Category Archives: MPhil in Technology Policy

Planetary Defense and Offense

Last week, NASA launched the first spacecraft intended to deflect an asteroid.  The asteroid in question is 6 million miles away, but the goal of the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission is to push the asteroid and see what happens to its trajectory.  The goal is not so much to focus on the small number of large asteroids that could wipe out much of life on the planet, which are well catalogued and characterised, but rather the next tier of asteroids that would ‘only’ wipe out a city, but which are much less well catalogued.

Asteroids are not the only danger.  Space junk had already been a problem and has grown to the point that serious concerns have even been raised that there could be a reinforcing feedback process leading to a ‘runaway cascade of fragments’ which would make near-earth space unusable. Add to these concerns intervention in space that does not always have such benign motives. The previous week, Russia had riled up the wider space community by using an anti-satellite weapon (granted, on its own old satellite) that created an enormous amount of debris (see some visualisations of its impact).  The debris created problems for many national and private actors including SpaceX’s Starlink internet system and even posed a danger to the astronauts (from the US, Germany and Russia) on the International Space Station not just at the time but have posed a continued danger to spacewalks even weeks later.  These types of anti-satellite tests (which have been conducted by all major powers) even led the US Pentagon to propose a moratorium on further anti-satellite tests.  Ironically, in 2008, Russia and China proposed an international treaty banning anti-satellite weapons coincident with the US launching the first major anti-satellite weapon.

We have discussed some challenging topics that arguably need to be addressed here on Earth — Should it be easier or harder to regulate space?

Even from these three examples (space junk, anti-satellite weapons, planetary defenses) we can see that different solutions might follow.  Picking one or more of these examples, which is the best approach to addressing these challenges? How important is international cooperation and how effective is it likely to be? What role is there for private actors?

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Algorithmic Pricing

Christos has suggested this week’s topic of Competition and Algorithmic pricing.  His suggestion is motivated by these two recent papers: Mackay and Brown (2021) ‘Competition in Algorithmic Pricing‘ and Assad et al (2020) on the use of algo pricing in German retail gasoline markets This is hardly a novel concern, back in 2017, the OECD… Continue Reading

Arm Wrestle

Arm Holdings is the largest company in Cambridge, or at least it was until it was acquired shortly after the Brexit vote in 2016, by Softbank, the Japanese conglomerate. One reason Arm is not terribly well known (even in Cambridge!) is that it does not manufacture anything but rather is a world leader in processor… Continue Reading

Regulating NFTs

Our ‘textbook’ discussion of how regulation can be justified was in the context of market failures.  Using this lens, most of the historical cases seem pretty straightforward (at least in retrospect!).  But (how) should regulation address something novel like non-fungible tokens (NFTs) or, more generally, cryptocurrencies? First question — what IS an NFT?  Although discussed… Continue Reading

Institutions and climate action

In a recent tweet, Jesus suggested a topic that was, perhaps, inevitable to be our focus during a week when world leaders assembled in Glasgow for the first major climate conference held in the UK.  His question: ‘which institutions (rules of the game) have helped or hindered our ability to tackle climate change’? For those… Continue Reading

A bad month for Facebook (or is it Meta?!) — but what are we actually worried about?

Diego already pointed to this week’s topic: Facebook (even if last week’s topic was intellectual property!) In her testimony before the US Congress, Frances Haugen, the Facebook whistleblower highlighted the dangers posed by its algorithms.  In some circles, such as The Guardian, she has been heralded as a ‘modern US hero‘ and this week she… Continue Reading

Intellectual Property: Striking the Right Balance

In an effort to remain joined up across the programme, Christos has suggested this week’s blog topic: “Intellectual property represents a compromise between encouraging new ideas and allowing the full use of existing ideas” Kenneth Arrow (1962) The subject of intellectual property (IP) is arguably the longest-standing topic that can be described as ‘technology policy’. … Continue Reading

Green Industrial Revolutions, Ten Point Plans, Goals and Agenda Setting

This week, the British Government released its 10-point plan for a ‘green industrial revolution’ (you can read the press release, which was actually the only information available for the first 24 hours!).  The plan claims to ‘mobilise £12 billion of government investment, and potentially 3 times as much from the private sector, to create and… Continue Reading