Cory Doctorow Predicts a War on General Purpose Computers

Watch this excellent presentation by science fiction author Cory Doctorow:

“The last 20 years of Internet policy have been dominated by the copyright war, but the war turns out only to have been a skirmish. The coming century will be dominated by a war against the general purpose computer, and the stakes are the freedom, fortune and privacy of the entire human race.

“The problem is twofold: first, there is no known general-purpose computer that can execute all the programs we can think of except the naughty ones; second, general-purpose computers have replaced every other device in our world. There are no airplanes, only computers that fly. There are no cars, only computers we sit in. There are no hearing aids, only computers we put in our ears. There are no 3D printers, only computers that drive peripherals. There are no radios, only computers with fast ADCs and DACs and phased-array antennas. Consequently anything you do to “secure” anything with a computer in it ends up undermining the capabilities and security of every other corner of modern human society.

“And general purpose computers can cause harm — whether it’s printing out AR15 components, causing mid-air collisions, or snarling traffic. So the number of parties with legitimate grievances against computers are going to continue to multiply, as will the cries to regulate PCs.”

(Video and quote via Linas Vepstas)

2 thoughts on “Cory Doctorow Predicts a War on General Purpose Computers

  1. WOW, you never quite understand what’s going on until you get it all laid out in front of you like that. Now I have satellite internet and have capped bandwidth at 12gigs per month (yes you can cry for me) so I can’t watch the whole thing but I did watch a reasonable bit of it to get the point.

    I think the best option we have is professional grade electronics that come from projects like Arduino. Now I’m not saying you can make an IPad clone with Arduino but I think that is where we have to push, people with the know how in the field have to start developing open source tech like that.

    I think groups like BUild are awesome, they teach people that type of stuff but when you look at what the public comes up with compared to what the professional corporate world comes up with, there is no competition. At least in the sense of hardware.

    Software you can compete easily Indie versus Corporate, Linux for example has had Multiple professional looking OS’s come out and in multiple categories, for phone systems, users, IPCop, IT professionals, etc. But the real world knowledge and capabilities is lacking for hardware indies. The cost is just too high in my view for that ever to take off like that, and then on top of that say some indie developer does make an open source cell phone, which carrier would support the phone. That’s money lost for their phone developers and risks phreakers messing with the services.

    Somehow we need to be able to make that professional grade tech and cheaply. Maybe redesigning computers around abundant materials will be a must. That way the every day joe/jane can make their own computers.

    IDK, I’m ranting but the speech was really mind jogging gets you thinking of how to circumvent the end result with freedom. Either way it is not only a question about the tech but about our society and how we redesign it.

    Very cool stuff for the people who care.

    • Yeah it really is a tremendously stimulating talk.

      The hardware vs. software issue is important. If we dare to be optimistic, we can hope that near future technologies will lower the barriers to creating “indie” hardware. I can imagine a few ways that such a future might come about, but it’s in no way certain.

      It may be that the indie computers can never quite match the corporate computers in terms of raw power. But how much raw computing power does one really need? For a lot of people, there might be a point at which you simply have “enough” for most practical purposes.