7 Ways To Ruin A Technological Revolution

24. July, 2011

7 Ways To Ruin A Technological Revolution” is a Google Tech Talk by James Boyle in which he shows honest and sincere ways to stifle technological progress. And unlike him, I’m not ironic. A lot of stifling happens because we deem some things too dangerous. His 7 ways are:

  1. Ignore all empirical evidence and build our view of the world on hearsay
  2. Have a one-sided view of things. Always look at the costs and ignore the benefits. Be afraid of openness and prefer control.
  3. Focus more in outputs than on inputs. So protect the new book but ignore that most of the knowledge in any new book actually comes from existing books.
  4. Ridicule or ignore types of creativity that don’t fit the bill.
  5. Ditch all the technologies and openness we have because they kind of contradict points 1-4. It’s kind of silly saying openness just doesn’t work or that no one is ever going to publish anything without strict IP laws to keep people out when you have, say, Wikipedia. This means getting rid of the general purpose computer and network neutrality.
  6. Go international to keep small fry (like watch groups and NGOs) out of the game. Always harmonize “up”, that is towards tighter control. If one country has 25 years and another 75 years IP protection, the result is always 75 years for both (taking 50 years “away” from one country but that’s not a loss since that wasn’t a “right” before). Rights in such treaties are almost always mandatory, exceptions are optional (because more control is better, see #2).
  7. Make sure “critics fail to engage with the political process”. “It’s as if we have sought to turn self-marginalization to the level of an Olympic sport.” (0:26:14) Apathy also helps.

Some thoughts on #4 (after 0:18:00): Our society is built on sharing. Or did you pay back the $200’000 which your parents invested in raising you? Countless hours wasted playing with you as toddler which they could have spent at work instead. All the money spent on clothes that you didn’t want to wear anyway. The water polluted washing them which could have been used to grow food for more money.

“It’s commercial use if you get for free what you otherwise would have to pay for.” (0:20:16) If companies and IP policy makers had their say, you’d have to pay your girlfriend for a date just like for a prostitute. What else is date than a perfect business opportunity wasted because of “anti-capitalistic” hormones – or so some people seem to think. While we’re at it, let’s ask money for Christmas presents, too! Talk to a friend? It’s Cheap Friday, so it’s only $25 instead of $50/hr.

Such a view of the world ignores the benefits of these actions. When an author writes a new book, how much money goes back to the people who invented the written word? The printing press or the Internet? Who taught the author to write? Who sparked new ideas in his mind? So we have to be unjust somewhere but are we unjust in the right place?

Or maybe I’m wrong. At the end of his speech around 0:35:50 he says something interesting: “It is scary to me that the technologies that would enable the Google equivalent in the next technological cycle are being developed under the conditions that I have described. Because you would have to be an insane optimist to think that none of that is going to get screwed up by the processes that I described and I’m far from being an optimist.”

It’s interesting because we don’t know what will work and what will fail. Maybe this kind of resistance is necessary to separate good ideas from bad ones: Only a really good idea can overcome these obstacles. It has to be overwhelming enough to change the world. Since we can’t tell which idea should win, this might be the only way to weed the bad ones out.

Scary thought: Maybe superior technology like the Amiga didn’t change the world because it didn’t have what it takes – whatever that might be. All I can say from this point in time: We don’t have an Amiga on every desk, we have a PC on every desk. Steve Jobs knows his stuff but there is no Apple computer on every desk either. But there is an iPhone on (almost) every desk. Not a Windows phone. So the formula is Windows + PC == success, not Microsoft == success.

That said, not all is lost. I haven’t put my hands on an Amiga computer for more than a decade but I use the skills every day that I acquired with its beautiful OS. Amiga is dead, today’s hackers have Linux.

I think the good news is that the bad guys eventually fail because there is no limit to their greed. Eventually, they manage to upset even their most die hard supporters. Sony harassed Georg Hotz. Nothing happened. Sony lost 300 million customer records. The US government shows up to ask some serious questions. And the Zurich insurance refuses to cover the damages. Hm…

Interesting links:

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