So, when I speak in places where the first lan­guage of the nation is not English, there is a dis­claimer and an apol­o­gy, because I am one of nature’s fast talk­ers. When I was at the United Nations at the World Intellectual Property Organization, I was known as the scourge of the simul­ta­ne­ous trans­la­tion corps. I would stand up and speak and turn around, and there would be win­dow after win­dow of trans­la­tor. And every one of them would be doing this. [places face in hand] So in advance, I give you per­mis­sion when I start talk­ing quick­ly to do this [waves hands in air] and I will slow down.

So, tonight’s talk is not a copy­right talk. I do copy­right talks all the time. Questions about cul­ture and cre­ativ­i­ty are inter­est­ing enough, but to be hon­est I’m quite sick of them. If you want to hear free­lancer writ­ers like me bang on about what’s hap­pen­ing to the way we earn our liv­ing, by all means go and find one of the many talks I’ve done on this sub­ject on YouTube. But tonight I want to talk about some­thing more impor­tant. I want to talk about gen­er­al pur­pose com­put­ers. Because gen­er­al pur­pose com­put­ers are in fact astound­ing. So astound­ing that our soci­ety is still strug­gling to come to grips with them. To fig­ure out what they’re for. To fig­ure out how to accom­mo­date them and how to cope with them. Which, unfor­tu­nate­ly, brings me back to copy­right.

Because the gen­er­al shape of the copy­right wars and the lessons they can teach us about the upcom­ing fights over the des­tiny of the gen­er­al pur­pose com­put­er are impor­tant. In the begin­ning, we had pack­aged soft­ware and the atten­dant indus­try, and we had Sneakernet. So we had flop­py disks in Ziploc bags, or in card­board box­es, hung on pegs in shops and sold like can­dy bars and mag­a­zines. And they were emi­nent­ly sus­cep­ti­ble to dupli­ca­tion, and so they were dupli­cat­ed quick­ly and wide­ly, and this was to the great cha­grin of peo­ple who made and sold soft­ware.

Enter DRM 0.96. They start­ed to intro­duce phys­i­cal defects to the disks, or start­ed to insist on oth­er phys­i­cal indi­cia which the soft­ware could check for. Dongles, hid­den sec­tors, challenge/response pro­to­cols that required that you had phys­i­cal pos­ses­sion of large, unwieldy man­u­als that were dif­fi­cult to copy. And of course these failed, for two rea­sons. First, they were com­mer­cial­ly unpop­u­lar of course, because they reduced the use­ful­ness of the soft­ware to the legit­i­mate pur­chasers, while leav­ing the peo­ple who took the soft­ware with­out pay­ing for it untouched. The legit­i­mate pur­chasers resent­ed the non-functionality of their back­ups. They hat­ed the loss of scarce ports to the authen­ti­ca­tion don­gles. And they resent­ed the incon­ve­nience of hav­ing to trans­port large man­u­als when they want­ed to run their soft­ware.

And sec­ond, these did­n’t stop pirates, who found it triv­ial to patch the soft­ware and bypass authen­ti­ca­tion. Typically, the way that hap­pened is some expert who had pos­ses­sion of tech­nol­o­gy and exper­tise of equiv­a­lent sophis­ti­ca­tion to the soft­ware ven­dor itself, would reverse engi­neer the soft­ware and release cracked ver­sions that quick­ly became wide­ly cir­cu­lat­ed. While this kind of exper­tise and tech­nol­o­gy sound­ed high­ly spe­cial­ized, it real­ly was­n’t. Figuring out what recal­ci­trant pro­grams were doing, and rout­ing around the defects in shit­ty flop­py disk media were both core skills for com­put­er pro­gram­mers, and were even more so in the era of frag­ile flop­py disks and the rough-and-ready ear­ly days of soft­ware devel­op­ment. Anti-copying strate­gies only became more fraught as net­works spread. Once we had BBSes, online ser­vices, Usenet news­groups, and mail­ing lists, the exper­tise of peo­ple who fig­ured out how to defeat these authen­ti­ca­tion sys­tems could be pack­aged up in soft­ware and passed around as lit­tle crack files, or as the net­work capac­i­ty increased, the cracked disk images or exe­cuta­bles them­selves could be spread on their own.

Which gave us DRM 1.0. By 1996, it became clear to every­one in the halls of pow­er that there was some­thing impor­tant about to hap­pen. We were about to have an infor­ma­tion econ­o­my, what­ev­er the hell that was. They assumed it meant an econ­o­my where we bought and sold infor­ma­tion. Now, infor­ma­tion tech­nol­o­gy makes things effi­cient, so imag­ine the mar­kets that an infor­ma­tion econ­o­my would have. You could buy a book for a day. You could sell the right to watch the movie for one euro. And then you could rent out the pause but­ton at one pen­ny per sec­ond. You could sell movies for one price in one coun­try, and anoth­er price in anoth­er, and so on, and so on. The fan­tasies of those days were a lit­tle like a bor­ing sci­ence fic­tion adap­ta­tion of the Old Testament book of Numbers, a kind of tedious enu­mer­a­tion of every per­mu­ta­tion of things peo­ple do with infor­ma­tion, and the ways we could charge them for it.

But none of this would be pos­si­ble unless we could con­trol how peo­ple use their com­put­ers and the files that we trans­fer to them. After all, it was well and good to talk about sell­ing some­one the twenty-four hour right to a video, or the right to move music onto an iPod, but not the right to move music from the iPod onto anoth­er device. But how the hell could you do that once you’d giv­en them the file?

In order to do that, to make this work, you need­ed to fig­ure out how to stop com­put­ers from run­ning cer­tain pro­grams and inspect­ing cer­tain files and process­es. For exam­ple, you could encrypt the file, and then require the user to run a pro­gram that only unlocked the file under cer­tain cir­cum­stances. But as they say on the Internet, now you have two prob­lems. You also now have to stop the user from sav­ing the file while it’s in the clear, and you have to stop the user from fig­ur­ing out where the unlock­ing pro­gram stores its keys, because if the user finds the keys she’ll just decrypt the file and throw away that stu­pid play­er app.

