How Do You Regulate the Future?
As attitudes shift and technology advances, regulators ploddingly follow. The process can be messy, incremental, and sometimes painfully slow—but new policies are emerging.
Gene editing. A mosquito engineered to resist malaria could save lives. But how would it be regulated? As tools such as Crispr—which can modify everything from crops to human embryos—are refined, the technology will become an international regulatory issue. Mosquitoes, after all, have a way of not staying put.
Self-driving cars. Experts predict that within three to seven years autonomous cars will take to the open road. In anticipation, federal regulators released guidelines that outline safety, privacy, and design expectations. One unresolved issue: how to assign liability. According to Karl Brauer, executive publisher of Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book, accidents will rarely be the car’s fault: “94% are caused by human error.”
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Drones. The FAA released new commercial rules that loosen restrictions on tasks from aerial photography to search and rescue. Per the guidelines, a drone must be in an operator’s line of sight and not fly over unaware people. But companies (ahem, Amazon) may apply for waivers, which means delivery by drone is not entirely out of the question.
Augmented reality. The technology, which enhances one’s real-world surroundings by adding a layer of digital information, doesn’t require regs. But it could lead to protections for privacy in public (a point also raised by Google Glass (GOOGL), which made it easy to record video). “Eventually,” predicts law professor Ryan Calo, “we will abandon the idea that you have no reasonable expectation of privacy in public spaces.”
A version of this article appears in the November 1, 2016 issue of Fortune as part of our “Red Tape” feature.