist, which is a sacred privilege of youth. It did not take me long to realise that in the dark art of politics nothing is impossible and you should never say never.
I had for a long time known about the military’s use of triangulating satellite coordinates to work out exactly where someone was; however, it took some time for this to cross into the civilian world with the commercialisation of satellite navigation. On balance, I thought this was a good idea, but when I first heard about Google driving around the UK in vans, cars and motorcycles with cameras and electronic mapping capabilities, I was horrified. My old instincts as a political hack rushed to the fore. This was an abomination, an affront to our civil liberties and an invasion of our privacy. It must never be allowed. It must be technically impossible. It creates no value for the individual. It must be expunged.
IT IS AMAZING WHAT CAN BE DONE WHEN YOU HAVE
ACCESS TO LOCATION, A POSITIONING AND A MAP.
But never say never.
With the inclusion of some privacy restrictions, which I applaud, the integration of street-view maps, GPS triangulation and numerous streams of data from small, medium to big is transforming everything from the simple act of getting around to context- and location-relevant messages, life-saving apps and a frictionless experience in retail locations.
It is amazing what can be done when you have access to location, a positioning and a map. Things that were impossible before becoming possible, business models that were unthinkable, unimaginable and unworkable suddenly become multibillion-dollar global enterprises.
History teaches us many things regarding technology, but the Luddites exemplify the best lesson.
From 1811 to 1816, these English textile workers destroyed textile machines to protest the rising use of machinery to replace workers.
But as the ultimate failure of the Luddites proved, no matter how noble the cause, you can’t hold technology back.
Never say never.