And now you have three prob­lems. Because now you have to stop the users who fig­ure out how to ren­der the file in the clear from shar­ing it with oth­er users. And now you’ve got four prob­lems. Because now you have to stop the users who fig­ure out how to extract secrets from unlock­ing pro­grams from telling oth­er users how to do it, too. And now you’ve got five prob­lems. Because now you have to stop users who fig­ure out how to extract secrets from unlock­ing pro­grams from telling oth­er users what the secrets were. That’s a lot of prob­lems.

But by 1996, we had a solu­tion. We had the WIPO Copyright Treaty, passed by the United Nations World Intellectual Property Organization, which cre­at­ed laws that made it ille­gal to extract secrets from unlock­ing pro­grams. And it cre­at­ed laws that made it ille­gal to extract media clear­t­exts from the unlock­ing pro­grams while they were run­ning. And it cre­at­ed laws that made it ille­gal to tell peo­ple how to extract secrets from unlock­ing pro­grams. And it cre­at­ed laws that made it ille­gal to host copy­right­ed works, and secrets, and all with a handy stream­lined process that let you remove stuff from the Internet with­out hav­ing to screw around with lawyers and judges and all that crap.

And with that, ille­gal copy­ing end­ed for­ev­er [laugh­ter], the infor­ma­tion econ­o­my blos­somed into a beau­ti­ful flower that brought pros­per­i­ty to the whole wide world. As they say on the air­craft car­ri­ers, Mission accom­plished”. [laugh­ter]

Well, of course that’s not how the sto­ry ends, because pret­ty much any­one who under­stood com­put­ers and net­works under­stood that while these laws would cre­ate more prob­lems than they could pos­si­bly solve. After all, these were laws that made it ille­gal to look inside your com­put­er when it was run­ning cer­tain pro­grams. They made it ille­gal to tell peo­ple what you found when you looked inside your com­put­er. They made it easy to cen­sor mate­r­i­al on the Internet with­out hav­ing to prove that any­thing wrong had hap­pened. In short, they made unre­al­is­tic demands on real­i­ty and real­i­ty did not oblige them.

After all, copy­ing only got eas­i­er fol­low­ing the pas­sage of these laws. Copying will only ever get eas­i­er. Here, 2011, this is as hard as copy­ing will get! Your grand­chil­dren will turn to you around the Christmas table and say, Tell me again, Grandpa. Tell me again, Grandma, about when it was hard to copy things in 2011. When you could­n’t get a dri­ve the size of your fin­ger­nail that could hold every song ever record­ed, every movie ever made, every word ever spo­ken, every pic­ture ever tak­en, every­thing, and trans­fer it in such a short peri­od of time you did­n’t even notice it was doing it. Tell us again when it was so stu­pid­ly hard to copy things back in 2011.”

And so, real­i­ty assert­ed itself, and every­one had a good laugh over how fun­ny our mis­con­cep­tions were when we entered the 21st cen­tu­ry and then a last­ing peace was reached with free­dom and pros­per­i­ty for all.

Well, not real­ly. Because, like the nurs­ery rhyme lady who swal­lows a spi­der to catch a fly, and has to swal­low a bird to catch the spi­der, and a cat to catch the bird, and so on, so must a reg­u­la­tion that has broad gen­er­al appeal but is dis­as­trous in its imple­men­ta­tion beget a new reg­u­la­tion aimed at shoring up the fail­ure of the old one.

Now, it’s tempt­ing to stop the sto­ry here and con­clude that the prob­lem is that law­mak­ers are either clue­less or evil, or pos­si­bly evil­ly clue­less, and just leave it there, which is not a very sat­is­fy­ing place to go because it’s fun­da­men­tal­ly a coun­sel of despair. It sug­gests that our prob­lems can­not be solved for so long as stu­pid­i­ty and evil­ness are present in the halls of pow­er, which is to say they will nev­er be solved.

But I have anoth­er the­o­ry about what’s hap­pened. 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. MPs 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 MEP 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 thumb about how to bal­ance out 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 pur­pose is first whether, of course, 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 or Parliament to write, or the EU to reg­u­late, a wheel, it’s unlike­ly I’d suc­ceed. If I turned up and said, Well, every­one knows 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.

But, if I were to show up in that same body to say that I had absolute proof that hands-free phones were mak­ing cars dan­ger­ous, and I said, I would like you to pass a law that says it’s ille­gal to put a hands-free phone in a car,” the reg­u­la­tor might say, Yeah, I take your point. We’ll do that.” And we might dis­agree about whether or not this is a good idea or whether or not my evi­dence made sense, but very few of us would say, Well, once you take the hands-free phones out of the car, they stop being cars.” We under­stand that we can keep cars cars even if we remove fea­tures from them. Cars are special-purpose, at least in com­par­i­son to wheels, and all that the addi­tion of a hands-free phone does is add one more fea­ture to an already spe­cial­ized tech­nol­o­gy.

In fact, there’s that heuris­tic that we can apply here. Special-purpose tech­nolo­gies are com­plex. And you can remove fea­tures from them with­out doing fun­da­men­tal dis­fig­ur­ing vio­lence to their under­ly­ing util­i­ty. This rule of thumb serves reg­u­la­tors well by and large, but it is ren­dered null and void by the general-purpose com­put­er and the general-purpose net­work, the PC and the Internet. Because if you think of com­put­er soft­ware as a fea­ture, that is a com­put­er with spread­sheets run­ning on it has a spread­sheet fea­ture, and one that’s run­ning World of Warcraft has an MMORPG fea­ture, then this heuris­tic leads you to think that you could rea­son­ably say, Make me a com­put­er that does­n’t run spread­sheets,” and that it would be no more of an attack on com­put­ing than, Make me a car with­out a hands-free phone” is an attack on cars.

And if you think of pro­to­cols and sites as fea­tures of the net­work, then say­ing, Fix the Internet so that it does­n’t run BitTorrent,” or, Fix the Internet so that thep​i​rate​bay​.org no longer resolves,” it sounds a lot like Change the sound of busy sig­nals,” or, Take that pizze­ria on the cor­ner off the phone net­work,” and not like an attack on the fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ples of inter­net­work­ing.

Not real­iz­ing that this rule of thumb that works for cars and hous­es and every oth­er sub­stan­tial area of tech­no­log­i­cal reg­u­la­tion fails for the Internet does not make you evil and it does not make you an igno­ra­mus. It just makes you part of that vast major­i­ty of the world for whom ideas like Turing com­plete” and end-to-end” are mean­ing­less. So our reg­u­la­tors go off and they blithe­ly pass these laws, and they become part of the real­i­ty of our tech­no­log­i­cal world.

