Urs Gasser and John Palfrey on Interop: The Promise and Perils of Highly Interconnected Systems

June 1st, 2012

The practice of standardization has been facilitating innovation and economic growth for centuries. The standardization of the railroad gauge revolutionized the flow of commodities, the standardization of money revolutionized debt markets and simplified trade, and the standardization of credit networks has allowed for the purchase of goods using money deposited in a bank half a world away. These advancements did not eradicate the different systems they affected; instead, each system has been transformed so that it can interoperate with systems all over the world, while still preserving local diversity. But interoperability is not also without its risks.

In this presentation authors John Palfrey — Henry N. Ess Professor of Law and Vice Dean for Library and Information Resources at Harvard Law School — and Urs Gasser — Executive Director of the Berkman Center — demonstrate how interoperability is a critical aspect of any successful system, and now is more important than ever. Interoperability offers a number of solutions to global challenges, but in order to get the most out of interoperability while minimizing its risks, we will need to fundamentally revisit our understanding of how it works, and how it can allow for improvements in each of its constituent parts.


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