The Attack Surface Lectures were a series of eight panel discussions on the themes in my novel Attack Surface, each hosted by a different bookstore and each accompanied by a different pair of guest speakers.
This program is “Little Revolutions,” hosted by Skylight Books in Los Angeles, with guest-hosts Tochi Onyebuchi and Bethany C. Morrow. It was recorded on October 21, 2020.
My latest Locus column is “Full Employment,” in which I forswear “Fully Automated Luxury Communism” as totally incompatible with the climate emergency, which will consume 100%+ of all human labor for centuries to come.
This fact is true irrespective of any breakthroughs in AI OR geoengineering. Technological unemployment is vastly oversold and overstated (for example, that whole thing about truck drivers is bullshit).
But even if we do manage to automate away all of jobs, the climate emergency demands unimaginably labor intensive tasks for hundreds of years – jobs like relocating every coastal city inland, or caring for hundreds of millions of refugees.
Add to those: averting the exinctions of thousands of species, managing wave upon wave of zoonotic and insect-borne plagues, dealing with wildfires and tornados, etc.
And geoengineering won’t solve this: we’ve sunk a lot of heat into the oceans. It’s gonna warm them up. That’s gonna change the climate. It’s not gonna be good. Heading this off doesn’t just involve repealing thermodynamics – it also requires a time-machine.
But none of this stuff is insurmountable – it’s just hard. We CAN do this stuff. If you were wringing your hands about unemployed truckers, good news! They’ve all got jobs moving thousands of cities inland!
It’s just (just!) a matter of reorienting our economy around preserving our planet and our species.
And yeah, that’s hard, too – but if “the economy” can’t be oriented to preserving our species, we need a different economy.
Data breaches are inevitable (any data you collect will probably leak; any data you retain will definitely leak) and cumulative (your company’s data breach can be combined with each subsequent attack to revictimize your customers). Identity thieves benefit enormously from cheap storage, and they collect, store and recombine every scrap of leaked data. Merging multiple data sets allows for reidentification of “anonymized” data, and it’s impossible to predict which sets will leak in the future.
These nondeterministic harms have so far protected data-collectors from liability, but that can’t last. Toxic waste also has nondeterministic harms (we never know which bit of effluent will kill which person), but we still punish firms that leak it.
Waiting until the laws change to purge your data is a bad bet – by then, it may be too late. All the data your company collects and retains represents an unquantifiable, potentially unlimited source of downstream liability.
What’s more, you probably aren’t doing anything useful with it. The companies that make the most grandiose claims about data analytics are either selling analytics or data (or both). These claims are sales literature, not peer-reviewed citations to empirical research.
Data is cheap to collect and store – if you don’t have to pay for the chaos it sows when it leaks. And some day, we will make data-hoarders pay.
My latest Locus column explores what copyright expert Rebecca Giblin calls “The New Copyright Bargain” – a copyright system designed around enriching authors above all, rather rather than treating authors’ incomes as an incidental output of enriching entertainment or tech corporations. The column is called “A Lever Without a Fulcrum is Just a Stick.” Copyright is billed as giving creators leverage over the corporations we contract with, but levers need fulcrums.
In an increasingly concentrated marketplace, any exclusive rights that are given to creators are simply appropriated by corporations as a non-negotiable condition of the standard contract. Think of how samples could originally be used without permission (in the Paul’s Boutique/It Takes a Nation of Millions era), enriching old R&B artists who’d been burned by one-sided contracts.
Those artists experienced a temporary enrichment when paying for samples became the norm, but today, all contracts simply require signing away your sampling rights. The fight to require licenses for samples merely gave the labels yet another right to demand of their artists. Which means that anyone hoping to sample must sign to a label and pay for a license either to that label or one of the other three. Giving new rights to artists in a monopolized market is like giving your bullied kid more lunch money. It doesn’t buy the kid lunch, it just gives the bullies the opportunity to take more money from your kid.
After the “Blurred Lines” suit, labels have begun to fret about being sued over artists’ copying the “vibe” of another artist. It’s easy to feel smug about copyright maximalists being hoist on their own petards. But the end-game is easy to see: just make selling your “vibe” rights a condition of signing a record deal, and you transfer ownership of whole genres to the Big 4 labels.
What would a copyright look like that protected artists, rather than practicing the Magic Underpants Gnome method of:
Enrich entertainment corporations;
Artists get more money
Any new bargain in copyright centered on artists needs to take account of the concentration in tech and entertainment, and create rights for artists that aren’t just creator’s monopolies to be scooped up through non-negotiable contracts. Measures like reversion (which lets artists in the USA claim back rights they signed away 35 years ago), blanket licenses (designed to pay artists regardless of whether they’re “rightsholders”), and restoring unionization rights are the key to paying artists.
Merely expanding the “author’s monopoly” does no good in a world of industrial monopolies: it just gives those monopolists more ammo to use in the fight to shift revenues onto their own balance sheets, at the expense of working creators.
In my latest Locus column, Inaction is a Form of Action, I discuss how the US government’s unwillingness to enforce its own anti-monopoly laws has resulted in the dominance of a handful of giant tech companies who get to decide what kind of speech is and isn’t allowed — that is, how the USG’s complicity in the creation of monopolies allows for a kind of government censorship that somehow does not violate the First Amendment. more
The editors of Canada’s Globe and Mail asked me to reflect on what science fiction can tell us about the 2020s for their end-of-the-decade package; I wrote about how science fiction can’t predict the future, but might inspire it, and how the dystopian malaise of science fiction can be turned into a inspiring tale of “adversity met and overcome – hard work and commitment wrenching a limping victory from the jaws of defeat.” more
I have an op-ed in today’s Globe and Mail, “Why do people believe the Earth is flat?” wherein I connect the rise of conspiratorial thinking to the rise in actual conspiracies, in which increasingly concentrated industries are able to come up with collective lobbying positions that result in everything from crashing 737s to toxic baby-bottle liners to the opioid epidemic. more