There are sud­den­ly num­bers that we aren’t allowed to write down on the Internet, pro­grams we’re not allowed to pub­lish. And all it takes to make legit­i­mate mate­r­i­al dis­ap­pear from the Internet is to say, That? That infringes copy­right.” It fails to attain the actu­al goal of the reg­u­la­tion. It does­n’t stop peo­ple from vio­lat­ing copy­right, but it bears a kind of super­fi­cial resem­blance to copy­right enforce­ment. It sat­is­fies the secu­ri­ty syl­lo­gism. Something must be done; I am doing some­thing; some­thing has been done. And thus, any fail­ures that arise can be blamed on the idea that the reg­u­la­tion does­n’t go far enough rather than the idea that it was flawed from the out­set.

This kind of super­fi­cial resem­blance and under­ly­ing diver­gence hap­pens in oth­er engi­neer­ing con­texts. I have a friend who was once a senior exec­u­tive at a big con­sumer pack­aged goods com­pa­ny who told me about what hap­pened when the mar­ket­ing depart­ment told the engi­neers that they’d thought up a great idea for deter­gent. From now on, they were going to make deter­gent that made your clothes new­er every time you washed them.

Well, after the engi­neers had tried unsuc­cess­ful­ly to con­vey the con­cept of entropy to the mar­ket­ing depart­ment, they arrived at anoth­er solu­tion. (“Solution.”) They devel­oped a deter­gent that used enzymes that attacked loose fiber ends, the kind that you get with bro­ken fibers that make your clothes look old. So every time you washed your clothes in the deter­gent, they would look new­er, but that was because the deter­gent was lit­er­al­ly digest­ing your clothes. Using it would cause your clothes to lit­er­al­ly dis­solve in the wash­ing machine. This was the oppo­site of mak­ing clothes new­er. Instead, you were arti­fi­cial­ly aging your clothes every time you washed them. And as a user, the more you deployed the solu­tion,” the more dras­tic your mea­sures had to be to keep your
clothes up to date. You actu­al­ly had to go buy new clothes because the old ones fell apart.

So today we have mar­ket­ing depart­ments who say things like, We don’t need com­put­ers, we need…appliances. Make me a com­put­er that does­n’t run every pro­gram, just a pro­gram that does this spe­cial­ized task like stream­ing audio or rout­ing pack­ets or play­ing Xbox games. And make sure it does­n’t run pro­grams that I haven’t autho­rized that might under­mine our prof­its.” And on the sur­face, this seems like a rea­son­able idea. Just a pro­gram that does one spe­cial­ized task. After all, we can put an elec­tric motor in a blender, and we can install a motor in a dish­wash­er, and we don’t wor­ry whether it’s still pos­si­ble to run a dish­wash­ing pro­gram in a blender.

But that’s not what we do when we turn a com­put­er into an appli­ance.” We’re not mak­ing a com­put­er that runs only the appli­ance” app. We’re mak­ing a com­put­er that can run every pro­gram, but which uses some com­bi­na­tion of rootk­its, spy­ware, and code-signing to pre­vent the user from know­ing which process­es are run­ning, from installing her own soft­ware, and from ter­mi­nat­ing process­es that she does­n’t want. In oth­er words, an appli­ance is not a stripped-down com­put­er. It is a fully-functional com­put­er with spy­ware on it out of the box. [applause] Thanks.

Because we don’t know how to build the gen­er­al pur­pose com­put­er that is capa­ble of run­ning any pro­gram we can com­pile except for some pro­gram that we don’t like, or that we pro­hib­it by law, or that los­es us mon­ey. The clos­est approx­i­ma­tion we have to this is a com­put­er with spy­ware. A com­put­er on which remote par­ties set poli­cies with­out the com­put­er user’s knowl­edge, over the objec­tion of the com­put­er’s own­er. And so it is that dig­i­tal rights man­age­ment always con­verges on mal­ware.

There was of course this famous inci­dent, a kind of gift to peo­ple who have this hypoth­e­sis, in which Sony loaded covert rootk­it installers on six mil­lion audio CDs, which secret­ly exe­cut­ed pro­grams that watched for attempts to read the sound files on CDs and ter­mi­nat­ed them, and which also hid the rootk­it’s exis­tence by caus­ing the ker­nel to lie about which process­es were run­ning, and which files were present on the dri­ve.

But it’s not the only exam­ple. Just recent­ly, Nintendo shipped the 3DS, which oppor­tunis­ti­cal­ly updates its firmware and does an integri­ty check to make sure that you haven’t altered the old firmware in any way. And if it detects signs of tam­per­ing, it bricks itself.

Human rights activists have raised alarms over UEFI, the new PC boot­loader that restricts your com­put­er so it runs signed oper­at­ing sys­tems, not­ing that repres­sive gov­ern­ments will like­ly with­hold sig­na­tures from OSes unless they have covert sur­veil­lance oper­a­tions.

And on the net­work side, attempts to make a net­work that can’t be used for copy­right infringe­ment always con­verges with the sur­veil­lance and con­trol mea­sures that we know from repres­sive gov­ern­ments. So, SOPA, the American US Stop Online Piracy Act, bans tools like DNSSEC because they can be used to defeat DNS-blocking mea­sures. And it bans tools like Tor, because they can be used to cir­cum­vent IP-blocking mea­sures. In fact, the pro­po­nents of SOPA, the Motion Picture Association of America, cir­cu­lat­ed a memo cit­ing research that SOPA would prob­a­bly work, because it uses the same mea­sures as are used in Syria, China, and Uzbekistan. And they argued that these mea­sures are effec­tive in those coun­tries, and so they would work in America, too. [applause] Don’t applaud me, applaud the MPAA.

