Let’s say for the sake of argument that you voted for Donald Trump and you’re ecstatic that he’s taking the White House. You might even be rubbing your hands in glee at the thought that Obama was dumb enough to operationalize George W. Bush’s surveillance apparatus – rather than living up to his election promise to dismantle it – because now there’s a technological means by which President Trump can ...Read MoreRead more
Ever since the first days of public access to the Internet, activists like me have been making dire warnings about the privacy implications of leaving data-trails behind you when you engage in everyday activity. We hoped that people would think forward to the potential risks of disclosures down the road – that the individually harmless crumbs of personal information could be painstakingly, disastrously aggregated by criminals, or repressive governments, or ...Read MoreRead more
E-books are game-changers, but not in the way we all thought they would be. Far from taking over print, e-book sales have stagnated at less than a quarter of print sales and show every sign of staying there or declining for the foreseeable future.
But e-books continue to be a source of bitter controversy that divides publishers from two of their most potentially useful allies: writers’ groups and libraries.
Below, ...Read MoreRead more
I need to confess something: ‘‘Whuffie’’ would make a terrible currency.
In 2003, I published my first novel, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, in which all society’s scarcities, even death and energy, have been overcome, and where conflicts over resources – notably, who gets to run Walt Disney World and what they get to do there – are apportioned using a virtual currency called ‘‘Whuffie.’’ Unlike other ...Read MoreRead more
A problem is said to be ‘‘wicked’’ when the various parties engaged with it can’t even agree what the problem is, let alone the solution. As the name implies, wicked problems are hard to deal with.
More than a decade ago, the Federal Communications Commission got its first inkling of a wicked problem on its horizon.
Here’s the problem: around the world, we chop up the electromagnetic spectrum into dedicated-use ...Read MoreRead more
The Internet of Things is starting to emerge. You can tell it’s just starting, because we’re still using the ungainly name ‘‘Internet of Things.’’ It’s one of those coinages that tells you that we don’t know what a thing is or what it’s for, like ‘‘horseless carriage’’ or ‘‘3D printer.’’
But there’s one thing we do know about the IoT: it involves a lot of sensing. The IoT is what ...Read MoreRead more
As I’ve written here before, science fiction is terrible at predicting the future, but it’s great at predicting the present. SF writers imagine all the futures they can, and these futures are processed by a huge, dynamic system consisting of editors, booksellers, and readers. The futures that attain popular and commercial success tell us what fears and aspirations for technology and society are bubbling in our collective imaginations.
When you ...Read MoreRead more
Plots are funny things. In the real world, stuff is always happening, but it’s not a plot. People live. People die. People are made glorious or miserable. Things eagerly awaited are realized, or hopes are cruelly dashed. Love is gained; love is lost. But all these things are not a plot – they lack the fundamental tidiness and orderliness that makes a story a story.
In fiction-land, stories have beginnings, ...Read MoreRead more
Project Paperless LLC, a strange company whose ownership is shrouded in mystery, wants $1,000 for every person in your company who scans documents and e-mails them. They claim that they have a valid patent covering this ‘‘invention,’’ and while $1,000 per employee is a lot of cabbage, it’s nothing compared to what it would cost you to prove to a court that the patent is as bogus as we all ...Read MoreRead more
At the start of the summer, I traveled to Chicago for the annual national conference of the American Library Association. It was great. There are many utterly baseless clichés about librarians – the shushing spinster who prefers the company of books to humans is a creation of pure and unimaginative fantasy. But there is one way in which librarians live up to their reputation: they are superbly organized. I’ve been ...Read MoreRead more
A quote variously attributed to Richard Feynman and Albert Einstein has it that ‘‘If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t really understand it.’’ Most of us have encountered this in our lives: you think you really know something and understand it, and then you try to teach it and realize that you never understood it in the first place.
Computers are the children of the ...Read MoreRead more
I’m not complaining when I say that YA book-tours are a death march. I relish the chance to go on the road, and I’m profoundly grateful to my publisher, Tor, for sending me out with my books – in February, I hit 23 cities in 25 days with my novel Homeland, and in most cities, I did multiple school presentations as well as press stops and then a public ...Read MoreRead more
On February 5, 2013, Tor Teen published Homeland, the sequel to my first YA novel, Little Brother. As I write this in January ’13, I’m just gearing up for the tour, which mostly involves sending semi-form e-mails to nice people who’ve asked me to do something time-consuming, explaining that I’ve only got two weeks left until I disappear into the Tour, wherein I will see 22 cities in ...Read MoreRead more
Fiction is weird. The people in fiction are, well, fictional. Made up. They have no lives, and nothing they do, and nothing that happens to them has any consequences in the real world. By definition: made up people don’t affect reality.
And yet, our bodies don’t seem to know this. Yesterday, I actually made a loud, horrified noise as I read an advance copy of Daniel Kraus’s forthcoming – and ...Read MoreRead more
As I write this in September, 2012, Charlie Stross and I just returned from a tour with our novel Rapture of the Nerds, a book about – among other things – technological immortality as achieved through brain uploading. Digital mortality was very much on my mind as we crossed the country. I had begun my trip with a few days in Toronto, attending to a strange and new kind ...Read MoreRead more
My friends (and especially my wife) all understand that I’m the wrong guy to take to a big budget science fiction movie. I will freely admit that this is the case. Every summer, as I sit down in one darkened cave after another to eat candy and watch some very expensive polygons interact with another bunch of very expensive polygons, I find myself swirling with a curious and unpleasant mix ...Read MoreRead more
In a recent Search Engine podcast, host Jesse Brown wondered about music’s ongoing centrality to the debate over file-sharing and freedom. After all, the music
industry has all but abandoned lawsuits against fans, and services from Last.fm to the Amazon MP3 store present a robust set of legit ways of hearing and acquiring music. The labels have even abandoned DRM. So why is the music industry the enduring bogeyman of ...Read MoreRead more
Back in 2005, I did something weird. I decided that I would embark on a project to write short stories with the same (or similar) titles to famous science fiction books and stories. My initial motivation for this was Ray Bradbury objecting to Michael Moore calling a movie Fahrenheit 9/11, which led Bradbury to call Moore an ‘‘asshole’’ and a ‘‘horrible human being’’ who’d ‘‘stolen’’ the title. Like many ...Read MoreRead more
Computer science has long wrestled with the question of how anyone can know what a computer or the programs running on it are doing. The Halting Problem described by Alan Turing in 1936 tells us that in complex cases, it’s impossible to predict what a computer program will do without actually running it. A related problem is knowing whether any defects or errors exist in a computer program. This is ...Read MoreRead more
Science fiction writers and fans are prone to lauding the predictive value of the genre, prompting weird questions like ‘‘How can you write science fiction today? Aren’t you worried that real science will overtake your novel before it’s published?’’ This question has a drooling idiot of a half-brother, the strange assertion that ‘‘science fiction is dead because the future is here.’’
Now, I will stipulate that science fiction writers often ...Read MoreRead more
I inaugurated this column in 2008 with an editorial called ‘‘Why I Copyfight’’, which talked about the tricky balance between creativity, culture, and the relationship between audiences and creators. These have always been hard subjects, and the Internet has made them harder still, because the thing that triggers copyright rules – copying – is an intrinsic part of the functioning of the Internet and computers. There’s really no such thing ...Read MoreRead more