Law in the Internet Society

The pursuit of knowledge

By MartaPanella - 22 Oct 2021

Introduction

“You were not made to live like brutes, but to pursue virtue and knowledge” . In Dante Alighieri’s Divina Commedia, these words are attributed to Ulysses, one of the first men to travel across the Pillars of Hercules, to step outside into the unknown by crossing what we now refer to as the Strait of Gibraltar. I have always been fascinated by this idea, the conviction that the human mind is predisposed for greatness, that there is an Úlan in all of us towards the amelioration of ourselves and of the world surrounding us. If this axiomatic principle defining the very nature of human beings were correct, then any notion that innovation is driven by profit would lose ground and could be put into question.

Regulations and the risks for technological development

The main argument in favor of copyright in our society is that it protects ideas from exploitation and the rightsholders’ capacity to maintain control of their work. Regulators all over the world are preoccupied not only with the protection of authors or performers, but they are afraid of creating frameworks that would potentially inhibit innovation. This line of thought clearly emerges from the European Union’s directive on copyright of 2019, which states: “Rapid technological developments continue to transform the way works and other subject matter are created, produced, distributed and exploited. New business models and new actors continue to emerge. Relevant legislation needs to be future-proof so as not to restrict technological development” . The intent of the regulator is very clear and is in line with a constant trend that has seen almost every law passed in this subject area during the past decades focusing on the possible restraints it would have on technological innovation and development. However, if we broaden the microscope and we look at the world around us, we could be surprised to find out that the risk of inhibiting human willingness to create is significantly lower than we generally recognize.

The quality of knowledge

The need to investigate the reasons behind phenomena and events is inherent in human consciousness, it is what sets us apart from other species, it is the driving force behind most discoveries, behind science and progress, or even religion. When people do not know something, they will look for it.

However, the advent of the digital area created an illusion of generalized knowledge: highly specialized information on almost any subject was readily available just with a rapid search on Google, and a lot of people became arrogant and an easy victim for those who wanted to spread misinformation and disharmony within society. The perceived social value of being an “expert” in a certain area decreased substantially because of the readily available opinion of another “expert” you could find online that would support your idea that – for instance – vaccination is bad for you.

So, if the quantity of knowledge available increased substantially, it cannot be said the same for the quality of such knowledge. Nowadays, people tend to feel entitled to an opinion on almost any subject, often because they scrolled down a two-minutes reading time article, often written by someone who had looked the content up on Google on the same day. If we consider the possible causes of this phenomenon, we could argue that probably older people are not educated to question their sources, being used to rely on books that had been proofread and researched multiple times (and this is probably why fake news are usually more popular amongst the so-called “boomers”), while younger people only get exposed to content which some algorithm believes they might like, so it’s probably already in line with their own or their friends and family’s pre-existing view on that specific matter, in a sort of self-fulling prophecies mechanism.

The only way to solve similar issues is to educate people to question and verify the information we are exposed to on a daily basis, to teach children to be more curious than arrogant and to limit outside influences on human thoughts, thus making everyone able to make his or her own choices, and to be held accountable for them. The digital revolution brought into our hands one of the biggest equalitarian tools ever produced and we might soon need to exploit its full potential against the challenges that lie ahead for humankind as a whole (such as the finiteness of resources or climate change). If there ever was an “all hands on deck” moment in human history, we are probably living it right now, and it might soon come a time when the driving force behind innovation will have to be survival rather than profit, when we might need every brain on earth to be able to reach its full potential.

Conclusion

As of now, it might be considered juvenile to believe that the human Úlan for greatness is more powerful than the risk of inhibiting innovation by decreasing potential profits within the industry. But maybe we should confide more in human ability to transform and adapt in order to survive, in the innate thirst for knowledge and amelioration. Seven hundred years ago, Dante Alighieri believed that the curiosity to discover and ability to learn is the first and foremost trait characterizing human beings. I have faith this is still true today. As the cover of Francis Bacon’s Instauratio Magna put it in respect of the same Pillars of Hercules: multi pertransibunt et augebitur scientia, many will pass through and knowledge will be the greater.

Was Dante writing for profit?

I think the best route to improvement is for the next draft to put itself in touch with some of the writings by some of the people who have thought about this problem between the late thirteenth century and you. Contact with others' thinking will help you refine your own, I believe.


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r2 - 05 Dec 2021 - 14:46:43 - EbenMoglen
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