Now, it may seem like SOPA is the end game in a long fight over copy­right and the Internet, and it may seem like if we defeat SOPA, we’ll be well on our way to secur­ing the free­dom of PCs ad net­works. But as I said at the begin­ning of this talk, this isn’t about copy­right. Because the copy­right wars are just the 0.9 beta ver­sion of the long com­ing war on com­pu­ta­tion. The enter­tain­ment indus­try were just the first bel­liger­ents in this com­ing century-long con­flict. We tend to think of them as par­tic­u­lar­ly suc­cess­ful. After all, here is SOPA, trem­bling on the verge of pas­sage, break­ing the Internet on this fun­da­men­tal lev­el in the name of pre­serv­ing Top 40 music, real­i­ty TV shows, and Ashton Kutcher movies.

But the real­i­ty is that copy­right leg­is­la­tion gets as far as it does pre­cise­ly because it’s not tak­en seri­ous­ly. Which is why on one hand Canada has had Parliament after Parliament intro­duce one stu­pid copy­right law after anoth­er. But on the oth­er hand, Parliament after Parliament has failed to actu­al­ly vote on the bill. It’s why we got SOPA, a bill com­posed of pure stu­pid, pieced togeth­er mol­e­cule by mol­e­cule into a kind of Stupidite 250 that is nor­mal­ly only found in the heart of a new­born star.

And it’s why the rushed-through SOPA hear­ings had to be adjourned mid­way through the Christmas break so that law­mak­ers could get into a real vicious, nationally-infamous debate over an impor­tant issue, unem­ploy­ment insur­ance. It’s why the World Intellectual Property Organization is gulled time and again into enact­ing crazed, pig-ignorant copy­right pro­pos­als. Because when the nations of the world send their UN mis­sions to Geneva, they send water experts, not copy­right experts. They send health experts, not copy­right experts. They send agri­cul­ture experts, not copy­right experts. Because copy­right is just not impor­tant to pret­ty much every­one. [applause]

Canada’s Parliament did­n’t vote on its copy­right bills because of all the things that Canada needs to do, fix­ing copy­right ranks well below resolv­ing health emer­gen­cies on First Nations reser­va­tions, exploit­ing the oil patch in Alberta, inter­ced­ing in sec­tar­i­an resent­ments among French and English-speakers, solv­ing resource crises in the nation’s fish­eries, and a thou­sand oth­er issues. The triv­i­al­i­ty of copy­right tells you that when oth­er sec­tors of the econ­o­my start to evince con­cerns about the Internet and the PC, that copy­right will be revealed for a minor skir­mish and not a war.

Why would oth­er sec­tors nurse grudges against com­put­ers? Well, because the world we live in today is made of com­put­ers. We don’t have cars any­more, we have com­put­ers we ride in. We don’t have air­planes any­more, we have fly­ing Solaris box­es with a big buck­et­ful of SCADA con­trollers. A 3D print­er is not a device. It’s a periph­er­al, and it only works con­nect­ed to a com­put­er. A radio is no longer a crys­tal. It’s a general-purpose com­put­er with a fast ADC and a fast DAC and some soft­ware. The griev­ances that arose from unau­tho­rized copy­ing are triv­ial when com­pared to the calls for action that our new computer-embroidered real­i­ty will cre­ate.

Think of radio for a minute. The entire basis for radio reg­u­la­tion up until today was based on the idea that the prop­er­ties of a radio are fixed at the time of man­u­fac­ture and can’t be eas­i­ly altered. You can’t just flip a switch on your baby mon­i­tor and turn it into some­thing that inter­feres with air traf­fic con­trol sig­nals. But pow­er­ful software-defined radios can change from baby mon­i­tor to emer­gency ser­vices dis­patch­er to air traf­fic con­troller, just by load­ing and exe­cut­ing dif­fer­ent soft­ware. Which is why the first time the American tele­coms reg­u­la­tor, the FCC, con­sid­ered what would hap­pen when we put SDRs in the field, they asked for com­ment on whether it should man­date that all software-defined radios should be embed­ded in trust­ed com­put­ing machines. Ultimately, whether every PC should be locked so that the pro­grams they run are strict­ly reg­u­lat­ed by cen­tral author­i­ties.

And even this is a shad­ow of what is to come. After all, this was the year in which we saw the debut of open-sourced shape files for con­vert­ing AR-15s to full auto­mat­ic. This was the year of crowd­fund­ed open-sourced hard­ware for gene sequenc­ing. And while 3D print­ing will give rise to plen­ty of triv­ial com­plaints, there will be judges in the American South and mul­lahs in Iran who will lose their minds over peo­ple in their juris­dic­tion print­ing out sex toys. The tra­jec­to­ry of 3D print­ing will most cer­tain­ly raise real griev­ances, from solid-state meth labs, to ceram­ic knives.

And it does­n’t take a sci­ence fic­tion writer to under­stand why reg­u­la­tors might be ner­vous about the user-modifiable firmware on self-driving cars, or lim­it­ing inter­op­er­abil­i­ty for avi­a­tion con­trollers, or the kind of thing you could do with bio-scale assem­blers and sequencers. Imagine what will hap­pen the day that Monsanto deter­mines that it’s real­ly, real­ly impor­tant to make sure that com­put­ers can’t exe­cute pro­grams that cause spe­cial­ized periph­er­als to out­put organ­isms that eat their lunch, lit­er­al­ly.

Regardless of whether you think these are real prob­lems or mere­ly hys­ter­i­cal fears, they are nev­er­the­less the province of lob­bies and inter­est groups that are far more influ­en­tial than Hollywood and Big Content are on their best day, and every one of them will arrive at the same place. Can’t you just make us a general-purpose com­put­er that runs all the pro­grams except for the ones that scare and anger us? Can’t you just make us an Internet that trans­mits any mes­sage over any pro­to­col between any two points, unless it upsets us?” And per­son­al­ly, I can see that there will be pro­grams that run on general-purpose com­put­ers and periph­er­als that will even freak me out. So I can believe that peo­ple who advo­cate for lim­it­ing general-purpose com­put­ers will find recep­tive audi­ences for their posi­tions.

But just as we saw with the copy­right wars, ban­ning cer­tain instruc­tions or pro­to­cols or mes­sages, will be whol­ly inef­fec­tive as a means of pre­ven­tion and rem­e­dy. And as we saw in the copy­right wars, all attempts at con­trol­ling PCs will con­verge on rootk­its. All attempts at con­trol­ling the Internet will con­verge on sur­veil­lance and cen­sor­ship. Which is why all this stuff mat­ters. Because we’ve spent the last ten-plus years as a body send­ing our best play­ers out to fight what we thought was the final boss at the end of the game, but it
turns out it’s just been the mini-boss at the end of the lev­el.

