John Palfrey and I have a new book out: Interop: The Promise and Perils of Highly Interconnected Systems. The book is part of a larger research initiative at the Berkman Center with focus on interoperability – or the art and science of working together. It synthesizes six years of research and builds upon previous work, including a white paper and a series of case studies written with the help of a fantastic team of student researchers, which we will release over the next few weeks. For a preview, check out our SSRN series.
I care deeply about this book, and even more so than about previous things I have written. I believe that the questions addressed in Interop are fundamental in nature as we are trying to build a better world. At its core, the book tells the story of an increasingly interconnected digital society and explores how much interconnectivity we need among systems and their components to solve the biggest challenges we face in today’s society – from the health care crisis to global warming. Importantly, we do not argue in favor of unlimited interoperability. While we have evidence that interop is generally a sound public policy goal as it usually drives innovation (with important caveats) and economic growth, makes systems more efficient, and increases user autonomy, we acknowledge important downsides and costs of interconnectedness. The book is an attempt to build a theory of interoperability, by weaving together a rich set of case studies, that provides initial insight in how we can design optimum levels of interconnectedness. And indeed, the question of appropriate speed-bumps and “digital breakwaters” is among the most pressing and difficult issues we need to address.
As pointed out in the Nature review of Interop, we still have a long way to go to provide final answers to this set of hard questions. But we hope that the book introduces a helpful analytical framework and offers key normative considerations as we work together towards optimum levels of interconnectedness not only among technological systems and databases, but also among human beings and institutions.
If you are interested in learning more about interop, please check out our online resources with more materials to be added over the next few weeks and months. The book can be ordered via your preferred bookstore, and the video and recap from the Harvard book launch is available online here.