If the bullies at the school gate steal your kid’s lunch money every day, it doesn’t matter how much lunch money you give your kid, he’s not gonna get lunch. But how much lunch money you give your kid does matter – to the bullies. Hell, they might even start a campaign: “The children of Jack Valenti Elementary School are going hungry! Congress must step in to give those kids ...Read MoreRead more
“Five thousand quatloos that the newcomers will have to be destroyed.”
Quatloos. Credits. Euros. Dollars. Dogecoin.
At some point in your life, you’ve probably asked yourself, “What is money?” There’s something existential about pulling a bank-note out of your wallet and asking yourself, “Why does so much of my waking life revolve around getting more of these slips of green paper?” (Outside of the USA, you may ask ...Read MoreRead more
We’re all trapped on a bus.
The bus is barreling towards a cliff.
Beyond the cliff is a canyon plunge any of us will be lucky to survive.
Even if we survive, none of us know how we’ll climb out of that deep canyon.
Some of us want to yank the wheel.
The bus is going so fast that yanking the wheel could cause the bus to roll.
There might ...Read MoreRead more
Greetings from the past.
I write these words six weeks before you will read them. I used to do this all the time, back in the glory days of print. Hell, I spent most of the ’90s writing a monthly guide to interesting websites, which came out two months after I submitted it.
I’ve been writing six columns per year for Locus for fourteen years and I have not missed ...Read MoreRead more
Science fiction has a longstanding love-hate relationship with the tech tycoon. The literature is full of billionaire inventors, sometimes painted as system-bucking heroes, at other times as megalomanical supervillains.
From time to time, we even manage to portray one of these people in a way that hews most closely to reality: ordinary mediocrities, no better than you or I, whose success comes down to a combination of luck and a ...Read MoreRead more
From 1811-1816, a secret society styling themselves “the Luddites” smashed textile machinery in the mills of England. Today, we use “Luddite” as a pejorative referring to backwards, anti-technology reactionaries.
This proves that history really is written by the winners.
In truth, the Luddites’ cause wasn’t the destruction of technology – no more than the Boston Tea Party’s cause was the elimination of tea, or Al Qaeda’s cause was the end ...Read MoreRead more
Margaret Thatcher was the least science-fictional world leader in modern history.
Her motto was “There is no alternative,” a phrase she repeated so often it became an acronym: “TINA.”
She was referring to capitalism, asserting that there is no conceivable alternative. It was a cheap but remarkably effective rhetorical device, treating a demand as an observation. The true meaning of TINA isn’t “No alternative is possible,” but rather, “Stop trying ...Read MoreRead more
I care about monopolies for exactly one reason: self-determination. I don’t care about competition as an end unto itself, or fetishize “choice” for its own sake. What I care about is your ability to live your life in the way you think will suit you, to the greatest extent possible, and taking into account the obvious limits when other people’s needs and wants conflict with you realizing your own desires. ...Read MoreRead more
Last summer, the pandemic was in its first wave and the nation was in chaos. A lack of federal leadership left each state to figure out how to interpret the science, and many states punted public health decisions to counties or cities or even smaller units, like universities.
Leaders, left to their own, often winged it, letting wishful thinking trump prudence in the drive to find ways to “reopen safely.” ...Read MoreRead more
If you learned your economics from Heinlein novels or the University of Chicago, you probably think that “free market” describes an economic system that is free from government interference – where all consensual transactions between two or more parties are permissible.
But if you went to the source, Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, you’ll have found a very different definition of a free market: Smith’s concern wasn’t freedom from ...Read MoreRead more
As I write this in mid-November 2020, there’s quite a stir over the new version of Apple’s Mac OS, the operating system that runs on its laptops. For more than a year, Apple has engaged in a covert, global surveillance of its users through its operating system, which automatically sent information about which apps you were running to Apple, and which gave Apple a remote veto over whether that program ...Read MoreRead more
In “Full Employment“, my July 2020 column, I wrote, “I am an AI skeptic. I am baffled by anyone who isn’t. I don’t see any path from continuous improvements to the (admittedly impressive) ‘machine learning’ field that leads to a general AI any more than I can see a path from continuous improvements in horse-breeding that leads to an internal combustion engine.”
Today, I’d like to expand on that. Let’s ...Read MoreRead more
You’ve probably heard of “open source software.” If you pay attention to the politics of this stuff, you might have heard of “free software” and even know a little about the ethical debate underpinning the war of words between these two labels. I’ve been involved since the last century, but even I never really understood what’s going on in the background until recently.
I was looking up the history of ...Read MoreRead more
I am an AI skeptic. I am baffled by anyone who isn’t.
I don’t see any path from continuous improvements to the (admittedly impressive) ”machine learning” field that leads to a general AI any more than I can see a path from continuous improvements in horse-breeding that leads to an internal combustion engine.
Not only am I an AI skeptic, I’m an automation-employment-crisis skeptic. That is, I believe that even ...Read MoreRead more
In 1991, I read two documents from Bruce Sterling that changed the course of my professional and literary career. The first was “The Turkey City Lexicon”, which Sterling co-wrote with Lewis Shiner, an online classic that was finally published between covers in the 1991 Pulphouse edition of The SFWA Handbook, which I received in the mail with my newly minted SFWA membership kit.
The second was a print classic ...Read MoreRead more
A lever without a fulcrum is just a stick. That is, even the longest, sturdiest lever in the world will not shift even the tiniest object unless you have a fulcrum to balance it on.
Copyright law is billed as a lever creators can use to budge the corporations that bring our work to market. The companies may be large, and they may be powerful, but creators can resist that ...Read MoreRead more
In XKCD comic 1357, “Free Speech”, Randall Munroe offers a characteristically concise and snappy summary of one of the canonical arguments about free expression: “The right to free speech means the government can’t arrest you for what you say. It doesn’t mean anyone else has to listen to your bullshit, or host you while you share it…. If you’re yelled at… or get banned from an internet community your free ...Read MoreRead more
[All opinions expressed by commentators, guest bloggers, reviewers, and interviewees are solely their own and do not reflect the opinions of Locus magazine or its staff.]
At the Hugo Awards ceremony at this summer’s Dublin Worldcon, Jeannette Ng was presented with the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Ng gave an outstanding and brave acceptance speech in which she called Campbell – the award’s namesake and one of ...Read MoreRead more
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