And the stakes are only going to get high­er. As a mem­ber of the Walkman gen­er­a­tion, I have made peace with the fact that I will require a hear­ing aid long before I die. And of course, it won’t be a hear­ing aid. It will be a com­put­er I put in my body. So when I get into a car (a com­put­er I put my body into), with my hear­ing aid (a com­put­er I put inside my body), I want to know that these tech­nolo­gies are not designed to keep secrets from me and to pre­vent me from ter­mi­nat­ing process­es on them that work against my inter­ests. [applause] Thank you.

So last year, the Lower Merion School District, in a middle-class, afflu­ent sub­urb of Philadelphia found itself in a great deal of trou­ble, because it was caught dis­trib­ut­ing PCs to its stu­dents equipped with rootk­its that allowed for remote covert sur­veil­lance through the com­put­er’s cam­era and net­work con­nec­tion. It tran­spired that they had been pho­tograph­ing stu­dents thou­sands of times, at home and at school, awake and asleep, dressed and naked. Meanwhile, the lat­est gen­er­a­tion of law­ful inter­cept tech­nol­o­gy can covert­ly oper­ate cam­eras, mics, and GPSes on PCs, tablets, and mobile devices. Freedom in the future will require us to have the capac­i­ty to mon­i­tor our devices and set mean­ing­ful pol­i­cy on them, to exam­ine and ter­mi­nate the process­es that run on them, to main­tain them as hon­est ser­vants to our will, and not as trai­tors and spies work­ing for crim­i­nals, thugs, and con­trol freaks.

And we haven’t lost yet, but we have to win the copy­right wars to keep the Internet and the PC free and open. Because these are the matériel in the wars that are to come. We won’t be able to fight on with­out them. And I know this sounds like a coun­sel of despair. But as I said, these are ear­ly days. We have been fight­ing the mini-boss, and that means great chal­lenges are yet to come. But like all good lev­el design­ers, fate has sent us a soft tar­get to train our­selves on. We have a chance, a real chance, and if we sup­port open and free sys­tems and the orga­ni­za­tions that fight for them—EFF, Bits of Freedom, EDRi, [Org?] , CCC, Netzpolitik, La Quadrature du Net, and all the oth­ers who are thank­ful­ly too numer­ous to name here—we may yet win the bat­tle, and secure the ammu­ni­tion we’ll need for the war. Thank you.

Cory Doctorow: So, either ques­tions or long ram­bling state­ments fol­lowed by, What do you think of that?” Any ques­tions?

Audience 1: So if you game this out all the way to the end, you end up with a sit­u­a­tion where either the cen­sor­ship peo­ple have to out­law von Neuman and Harvard archi­tec­tures and replace them with some­thing that’s not a uni­ver­sal Turing machine… Or they lose, full stop. And there’s a big spec­trum in between the two. Don’t let me dis­tract from that. I’m not talk­ing about the very very last bas­tion line of free­dom there. Do you think a bunch of ass­holes that don’t even under­stand how DNS works are going to be will­ing to shoot them­selves in the foo—are going to be going to shoot them­selves in the head that hard?

Doctorow: So, I guess my answer is that the fact that there’s no such thing as witch­craft did­n’t stop them from burn­ing a lot of witch­es, right?

Audience 1: Right, right.

Doctorow: So by the same token, I think the inef­fec­tive­ness of the rem­e­dy is actu­al­ly even worse for us, right. Because this is like the five-year plan that pro­duces no wheat, that yields an even more dras­tic five-year plan that also pro­duces no corn. I mean, this will make them angri­er and cause them to expand the scope of the reg­u­la­tion. You know, the beat­ings will con­tin­ue until morale improves” as the t‑shirt goes, right. That’s actu­al­ly my wor­ry. I think if they saw some suc­cess they might actu­al­ly back off. The fact that this will be a dis­mal fail­ure over and over and over again, the fact that ter­ror­ists will con­tin­ue to com­mu­ni­cate ter­ror­ist mes­sages, and child pornog­ra­phers will con­tin­ue to com­mu­ni­cate child porno­graph­ic mes­sages and so on will, just make them try hard­er at inef­fec­tive reme­dies.

Audience 1: Yeah. I mean, a spe­cial­ized Turing machine on an ASIC is actu­al­ly real­ly real­ly hard. Because you have to make one for every appli­ca­tion, and that sucks.

Doctorow: Yeah. So again, I don’t think they are going to ban gen­er­al pur­pose com­put­ers. I think what they’re going to do is they’re going to say, We want more spy­ware in com­put­ers. We want more UEFI.” And not just UEFI that helps you detect spy­ware but UEFI where the sign­ing is con­trolled by third par­ties, and you don’t have an easy own­er over­ride, and all the rest of it. I think that that’s going to be the tra­jec­to­ry of this stuff, not, Gosh that stu­pid pol­i­cy that we pur­sued at great expense for ten years was a com­plete fail­ure. We should admit it and move on.” I think that the answer is going to be, Oh my god. Look at what idiots we looked like. We can’t pos­si­bly admit defeat.” You know, see: the War on Drugs.

Moderator: We’ve actu­al­ly got quite a bit of time here so long, ram­bling state­ments are cool. So, next ques­tion.

Audience 2: Regarding the recent ini­ta­tive by a big soft­ware com­pa­ny to pro­mote to secure boot on UEFI, do you think that per­son­al com­put­ers will arrive like the sit­u­a­tion on the PlayStation or plat­forms soon? And do think that we’ll have some means to coun­ter­at­tack or to…

Doctorow: Yeah, so the ques­tion is real­ly is UEFI going to be a means of freez­ing out alter­na­tive oper­at­ing sys­tems on the desk­top? And I kind of feel like kind of…technocratic, well-educated, Western, Northern, middle-class peo­ple are always going to be able to fig­ure out how to get around this stuff. What I’m more con­cerned about, not least because I think orga­ni­za­tions like the FTC will prob­a­bly object pret­ty stren­u­ous­ly unless there’s…you know, you can take the lid off and press a lit­tle red but­ton to reset UEFI, which is what they’re talk­ing about now. But I think it’s way more like­ly that repres­sive gov­ern­ments are going to say, Any boards that are import­ed into our coun­try,” which will be most of them, not all of them, but most of them, will have to only run OSes signed by our cer­tifi­cate author­i­ty, and our cer­tifi­cate author­i­ty will say unless you’ve got spy­ware you can’t import the machine.”

