Thursday, 10 January 2013

Thoughts on: Cory Doctorow: The coming war on general computation [28C3]

I just re-watched Cory Doctorow's talk at 28C3: The coming war on general computation [28C3] and it inspired me to write this blog post with a few thoughts and links to additional material. Enjoy!

I think people should really listen to what Cory is saying in the talk. This way of thinking gives us an acid test of the intentions of the actor behind the development of a given technology or product. Furthermore I think this points right to the heart of whether people are trying to empower you or enslave you. In short choose software and technology that empowers you and boycott those which are trying to enslave and disempower you.

Ask yourself some simple questions: what happens when I want to take my music elsewhere? or "hey they both have the same connector and I have a cable! Is X compatible with Y?

Hint: the reason why you cannot move you music and you cannot interface and mashup / join devices has a very weak basis in engineering feasibility and a very large basis in marketing and the creation of fixed purpose appliances rather than general computers.

In an age where the hard facts of man-made climate change require that we make the most out of the precious resources that we have, can we really afford the luxuary of ephemeral fixed purpose appliance with built-in obsolescence when that same hardware could do so much more in its second and third lifetimes? I can guarantee you 100% and without any doubt that devices often don't inter-operate because they have been designed so. Would it be so hard to add an i2c port to a microwave? Not even necessarily to control it, just to detect it's state! But then again, why not also add the possibility to control it?

Would be be so wrong to use open data formats for music files or for music catalogues? Steve jobs himself though that DRM-free music was a good idea, quite the opposite: "The third alternative is to abolish DRMs entirely. Imagine a world where every online store sells DRM-free music encoded in open licensable formats. In such a world, any player can play music purchased from any store, and any store can sell music which is playable on all players." https://www.apple.com/uk/hotnews/thoughtsonmusic/

And then look at what apple have done as a result of the desires of the music industry to maintain an odd kind of monopoly with their wasteful insistence on proprietary music formats. It is so wrong and one cannot even jump once you 'own' the music / have paid for it. You never own it, you license to play it in a certain context in a certain way. I know I am saying WTF right now. Oh and next time you buy a book, yeah you dont own that either. Read the license in the front cover.

*update* a friend just emailed me with the perspective:  "the book or song you bought is licenced to you within parameters designed to benefit the artist or author, something I think shouldn't change, so I feel it's an incorrect analogy to use."
 So I have quoted Stallman further to provide the counter argument:

quote: “Don't people have a right to control how their creativity is ued?”
“Control over the use of one's ideas” really constitutes control over other people's lives; and it is usually used to make their lives more difficult.
People who have studied the issue of intellectual property rights(8) carefully (such as lawyers) say that there is no intrinsic right to intellectual property. The kinds of supposed intellectual property rights that the government recognizes were created by specific acts of legislation for specific purposes.
For example, the patent system was established to encourage inventors to disclose the details of their inventions. Its purpose was to help society rather than to help inventors. At the time, the life span of 17 years for a patent was short compared with the rate of advance of the state of the art. Since patents are an issue only among manufacturers, for whom the cost and effort of a license agreement are small compared with setting up production, the patents often do not do much harm. They do not obstruct most individuals who use patented products.
The idea of copyright did not exist in ancient times, when authors frequently copied other authors at length in works of nonfiction. This practice was useful, and is the only way many authors' works have survived even in part. The copyright system was created expressly for the purpose of encouraging authorship. In the domain for which it was invented—books, which could be copied economically only on a printing press—it did little harm, and did not obstruct most of the individuals who read the books.
All intellectual property rights are just licenses granted by society because it was thought, rightly or wrongly, that society as a whole would benefit by granting them. But in any particular situation, we have to ask: are we really better off granting such license? What kind of act are we licensing a person to do?
The case of programs today is very different from that of books a hundred years ago. The fact that the easiest way to copy a program is from one neighbor to another, the fact that a program has both source code and object code which are distinct, and the fact that a program is used rather than read and enjoyed, combine to create a situation in which a person who enforces a copyright is harming society as a whole both materially and spiritually; in which a person should not do so regardless of whether the law enables him to."
source: https://www.gnu.org/gnu/manifesto.html


So lets think about the general problem of formats. Company X invented format Y and then company Z invents format A and Company X's music players dont play format A and company Z's music players don't play format Y and so on and the format wars begin. Or Company Z has the patent to device Z+ and hence company X might not be able to offer a competing alternative which might leverage this amazing new innovation without infringing so their good ideas, technical advances and upgrades may never see the light of day and make things better for the users.

The world and its people deserve better than this. We should all be so glad that there are hackers, open source software engineers, open source hardware engineers and open source developers in the world. These people add their knowledge to the commons. And sometimes they set devices free! These people empower us so please acknowledge and support them because they already support you!

Stallman rejects a common alternative term, open source software, because it does not call to mind what Stallman sees as the value of the software: freedom.[67] Thus it will not inform people of the freedom issues, and will not lead to people valuing and defending their freedom.[68] Two alternatives which Stallman does accept are software libre and unfettered software, but free software is the term he asks people to use in English. For similar reasons, he argues for the term "proprietary software" rather than "closed source software", when referring to software that is not free software. source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Stallman#Terminology

For more depth on the philosophy of the GNU movement read this: https://www.gnu.org/gnu/manifesto.html

Next, think about the following statement with reference to most consumer computer gadgets like smartphones e.g. iPhones and also Sky HD boxes, Ipods, Windows PCs you name it. Lets call them appliances that have been made from general computers.

"An appliance made from a computer is made by using some combination of rootkits, spyware and codesigning 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."

Finally, sit back and enjoy Cory's awesome talk: