Cory Doctorow: The coming war on general computation

Cory Doctorow has a great speech up, The coming war on general computation, delivered at the the 28C3, the recent Chaos Computer Congress in Berlin. (He’s also written an article based on the transcript.) Doctorow explains that how the copyright interests want general purpose computers to be regulated, or hobbled, so that people cannot evade copyright restrictions and copyright circumvention prohibitions. (Why Doctorow is not yet a complete copyright abolitionists is a mystery to me.) He has an interesting point at around 45:00 about how the Internet and technology only provides an incremental benefit to the state, since they are already organized enough to be in charge, but can provide a more qualitative change–a “phase shift”–for the subjects of the state, in helping them to better organize and fight the state.

His summary of the talk:

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 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.