Audience 2: But do think it will be ille­gal to reverse engi­neer, for exam­ple to defeat the secure boot—

Doctorow: I mean, that’s an an inter­est­ing ques­tion. I kind of put that to some peo­ple who were involved in the Software Freedom Law Center, where they’ve been work­ing on this. And my feel­ing is that that would be the right kind of stu­pid law. Because it would be one that I think is pret­ty coher­ent with exist­ing free speech and code ques­tions like Bernstein and so on. And it would prob­a­bly actu­al­ly knock back anti-circumvention pro­vi­sions in most places where you tried it. I think that that would be the kind of case we could maybe win, as opposed to some of the hard­er ones. So yeah, I’m not super wor­ried about that, I’m mod­er­ate­ly wor­ried. I think if you are wor­ried, the right place to go is the Software Freedom Law Center. This is their big issue for the year. So, they need your dona­tions, it’s the end of the year.

Audience 3: Hi. Don’t you think that after the dust set­tles of all this idio­cy over the Internet, that in the end it will be some­thing like the law of the sea? That you have exclu­sive eco­nom­ic zones where some states and pol­i­cy­mak­ers will run wild with spy­ware and every­thing. And then you have a more or less law­less com­mon zone, where there’s absolute free­dom because not only the indi­vid­u­als will need them but also com­pa­nies, in the end, and every­one else?

Doctorow: Well, I guess com­pa­nies don’t need lots of free­dom if all you want is incum­bents to stay where they are, right. I mean, that was the thing that freaks every­one out about Singapore, is that there is this doc­trine that said free mar­kets brought free­dom. And one always led to the oth­er, and one required the oth­er, and Singapore showed you that you could actu­al­ly have vibrant, thriv­ing mar­kets that also did­n’t have any kind of free­dom and where you could have seri­ous reg­u­la­tion. China, too, I think.

So I don’t know that the kind of his­tor­i­cal forces you’re describ­ing, you know, com­pa­nies will demand free­dom there­fore we will have law­less zones, are nec­es­sar­i­ly true. I think if there’s one thing com­pa­nies gen­er­al­ly want, it’s monop­oly not free­dom. It’s lots of reg­u­la­tion that gores every­one else’s ox and sup­ports their own busi­ness mod­el. That’s always been the case.

Audience 3: And on an orga­ni­za­tion­al idea, that you say, sort of in an inter­na­tion­al law per­spec­tive, let’s say. A treaty of dig­i­tal high seas? Something like that?

Doctorow: I guess that the dif­fer­ence is that the Internet’s not the ocean, right. Things that hap­pen in the mid­dle of the Pacific Ocean, their light cone, to bor­row some physics jar­gon here, the light cone may nev­er in fact reach shore. And if it does, it could take a very long time, espe­cial­ly when the law of the seas” was being coun­te­nanced, when it take weeks and months.

The Internet’s more like a web, right, where every­thing that trem­bles on the web makes the whole web shake. And so the fact that some­thing is hap­pen­ing in the law­less zone” is unlike­ly to have no inter­sec­tion with what’s hap­pen­ing in the law­ful zones. I don’t know that that’s a great answer. I think maybe laws that respect free­dom every­where that we can get them and using the Internet to try to expand that sphere might be a bet­ter way to go.

Audience 4: The prob­lem I see that is that we’re look­ing at a sys­tem that is get­ting more and more com­plex but more and more bro­ken on the way, too. And not just the Internet but every­thing. The pro­duc­tion of goods of big com­pa­nies; we have two pro­duces of CPUs, and maybe sev­en who pro­duce mem­o­ry. And so if Intel or AMD decide okay, we just ship every prod­uct we make with UEFI, with signed firmware, we’re fucked.

So the prob­lem is that we are as human­i­ty not able to pro­duce goods that we under­stand and we can use as we want. So I think that the effort we should real­ly put on dis­trib­ut­ing net­works and build­ing our own hard­ware, because we have the Internet, but nowa­days 99.9% of the pop­u­la­tion think the Web is the Internet, and they think Facebook is the best thing that was invent­ed in human exis­tence. So we have to real­ly break things down much more again and try to put out open source solu­tions for every prob­lem. I know this is a lot of effort and not real­ly con­ve­nient because you don’t have this great inte­gra­tion that Apple will bring you, but yeah maybe just as a thought.

Doctorow: Well, I think that the thing about Facebook is that it works incred­i­bly well, it just fails very bad­ly. So all the things that it’s good at, it’s real­ly good at. But when it fails, it destroys your per­son­al life or it allows all of your friends to be round­ed up by the Syrian secret police and tor­tured and mur­dered or what­ev­er, right. I mean, there’s lots of ways in which Facebook is unfit for pur­pose.

But we have to under­stand why peo­ple use it. They use it because it works well. And if we want to con­vince peo­ple that pro­pri­etary or dif­fi­cult tech­nolo­gies are like­ly to bite them in the ass in the future, we have to con­vey to them its fail­ure modes. And that’s the tricky thing. And of course this is not a new prob­lem to com­put­ers, although maybe the stakes are a lit­tle high­er. This is the prob­lem with smok­ing, right? If you got can­cer as soon as you put the cig­a­rette in your mouth, no one would put a sec­ond cig­a­rette in their mouth.

I smoked for half my life. When I went to quit, my doc­tor said, You need a bet­ter rea­son than not get­ting can­cer in thir­ty years, because next week when you crave a cig­a­rette, not get­ting can­cer in thir­ty years won’t keep you warm at night.” And what I actu­al­ly did was I real­ized that I was spend­ing two lap­tops a year on cig­a­rettes. And so I just said I’ll buy myself a lap­top every year from now on if I give up smok­ing, and I did. And that kind of helped.

But we need to help peo­ple under­stand— The prob­lem that I find is that we tend to attack peo­ple on the upside. We say, Oh, Apple’s inte­gra­tion isn’t as good as you think it is.” Or, Facebook isn’t as enter­tain­ing as you feel like it is.” And in fact, both of those, they are. I think what we need to con­vey is all the ways in which it fails that are not imme­di­ate­ly obvi­ous at the out­set. And that’s a hard prob­lem.

