Just as as tangible as airplanes, computers and contraception, The Roman Empire, the Iroquois Confederacy and the United States of America are also human inventions.
Technology is how we do things, and political institutions are how we collaborate at scale. Government is an immensely powerful innovation through which we take collective action.
Just like any other technology, governments open up new realms of opportunity. These opportunities are morally neutral: humans have leveraged political institutions to provide public education and murder ethnic minorities. Specific features like explicit protections for human rights and civil liberties are designed to help mitigate certain downside risks.
Like any tool, systems of governance require maintenance to keep working. We expect regular software updates, but forget that governance is also in constant flux, and begins to fail when it falls out of sync with the culture. Without preventative maintenance, pressure builds like tectonic forces along a fault line until a new order snaps into place, often violently. Malka Older points out that “democracy is not a unitary state that can be achieved, but a continuous process. We need to keep reinventing and refining government, to keep up with changes in society and technology and to keep it from being too easy for elites with resources to exploit.”
What might the future of governance actually look like?
How an immigration crackdown is hurting UK startups
Our European correspondent Natasha Lomas spent the past few weeks investigating what’s been happening to immigrant founders and tech talent in the UK, who have been receiving more scrutiny from the Home Office in recent months. Natasha zooms in on Metail, a virtual fitting room startup, and its tribulations with the immigration authorities and the damage those action are having on the broader ecosystem:
The January 31 decision letter, which TechCrunch has reviewed, shows how the Home Office is fast-tracking anti-immigrant outcomes. In a short paragraph, the Home Office says it considered and dismissed an alternative outcome — of downgrading, not revoking, the license and issuing an “action plan” to rectify issues identified during the audit. Instead, it said an immediate end to the license was appropriate due to the “seriousness” of the non-compliance with “sponsor duties”.
The decision focused on one of the two employees Metail had working on a Tier 2 visa, who we’ll call Alex (not their real name). In essence, Alex was a legal immigrant had worked their way into a mid-level promotion by learning on the job, as should happen regularly at any good early-stage startup. The Home Office, however, perceived the promotion to have been given to someone without proper qualifications, over potential native-born candidates.
In addition to reporting the story, Natasha also wrote a guide specifically for Extra Crunch members on how founders can manage their immigration matters, both for themselves and for their employees.
The state of the smartphone
TechCrunch hardware editor Brian Heater analyzed the slowdown in smartphone sales, finding few reasons to be optimistic about how smaller handset manufacturers can compete with giants like Apple and Samsung. There are slivers of good news from the developing world and also from 5G and foldable tech, but don’t expect profits to reach their zenith again any time soon.
Startups are ultimately vessels of speculation, of new products, new markets, and innovations the world has never seen. While data and information are important components for exploring the frontiers of the possible, perhaps the best way is through stories and fiction, and especially speculative fiction.
We’ve been fortunate at Extra Crunch to have noted novelist Eliot Peper write a guide to the novels that are and should be helping founders build startups in Silicon Valley these days. This week, Eliot published the final book in his Analog trilogy, which explores contemporary issues through a futuristic technology lens. With Breach, he brings to a close his tale of algorithmic geopolitics that started with Bandwidth (which I reviewed on TechCrunch) and continued with Borderless, all the while exploring topics of privacy, social media psychops, and the future of democracy.
I wanted to catch up with Eliot and chat not only about his latest work, but also the themes inherent in the novels as well as his process for generating new ideas and seeing the world from a new perspective, a skill critical for any creative or founder.
The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.