While the Professors at Wharton are asking about whether technology is too complex (see previous posting Unusable technology), David Wessel of the Wall Street Journal is asking whether we have too much information –Better Information Isn’t Always Beneficial:
How about the service offered by LegalMetric LLC, a start-up founded by patent lawyer Greg Upchurch? Contemplating a patent-infringement case in Delaware? For $795, Mr. Upchurch will tell you which judges rule most swiftly and which tend to favor patent holders. Making a motion for summary judgment? Mr. Upchurch can tell you how the judge has ruled on similar motions versus his peers.
These data always have been available in court files, but putting the pieces together was so expensive no one did it. Now, it’s on the U.S. federal judiciary’s Web site. Mr. Upchurch and his two employees download dockets, key information into a database and push a button so their software generates detailed reports.
For lawyer and client, this knowledge can be very valuable. But does it increase the chances that the judge will come to a just decision?
It is the sort of information that Nobel laureate Kenneth Arrow labeled “socially useless but privately valuable.” It doesn’t help the economy produce more goods or services. It creates nothing of beauty or pleasure. It simply helps someone get a bigger slice of the pie. Sure, if the product helps win cases, then both sides will buy it — just as both sides in high-stakes product-liability cases invest in jury-selection experts and software — and neither will have an unfair advantage. But does that make the society better off?
Too much to contemplate right now. Suffice it to say that the old saying “more is not necessarily better” applied to information and technology and the rest of the I-Cubed Economy.