Note — Feb 13, 2022

Class 1 / Class 2 Problems

Another very useful lens (mental model?), this one by Kevin Kelly who splits problems caused by technology between two classes. “Class 1 problems are caused by technology that is not perfect, and are solved by the marketplace. Class 2 problems are caused by technology that is perfect, and must be solved by extra-market forces such as cultural norms, regulation, and social imagination.”

However, I’d caveat this recommendation by tweaking Class 2. Kelly seems to assume that ‘builders’ have free rein in developing technology, and that “extra-market forces” only react when Class 2 problems surface. I think it needs to happen a lot more pro-actively. Governments, and even professional corps when they exist, need to structure what can happen, provide boundaries and, when at all possible, legislate before those problems materialize. The two processes happen at the same time, governance is not there just to fix the messes the ‘builders’ create by going fast and breaking things.

Much of the resistance to widely implementing facial recognition stems from its imperfections. But what if it worked perfectly? What if the system was infallible in recognizing a person from just their face? A new set of problems emerge: Class 2 problems. If face recognition worked perfectly, there would be no escaping it, no way to duck out in public. You could be perfectly tracked in public, not only by the public, but by advertisers and governments. […]

When technologies reach the state that they work extremely well and become ubiquitous, their problem domain shifts from the realm of quick cycles powered by money, to the slower cycles of cultural imagination.