Cory Doctorow and Stewart Brand get me thinking…

Last night I went to see Cory Doctorow’s lecture, “The Coming Century of War Against Your Computer,” hosted by Stewart Brand and The Long Now Foundation.

Before I get into that though, I have to confess that though I’d never (to my knowledge) seen Cory Doctorow until last night, he’s been an invisible presence in my social landscape for the past few years. Why? I couldn’t put my finger on it. The most obvious explanation for this is that his writing appears in the websites and journals I read. That wasn’t it though. I read many well-known authors and I don’t have the feeling they are about to show up at my party–and especially not those that live in London.

I bit the bullet and went through the people he follows on Twitter. Bingo – and phew! I was starting to worry that I was constructing imaginary friendships with people who seem like they have the right personality to live in San Francisco, but it turned out Corey Doctorow does follow a number of people I’ve met and several of my good friends. My mind is at ease. His name would have come up in conversation throughout the last decade, and not in the “Have you read…” category.

Now, back to business. The title of the lecture wasn’t what was listed on the event site, but rather, “The Coming Civil War Over General-Purpose Computing.” Neither title really captured the real theme of the lecture, or should I say, the part that interested me.

Cory Doctorow and Stewart Brand, just before they ascended

Disclaimer: I didn’t take notes, and I’d had a large bottle of sake before the lecture, so my recollections will be deeply inaccurate. Most of my musings were inspired by the talk, not the content of the talk itself.

The talk centered on the changing boundaries of ownership and privacy. In the past, it was possible for a person to really own something. I own my old Honda Civic. I can get in it right now and drive it off a cliff on Highway 1 if I so desire. However, when driverless cars hit the road, who owns what? There will be a computer in that car, loaded with software, interacting with the road software, other car’s software, on and on. I might own the car, but do I own the software? Who controls the software? If my car hears me on the phone talking about my plans to drive off a cliff, can it decide not to start up? All of our appliances are getting smarter and part of their brains are going to be housed off-site. How will that effect our privacy? Can we expect privacy at home, and can we find ways to keep information private when we interact with public technology?

Privacy is a theme in my novel Six. The main character grows up in a world where privacy is only guaranteed within the walls of the home. Anything that happens outside the home is literally corporate property. Though little is taboo on planet Victoria, everyone has a secret, and everyone learns how to hide it. Unfortunately, that might mean lying to your toilet.

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