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absence of regulation,
are most successful in
protecting investors and
fostering liquid markets.
That's one reason Second Life excites
economists: at little cost, they can create
a regulation-free control group.
Linden Lab, which owns Second Life,
maintains a largely hands-o policy
regarding disputes between residents. If
you start a business selling virtual tele-
visions that don't work, Linden Lab is
unlikely to step in when people complain.
It's also unlikely to take action if you list
a new company on a Second Life stock
exchange, then take investors' money and
spend it on virtual clothing or real-world
pizza. Instead, residents are forced to take
matters into their own hands. One started
the Virtual World Business Bureau, a vir-
tual version of the Better Business Bureau
that seeks to resolve business disputes and
provide information that will help people
avoid untrustworthy parties. Residents
running and listing on stock exchanges
created the Second Life Exchange Com-
mission to set minimum standards for
identity and financial disclosure.
How will this experiment in unregu-
lated commerce turn out? If these two
bureaus cannot earn the respect of the
Second Life community, I see two possi-
bilities. One is that as commercial activity
grows in Second Life, scandals will get
large enough to attract the attention of
real-world regulators. Alternatively, the
markets might fail to thrive because they
cannot engender enough trust, and resi-
dents will gladly invite the regulators in.
Of course, if the e orts within Second
Life actually turn out to work---reducing
incidence of fraud, increasing business
transparency, and establishing mecha-
nisms for trusted interactions---regula-
tors will probably be willing to delegate
oversight (as they largely do in the case
of real-world accounting standards, for
example). And it might just show that
actual economies can operate with less or
lighter regulation. Any of
these three outcomes will
teach us some valuable
lessons. I hope regulators
will have the patience to learn from Sec-
ond Life's small mistakes.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD IS A PROFESSOR OF
MANAGEMENT AND ACCOUNTING AT CORNELL
UNIVERSITY'S JOHNSON GRADUATE SCHOOL
Build from Scratch
WILLIAM J. MITCHELL SAYS THAT
TECHNOLOGY MAKES ARCHITEC
TURAL INNOVATION POSSIBLE.
FROM TIME TO TIME, harrumphing
old-timers, tabloid columnists, and talk
radio hosts get in a twist about buildings
that twist instead of going straight up
and down. They rail against structures
that defy conceptions of rationality they
take to be self-evident (see "The Building,
Digitally Remastered," p. 34).
But these conceptions are framed by
unexamined assumptions about techno-
logical possibilities and social priorities.
They are framed by ideology.
If, for example, your primary goal is to
minimize the construction
cost of a large project, it is
rational to try to minimize the
surface-to-volume ratio and
thus the amount of enclosing
material. This strategy pro-
duces fat, dumpy, boxy build-
ings that leave most of their
inhabitants deep in interior
spaces far from windows.
But people like natural light, air, and
views of the outside. So if you care more
about that, it is rational to maximize sur-
face-to-volume ratio, producing a highly
reticulated building like MIT's Stata
Center. This democratic strategy puts
many people on the exterior and gives a
lot of them corner o ces.
If you are an unregenerate Taylorist
in your conception of productive work,
it is rational to maximize the amount of
o ce or laboratory space on a floor while
shrinking circulation and public areas.
This is what architects know as maximiz-
ing the net-to-gross ratio. It produces
grim, cramped interiors like those of
the older laboratories at MIT, with long,
straight central corridors.
But if you believe that innovation
depends upon serendipitous encounters,
intellectual cross-connections, and infor-
mal social networks within organizations,
it is rational to provide plenty of space to
support such social dynamics. You will
invest more heavily in public spaces---
generous interior streets and piazzas---
instead of mere circulation channels.
If you think construction should be
about achieving economies of scale
through standardization and mass pro-
duction, it is rational to design buildings
consisting of repeating floors composed
of repeating rooms made from repeating
components on repeating grids.
But if you value responsiveness to var-
ied local needs and conditions, celebra-
tion of diversity and complexity, and the
joy of the unexpected, you might want
something more from architecture. And if
you understand the possibilities
of combining computer-aided
design with digitally controlled
fabrication and assembly, you
will know that complex, non-
repetitive buildings like the
"Gherkin" in London or the
Turning Torso in Malmö, Swe-
den, can now be created without
excessively high costs.
Technology does not determine archi-
tectural form; it serves as an enabler. New
tools---most recently digital design and
construction technologies---open up
new spatial and material possibilities
for exploration. Daring and imaginative
architects have seized the opportunity.
WILLIAM J. MITCHELL IS ALEXANDER DREYFOOS
PROFESSOR OF ARCHITECTURE AND MEDIA ARTS
AND SCIENCES AT MIT.
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