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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 21st year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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When technology outpaces regulation

21 December 2016

Welcome to the longest day of the year.

Hell, with all the crap weather we've had up until now and the fact that the overnight low in Tokoroa was just 5 degrees night before last, it's hard to believe that as of tomorrow, the days will already be getting shorter.

But to today's topic...

Laws and regulations are tricky things. They have to walk the fine line between balancing the freedoms of the individual against the safety and rights of the majority.

One problem we're increasingly seeing is that technology is advancing at such a rapid pace that regulations and laws simply can't keep up.

Because the process of creating a law or regulation is so complex (consultation, drafting, honing, enactment, review, etc), there tends to be quite a long delay between the time when the need for such a control is recognised -- and when the relevant piece of legislation is finally bought into effect.

That's fine when we're dealing with issues that remain relatively unchanged and require review or regulation only due to changes in what we deem to be "acceptable" by the standards of contemporary society.

However, when it comes to areas involving rapidly changing technologies and their capabilities, our traditional regulatory process tends to fall flat on its face.

We've seen this happen with synthetic drugs which, for too long, were a source of legal (and often toxic) highs -- whilst the natural (and many would say "safer") forms of cannabis were illegal.

Of course when technology moves too quickly for regulators and legislators, the tendency is to over-regulate, sometimes by a huge margin.

Let's take the subject of drones for instance (stop glazing over and reaching for the "back" button...bear with me a moment).

As I've said on a number (too many?) occasions, drones have been subjected to way too much regulatory over-reach. Those responsible for making the regulations are ill-informed, ignore the scientifically valid evidence which suggests these things are quite safe, and prefer to enact restrictions based on hysterical rather than logic or sound reasoning.

Why else would it be legal for someone to operate a 450HP car, capable of speeds which are two and a half times the legal road limit, in a public place -- yet illegal for the same person to fly a 18g child's toy in a grassy field miles from anywhere or anyone?

As I said... no logic, no consideration for the evidence and driven by an unreasonable hysteria.

But here's a video that's bound to wind up the hysteria level even more:

Now this must surely challenge the regulators.

You can't fly a manned aircraft (of any type) in this country without the appropriate training, license or supervision. But what if you're flying a drone... whilst suspended underneath on a rope?

Is that now a "manned aircraft"? Or is it simply an unmanned aircraft lifting a man?

In theory, you could build such a craft and fly around your own property with reckless abandon (and scant regard for your own safety). However, you can't build a proper aircraft and fly it without the requisite pilot's license.

Hmmmm... another gap in the regulations because the technology is moving at a pace that even CAA's hysteria can't match.

Could this be "the next big thing" for the idiot that has everything?

For a few thousand dollars (much less than the cost of a jetski or snowmobile, you could have your own uberdrone that can lift you into the air, take you water/snow-skiing or deliver jet-pack capabilities -- without the need for a pesky license or any real form of control (drone rules notwithstanding).

Will Santa be bringing you one of these this year?

If so, let's hope your stocking also contains a decent first-aid kit :-)

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