When states had established religions and all-powerful churches, the clergy could impose many indignities on their parishoners merely by asserting that it was “God’s will.” Our modern secular religion is the worship of markets as self-correcting, self-perfecting systems that merely demand that we all act in our own self-interest to produce an outcome that makes us all better off. Whenever corporations thrive by making us all worse off, we’re told ...Read MoreRead more
Several times over the 13 years that I’ve been writing this column, I’ve railed against the toxic myth that science fiction is a predictive literature, a way to know the future. Science fiction writers are not fortune tellers, and that’s obvious because no one is a (real) fortune teller, because the future is unknowable, and because the future changes based on what we do.
With that said, there are two ...Read MoreRead more
Take off your glasses for a sec (you’re a Locus reader, so I’m guessing that you, like me, are currently wearing prescription eyewear) and have a look at the manufacturer’s name on the temples. Specifically, check to see if they were made by Armani, Brooks Brothers, Burberry, Chanel, Coach, DKNY, Dolce & Gabbana, Michael Kors, Oakley, Oliver Peoples, Persol, Polo Ralph Lauren, Ray-Ban, Tiffany, Valentino, Vogue, or Versace. If so, ...Read MoreRead more
In 1660, John Locke published his Two Treatises of Government, where he set out to resolve the seeming conflict between individual property rights (which he valorized) and the Bible (ditto), which set out the principle that God had created the Earth and its bounty for all of humanity. How could a Christian claim to own something personally when God had intended for everyone to share in His creation?
Locke’s ...Read MoreRead more
The Silicon Valley gospel of “disruption” has descended into caricature, but, at its core, there are some sound tactics buried beneath the self-serving bullshit. A lot of our systems and institutions are corrupt, bloated, and infested with cream-skimming rentiers who add nothing and take so much.
Take taxis: there is nothing good about the idea that cab drivers and cab passengers meet each other by random chance, with the drivers ...Read MoreRead more
The internet operates on a revolutionary principle, underpinned by a revolutionary principle, overlaid by a revolutionary principle. Is it, therefore, revolutionary?
The revolutionary principle the internet runs on is this: the “end-to-end” principle, which states that any person using the internet can communicate with any other person on the internet without getting any third party’s permission. If you want to connect to my webserver, you simply connect to it: you ...Read MoreRead more
Once, the mainstream view was that worrying about tech policy was faintly ridiculous, a kind of masturbatory science fictional exercise in which your hyperactive imagination led you to have vivid delusions about the supposed significance of the rules we laid down for the internet and the computers we connect to it.
Weirdly, worrying about this stuff made you a “techno utopian,” though it’s a strange type of utopian who spends ...Read MoreRead more
For 20 years, privacy advocates have been sounding the alarm about commercial online surveillance, the way that companies gather deep dossiers on us to help marketers target us with ads. This pitch fell flat: by and large, people were skeptical of the efficacy of targeted advertising; the ads we got were rarely very persuasive, and when they did work, it was usually because the advertisers had figured out what we ...Read MoreRead more
The dominance of ad-supported businesses online created an odd and perverse incentive to “maximize engagement” – to go to enormous lengths to create tools that people used for as long as possible, even when this made the product worse. Think of how Google added a “trending searches” dropdown to the default search-bar on Android, so that any time you went looking for a specific piece of information (the ...Read MoreRead more
At long last, the techlash has arrived, and not a minute too soon. I have been involved in the tech industry since I got my first programming job in 1988. I’ve been a sysadmin, a CIO, a trainer, a software company founder, and an activist. I’ve argued against terrible laws and argued for good ones. I’ve dreamed of the promise of tech and been haunted by its peril. Depending on ...Read MoreRead more
As we all know, time travelers have to be very careful when they visit the past, because their evolved immune systems allow them to harbor pathogens that the olde timey people are defenseless against. One careless bowel movement, a single badly timed cough, a bit of blood spilled, and whole civilizations are in pandemic peril.
Surviving to the future means adapting to the risks of the past. Our ancestors harbored ...Read MoreRead more
I was there when “lifehacking” was born. It was the 11th of February, 2004, at the O’Reilly Emerging Technology Conference, held in a giant conference hotel in San Diego. I was on the committee for ETech (as we called it) and I had lobbied hard for the inclusion of a talk called “Life Hacks: Tech Secrets of Overprolific Alpha Geeks” by Danny O’Brien, a technology columnist and former standup comedian ...Read MoreRead more
Cheating is a given.
Inspectors certify that gas-station pumps are pumping unadulterated fuel and accurately reporting the count, and they put tamper-evident seals on the pumps that will alert them to attempts by station owners to fiddle the pumps in their favor. Same for voting machines, cash registers, and the scales at your grocery store.
The basic theory of cheating is to assume that the cheater is ‘‘rational’’ and won’t ...Read MoreRead more
The legendary musician, producer, and weirdo Brian Eno has many notable accomplishments and high among them is the production of the ‘‘Oblique Strategies’’ deck, a deck of cards emblazoned with gnomic and hard-to-parse advice that is meant to shake your creative rut: ‘‘Fill every beat with something,’’ or ‘‘Infinitesimal gradations’’ or ‘‘Do nothing for as long as possible.’’
My favorite of these – first learned from Bruce Sterling – is ...Read MoreRead more
When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’’ To this day, especially in times of ‘‘disaster,’’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.
In ...Read MoreRead more
In 1972, a group of researchers funded by the Volkswagen Foundation published a seismic book called Limits to Growth, which used the most sophisticated techniques of the day to model the planet Earth and project its future. The book’s authors were trying to figure out how rosy a future the world’s poor could count on: would they some day enjoy the cars and refrigerators and other benefits of the ...Read MoreRead more
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