Moderator: Here we have anoth­er ques­tion from the mighty Internets. Can you please say some­thing about the dif­fer­ence between Europe and the USA, and if there is some­thing of a feed­back loop in dri­ving each oth­er in the wrong direc­tion?

Doctorow: So the ques­tion is the feed­back loop between America and Europe, or the USA and Europe, and what direc­tion they go. And I mean, obvi­ous­ly there is this transat­lantic table ten­nis in terms of copy­right that we’ve had before where you get term exten­sion, an exten­sion of the length of copy­right in America and then Europe has to har­mo­nize” with America by extend­ing its copy­right even longer than America’s. And then America has to har­mo­nize” with Europe to make its copy­right longer than Europe’s, and so on.

But increas­ing­ly, the way that that kind of stuff hap­pens is in these real­ly secre­tive and sin­is­ter treaty nego­ti­a­tions like ACTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, where you have treaties nego­ti­at­ed by European and American rep­re­sen­ta­tives but with­out any rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the gov­ern­ments. They’re done by their admin­is­tra­tions and with­out any trans­paren­cy into it, and then it’s pre­sent­ed as a fait accom­pli. And in that way I think that there’s not much dif­fer­ence, because they’re both get­ting shit­ty laws in the same way now. They’re they’re com­ing out of the same source.

And they’re not real­ly American com­pa­nies. I mean, EMI is tech­ni­cal­ly kind of a British” com­pa­ny. And Bertelsmann is tech­ni­cal­ly a German com­pa­ny, and Holtzbrinck is, too. And so on and so forth. Sony is tech­ni­cal­ly Japanese, right.

Audience 5: So you had quite a few ques­tions. I’m your ram­bling guy for tonight. Short. I real­ly like the anal­o­gy of the five-year plan, and the next five-year plan, and the next five-year plan. Because I come from Poland and we know how the five-year plans in Poland went. So. I have this feel­ing that those five-year plans will prob­a­bly end up just like they end­ed up in Poland. What do you think about that?

Doctorow: Yeah. And that’s prob­a­bly an exten­sion of what this gen­tle­man over here said when I fin­ished a lit­tle out of turn, which was if this has the tra­jec­to­ry of the drug war, where the hell are we going to end up, because obvi­ous­ly the drug war has been a dis­as­ter, con­tin­ues to be a dis­as­ter, and shows no sign of reced­ing from its dis­as­trous­ness.

And the dif­fer­ence is that although I guess there are peo­ple who who would argue that drugs deliv­er a cer­tain bit of the solu­tion to their own prob­lem— In oth­er words, once you’ve tak­en the right drugs you no longer see the prob­lem with drugs. And I don’t mean that sar­cas­ti­cal­ly. All due respect to my friends on the drug legal­iza­tion side, and the idea of cog­ni­tive lib­er­ty and the rest of it.

But it’s not the same way that com­put­ers hold the key to unlock­ing com­put­ers. Because what com­put­ers do, what net­works do, is they make it cheap­er and easy for us to do things togeth­er. So you know, in con­trast to, and again with respect to my friend Evgeny Morozov, in con­trast to things that he says, I’m much more opti­mistic about what com­put­ers can do for jus­tice strug­gles. Because by def­i­n­i­tion, peo­ple in charge have already fig­ured out how to coor­di­nate their actions, right. That’s how they got to be in charge. So giv­ing them tech­nol­o­gy to make them bet­ter coor­di­nat­ed is a small incre­men­tal improve­ment, where­as peo­ple who are oppressed by def­i­n­i­tion have no capac­i­ty to steer the state and work col­lec­tive­ly. Adding the capac­i­ty to work col­lec­tive­ly to peo­ple who are at the bot­tom is a phase change for them in a way that it’s not— It’s a dif­fer­ence in kind and not just a dif­fer­ence in degree.

And so I think the com­put­ers and net­works allow us to do stuff togeth­er that we could nev­er have done before. And the more com­put­ers and net­works we get, the more things we can do togeth­er with them. You know, there was this kind of tedious thing that hap­pened about six or eight months ago. Whenever I men­tion the word anony­mous” in pub­lic, I would say, Anonymous is a group that—”

And some­one would come along and go, They’re not a group.”

And I’d say, Anonymous last week did—”

And they’d say, Anonymous nev­er does any­thing.”

And I’d say, People using the name Anonymous’ did—”

Well, they did­n’t all call them­selves Anonymous.’ Some of them called them­selves LulzSec. Some of them called them­selves AntiSec…”

And like, on and on and on. And for a while I thought it was just a sort of tedious word game, you know. It’s free/libre/open source. This kind of end­less kind of cor­rect­s­peak.

But then I real­ized that it was actu­al­ly because Anonymous and many oth­er new kinds of insti­tu­tions that we’ve seen in the last year are nov­el. That we don’t actu­al­ly have a vocab­u­lary. There’s some­thing new on this earth, this kind of affin­i­ty orga­ni­za­tion that does­n’t have the same hier­ar­chi­cal struc­tures even if there are pock­ets of lead­er­ship, the way that there are with AnonOps or with bits of Occupy being spokes­peo­ple or coor­di­na­tors. It’s not any­thing like what these insti­tu­tions would have been ten or twen­ty years ago. You could­n’t have had any­thing on the scale of Occupy. You know, simul­ta­ne­ous coor­di­nat­ed actions in cities all over the world. You could­n’t pos­si­bly have had that with­out a big sort of military-style com­mand and con­trol orga­ni­za­tion pri­or to the net­work, pri­or to to Internet. And so we lack a vocab­u­lary to describe them. We lack a vocab­u­lary even to think about them, in some ways.

So we say, Oh, Occupy does­n’t have a set of uni­tary goals. They must not be seri­ous.” What’s inter­est­ing is that pri­or to this, assem­bling a big orga­ni­za­tion with­out first agree­ing on your goals was cos­mi­cal­ly insane because you’d you’d put all this ener­gy into orga­niz­ing and then it would turn out that you weren’t all there for the same rea­son; you’d have to all go home again.

