Is Regulation A Barrier to Innovation?

Is Regulation A Barrier to Innovation?

Yes. Undeniably, unequivocally, yes.

That is not a particularly satisfying answer, is it? The thing is neither that question, nor the answer, are particularly useful. Not by themselves at least. We need to ask why we have regulation at all. Let us rewind a little.

At its most basic, innovation is simply doing something new, a new idea, a new methodology, a new technology. A way to make a process more effective or efficient. Humans have proven themselves to be fairly good at innovation, we can picture something in our minds and either individually or collectively bring it to fruition in the material world. Innovation is at the heart of the human ability to use technology and culture to adapt to changing environments.

Innovation if of itself is neither good nor bad. Innovation is what humans make of it, we are the agency behind the technology. Whether an innovation is good or bad is often a matter of perspective. During the reforms of Gaius Marius, the Roman army adopted an improved pilum (javelin) which had an iron shaft which would, innovatively, bend when it hit something. If you are a roman legionary in the first century BC this is a fantastic innovation, your enemy cannot use the weapon you just threw at them. If you are one of the Gallic tribesmen on the receiving end you might just have a different view.

The innovative spirit of humankind has resulted in some truly wonderful triumphs. Vaccination, sanitation systems, writing, modern medicines, and life-saving surgeries. Take a moment to reflect on the number of children you know, who would not be alive today but for modern healthcare. Regrettably, the spirit of human innovation has unleashed horrors that have resulted in the deaths of millions. At Waterloo in 1815 British soldiers fired Brown Bess muskets, with a rate of fire of two to three shots a minute. In 1915 at Ypres soldiers fired machine guns with a rate of fire of six hundred rounds per minute.

That is our very human story, which we must continue to understand and reflect on. We are faced with a dilemma; how do we uphold and encourage innovation and yet somehow safeguard ourselves from harm? As I am sure you will have guessed, the answer is, of course, regulation.

Regulation is the mechanism by which we exercise control over the flow of innovation, like a dimmer switch controlling the light in a room providing enough light so that we can see the way but not so much light that we are blinded. Regulation is the way in which society determines the lines that it will and will not cross based on the impact on individuals. Regulation constantly seeks to balance the desire for progress, for the development of new technologies, with the necessity to protect individuals from both direct and indirect harm. At each side of the Overton window of acceptable regulation are those who fight for increased protections for individuals on one side, and for reduced regulation on the other.

At Akrivia we reject any notion that one has to be either for regulation or for innovation. We think that true innovation is that which strives to protect the rights of individuals and accelerates research; these are not mutual exclusive principles. This is not about sneaking through regulation or finding legal loopholes, this is about understanding the regulatory landscape so that we can navigate it efficiently, never losing sight of the individuals that law protects, and ultimately building approaches to research that changes lives.