Editor’s note: Former Triangle tech entrepreneur Vivek Wadhwa, now an author and academic, is a frequent contributor to WRALTechWire. You can read more from Vivek at his web site.

SAN FRANCISCO - Employers can get into legal trouble if they ask interviewees about their religion, sexual preference, or political affiliation. Yet they can use social media to filter out job applicants based on their beliefs, looks, and habits. Laws forbid lenders from discriminating on the basis of race, gender, and sexuality. Yet they can refuse to give a loan to people whose Facebook friends have bad payment histories, if their work histories on LinkedIn don’t match their bios on Facebook, or if a computer algorithm judges them to be socially undesirable.

These regulatory gaps exist because laws have not kept up with advances in technology. The gaps are getting wider as technology advances ever more rapidly. And it’s not just in employment and lending—the same is happening in every domain that technology touches.

“That is how it must be, because law is, at its best and most legitimate—in the words of Gandhi—‘codified ethics,’ ” says Preeta Bansal, a former general counsel in the White House. She explains that effective laws and standards of ethics are guidelines accepted by members of a society, and that these require the development of a social consensus.

Take the development of copyright laws, which followed the creation of the printing press. When first introduced in the 1400s, the printing press was disruptive to political and religious elites because it allowed knowledge to spread and experiments to be shared. It helped spur the decline of the Holy Roman Empire, through the spread of Protestant writings; the rise of nationalism and nation-states, due to rising cultural self-awareness; and eventually the Renaissance. Debates about the ownership of ideas raged for about 300 years before the first statutes were enacted by Great Britain.

Similarly, the steam engine, the mass production of steel, and the building of railroads in the 18th and 19th centuries led to the development of intangible property rights and contract law. These were based on cases involving property over track, tort liability for damage to cattle and employees, and eminent domain (the power of the state to forcibly acquire land for public utility).

Read the remainder of this post at MIT Technology Review.

(C) Vivek Wadhwa