Cory Doctorow: What If People Were Sensors, Not Things to be Sensed?

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 More

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Cory Doctorow: Skynet Ascendant

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 More

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Cory Doctorow: Cheap Writing Tricks

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 More

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Cory Doctorow: Collective Action

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 More

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Cory Doctorow: Libraries and E-books

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 More

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Cory Doctorow: Teaching Computers Shows Us How Little We Understand About Ourselves

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 More

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Cory Doctorow: Improving Book Publicity in the 21st Century

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 More

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Cory Doctorow: Ten Years On

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 More

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Cory Doctorow: Where Characters Come From

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 More

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Cory Doctorow: The Internet of the Dead

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 More

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Cory Doctorow: Why Science Fiction Movies Drive Me Nuts

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 More

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Cory Doctorow: Music: The Internet’s Original Sin

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 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 More

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Cory Doctorow: A Prose By Any Other Name

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 More

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Cory Doctorow: What’s Inside the Box

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 More

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Cory Doctorow: A Vocabulary for Speaking about the Future

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 More

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Cory Doctorow: It’s Time to Stop Talking About Copyright

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 More

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Cory Doctorow: Why Should Anyone Care?

One of my most important formative experiences as a writer was working in bookstores. I worked in three shops: a specialist science fiction store (Bakka Books in Toronto), an academic store near the University of Toronto campus, and a dreadful suburban mall bookstore. Going into my first bookstore job, I’d been supremely confident in my understanding of the bookselling trade: after all, I’d been spending all my pocket money and ...Read More

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Cory Doctorow: No Endorsement

My 2009 novel Makers concerned itself, partly, with the upheaval that might attend cheap, ubiquitous 3D ‘‘printing.’’ I put ‘‘printing’’ in scare quotes because calling a device that produces arbitrary, articulated three dimensional objects (including functional, assembled multipart mechanisms and solid-state devices) on demand a ‘‘printer’’ is like calling a car a ‘‘horseless carriage’’ or Skype an ‘‘Internet telephone.’’

One aspect I didn’t delve into with much depth is the ...Read More

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Cory Doctorow: Techno-optimism

‘‘Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future?’’ It’s a question I get asked so often that I have a little canned response I can rattle off without thinking: ‘‘In order to be an activist, you have to be both: pessimistic enough to believe that things will get worse if left unchecked, optimistic enough to believe that if you take action, the worst can be prevented.’’

But there’s more to ...Read More

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Cory Doctorow: Explaining Creativity to a Martian

If science fiction’s unofficial motto is ‘‘All laws are local and no law knows how local it is,’’ then the purest expression of that law is the ‘‘Explaining things to a Martian’’ story – a tale in which humanity’s irrational frailty and manias are laid bare because some poor protagonist has to defend our practices to an alien (it helps if it’s a wise old alien, but a noble savage ...Read More

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Cory Doctorow:Net Neutrality for Writers: It’s All About the Leverage

Imagine this: you pick up the phone and call Vito’s, the excellent pizza joint down the road where your family’s gotten its favorite pepperoni and mushroom every Friday night for years. The phone rings once, twice, then:

‘‘AT&T: The number you have called is not engaged, but the recipient has not paid for premium service. Please hold for 30 seconds, or press ‘one’ to be connected to Domino’s immediately.’’

This ...Read More

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Cory Doctorow: A Cosmopolitan Literature for the Cosmopolitan Web

Standing in Melbourne airport on the day before this year’s World Science Fiction convention, I found myself playing the familiar road-game known to all who travel to cons: spot the fan. Sometimes, ‘‘spot the fan’’ is pitched as a pejorative, a bit of fun at fannish expense, a sneer about the fannish BMI, B-O, and general hairiness. But there are plenty of people who are heavyset, and practically everyone debarking ...Read More

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