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Must Read: The Coming War on General Computation

Here is another “you really should read this” article.  Well, strictly speaking, it is a transcript of a video.  I saw links to the video soon after it was new, but I didn’t have time to watch the video (almost an hour) and it took me awhile to even have time to read the transcript… :-)

The Coming War on General Computation
(Presented at 28C3 by Cory Doctorow, Transcribed by Joshua Wise)

It’s not that regulators don’t understand information technology, because it should be possible to be a non-expert and still make a good law! M.P.s and Congressmen and so on are elected to represent districts and people, not disciplines and issues. We don’t have a Member of Parliament for biochemistry, and we don’t have a Senator from the great state of urban planning, and we don’t have an M.E.P. from child welfare. (But perhaps we should.) And yet those people who are experts in policy and politics, not technical disciplines, nevertheless, often do manage to pass good rules that make sense, and that’s because government relies on heuristics – rules of thumbs about how to balance expert input from different sides of an issue.

But information technology confounds these heuristics – it kicks the crap out of them – in one important way, and this is it. One important test of whether or not a regulation is fit for a purpose is first, of course, whether it will work, but second of all, whether or not in the course of doing its work, it will have lots of effects on everything else. If I wanted Congress to write, or Parliament to write, or the E.U. to regulate a wheel, it’s unlikely I’d succeed. If I turned up and said “well, everyone knows that wheels are good and right, but have you noticed that every single bank robber has four wheels on his car when he drives away from the bank robbery? Can’t we do something about this?”, the answer would of course be “no”. Because we don’t know how to make a wheel that is still generally useful for legitimate wheel applications but useless to bad guys. And we can all see that the general benefits of wheels are so profound that we’d be foolish to risk them in a foolish errand to stop bank robberies by changing wheels. Even if there were an /epidemic/ of bank robberies, even if society were on the verge of collapse thanks to bank robberies, no-one would think that wheels were the right place to start solving our problems.

Or, for those that prefer, the original video is below.

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