And now what we can do is we can all get togeth­er and fig­ure out the stuff that we agree on. You know, our min­i­mum com­mon agree­ment, our TCP/IP of protest. And then we can work on that stuff. And then when we come to some stuff that we don’t agree on, we can all go off and have a dif­fer­ent Occupy over there to do that stuff, because the orga­niz­ing itself has been cheap. It’s no longer the case that the job of an activist is 98% stuff­ing envelopes and 2% fig­ur­ing out what to put in them. Now we get the enve­lope stuff­ing for free, and we get to spend 100% of our time fig­ur­ing out how to do stuff togeth­er. And so I do think that there is hope, because the ter­rain is not the same as the ter­rain in the War on Drugs.

Moderator: Okay, we’ve got like ten min­utes here. So I’m going to ask Cory. Cory we’ve got like ten min­utes. I think that’s like five ques­tions.

Doctorow: So why don’t we take like three ques­tions, then I’ll answer as many as I can.

Audience 6: Okay, so I think it might become hard­er to influ­ence the minds in gov­ern­ment in the right direc­tion because we are send­ing mixed sig­nals. On the one hand we’re talk­ing about how they should chill and lay off the DRM and then you know copy­right war. While on the oth­er hand we are cre­at­ing tech­nol­o­gy like Bitcoin or sim­i­lar stuff that… We don’t beat at the mon­ey that the lob­by­ists get. We are trad­ing things that are com­pet­ing with the Reichsbank and the Fed. And now you’re get­ting the gov­ern­ment real­ly pissed. I mean, I’m a big pro­po­nent of that— I mean, not not the Fed but Bitcoin or stuff like that. So yeah, what you think about that?

Doctorow: Right. Two more ques­tions.

Audience 7: Okay. Question was general-purpose com­put­ers ver­sus appli­ances. You said the threat is most­ly by the law­mak­ers. One guy before went in this direc­tion I’m going. The prob­lem I’m see­ing is that we already do have these appli­ances. Even in this audi­ence, peo­ple own iPhones and iPads. We have Kindles. At home we have PlayStations and Xboxes. The list goes on and on and on. So even we, we want this stuff because it has good fea­tures. You try to answer in this direc­tion. I was curi­ous if you have any­thing more to say. I think this is more of the prob­lem.

Doctorow: Okay, one last ques­tion and then I’ll try and answer them all in one go.

Audience 8: Okay, do you think a move­ment will devel­op to change the moral per­cep­tion of com­put­ing like DARE, to make us feel bad about com­put­ing? And do you think hypocrisy devel­oped among pow­er­ful peo­ple, to say, Well, when I was young I pro­grammed a com­put­er but I did­n’t inhale?”

Doctorow: Alright. So the first two ques­tions, the ques­tion about Bitcoin, and the ques­tion about why we con­tin­ue to use these devices even though they con­tain our own chains, in some ways are the same ques­tion, right. Because the rea­son that we use these devices is because they work, and we’re pret­ty san­guine about their fail­ure modes because we’re tech­nocrats. We’re like, Oh, well. If they lock down my iPad I know how to jail­break it. If I ever want to run some code on it that some­one else won’t let me, I know how to do it. I’ve got a run­time on my com­put­er. I can take my apps off of here and run them there,” and so on. So we’re very san­guine about it. And so we tend not to wor­ry that the con­se­quences are going to come up and bite us in the ass.

But that’s not all that dif­fer­ent from lots of oth­er ways in which peo­ple tend to over­es­ti­mate their immor­tal­i­ty. I mean, I felt that way. You know, I bought DRM media once. I once bought thou­sands of dol­lars worth of Audible books over the peri­od of sev­er­al years, and it was­n’t until I switched to an oper­at­ing sys­tem that Audible did­n’t have a play­er for that I real­ized that I was going to have to spend a month run­ning two PowerBooks all the time through an audio cap­ture app to get all those audio books out of the pro­pri­etary wrap­per and into some­thing I could play back. And then I went, Oh my god, I’m an idiot.”

But I was also a smok­er, right? And I also some­times for­get to put on my seat­belt. I mean there’s lots of ways in which we do this, and if we have to be pure in order to fight, then we’ll prob­a­bly nev­er suc­ceed. I mean, we have to admit that we live in the world and we some­times either make mis­takes or mis­judge con­se­quences or just do the thing that’s most con­ve­nient, and that’s how life goes.

The ques­tion about whether or not it’s wise to piss them off while we’re fight­ing them… You know, I don’t think they could be any more afraid of the Internet. I don’t think that the thing that they most fear is Bitcoin. I think the thing that they most fear is all the dis­rup­tion that aris­es from the Internet.

And Bitcoin’s not the major dis­rup­tive appli­ca­tion of the Internet of the last sev­er­al years. It’s things like Amazon, and its things like auto­mat­ed high-speed trad­ing and so on. All these things that are kind of legit­i­mate Fortune 100 halls of pow­er stuff that has been most dis­rup­tive and that has got peo­ple run­ning around like head­less chick­ens. Bitcoin is just a thing over on the side. The num­ber peo­ple in the halls of pow­er who under­stand it is minus­cule, and the num­ber who take it seri­ous­ly is a frac­tion of them. And that’s even true of cryp­tog­ra­phers, not just peo­ple in the halls of pow­er.

And then the last ques­tion was will there be a DARE to stop using com­put­ers move­ment in the future? I think we’ve already got it now, don’t we? I write young adult nov­els some­times as well as nov­els for adults. And I did the young adult break­fast at Book Expo America, which is a big book expo show in America where all the book sell­ers come. They have all the young adult book­sellers show up, and they have a celebri­ty come and intro­duce the three young adult writ­ers who are there.

And our celebri­ty that year was the Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson. And I did­n’t know this, but Sarah Ferguson writes nov­els about how the whole world sucks and you need to shel­ter your chil­dren from them. You know, strangers are bad, video games are bad, and so on and so forth. So she was intro­duced around to us, and she said, What’s your book about, Mr. Doctorow?” And I said well, it’s a book about kids who play video games and use it to win their free­dom.

And she said, Oh. You like video games, then.”

And I was like, Yeah, my wife used to play Quake for England. I love video games!” I mean, there’s already lots of peo­ple who think com­put­ers are ter­ri­ble and bad for us and will destroy our lives. I don’t think we have to wait for the future for that. I think it’s here.

Anyway, thank you all very much.

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