/ / Podcast

Talking science fiction, technological self-determination, inequality and competition with physicist Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a physicist at JPL and the author of many popular, smart books about physics for a lay audience; his weekly Mindscape podcast is a treasure-trove of incredibly smart, fascinating discussions with people from a wide variety of backgrounds.
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In my latest podcast (MP3), I read my Green European Journal short story about the terrible European Copyright Directive which passed last March, False Flag. Published in December 2018, the story highlights the ways in which this badly considered law creates unlimited opportunities for abuse, especially censorship by corporations who’ve been embarassed by whistleblowers and activists.

The crew couldn’t even supply their videos to friendly journalists to rebut the claims from the big corporate papers. Just *linking* to a major newspaper required a paid license, and while the newspapers licensed to one another so they could reference articles in rival publications, the kinds of dissident, independent news outlets that had once provided commentary and analysis of what went into the news and what didn’t had all disappeared once the news corporations had refused to license the right to link to them.

Agata spoke with a lawyer she knew, obliquely, in guarded hypotheticals, and the lawyer confirmed what she’d already intuited.

“Your imaginary friend has no hope. They’d have to out themselves in order to file a counterclaim, tell everyone their true identity and reveal that they were behind the video. Even so, it would take six months to get the platforms to hear their case, and by then the whole story would have faded from the public eye. And if they *did* miraculously get people to pay attention again? Well, the fakers would just get the video taken offline again. It takes an instant for a bot to file a fake copyright claim. It takes months for humans to get the claim overturned. It’s asymmetrical warfare, and you’ll always be on the losing side.”

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/ / News, Podcast


Last week, the Escape Pod podcast published part one of a reading of my YA novella “Martian Chronicles,” which I wrote for Jonathan Strahan’s Life on Mars anthology: it’s a story about libertarian spacesteaders who move to Mars to escape “whiners” and other undesirables, only to discover that the colonists that preceded them expect them to clean the toilets when they arrive.
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In my latest podcast (MP3), I read my Globe and Mail column, Why do people believe the Earth is flat?, which connects 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.

From climate denial to anti-vax to a resurgent eugenics movement, we are in a golden age of terrible conspiratorial thinking, with real consequences for our species’ continued survival on our (decidedly round) planet.

Ideas spread because of some mix of ideology and material circumstances. Either ideas are convincingly argued and/or they are delivered to people whose circumstances make them susceptible to those ideas.

Conspiracies aren’t on the rise because the arguments for them got better. The arguments for “alternative medicine” or against accepted climate science are no better than those that have lurked in the fringes for generations. Look up the 19th-century skeptics who decried the smallpox vaccine and you’ll find that anti-vax arguments have progressed very little in more than a century.

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/ / Podcast

In my latest podcast (MP3), I read my new Locus column, DRM Broke Its Promise, which recalls the days when digital rights management was pitched to us as a way to enable exciting new markets where we’d all save big by only buying the rights we needed (like the low-cost right to read a book for an hour-long plane ride), but instead (unsurprisingly) everything got more expensive and less capable.

The established religion of markets once told us that we must abandon the idea of owning things, that this was an old fashioned idea from the world of grubby atoms. In the futuristic digital realm, no one would own things, we would only license them, and thus be relieved of the terrible burden of ownership.

They were telling the truth. We don’t own things anymore. This summer, Microsoft shut down its ebook store, and in so doing, deactivated its DRM servers, rendering every book the company had sold inert, unreadable. To make up for this, Microsoft sent refunds to the custom­ers it could find, but obviously this is a poor replacement for the books themselves. When I was a bookseller in Toronto, noth­ing that happened would ever result in me breaking into your house to take back the books I’d sold you, and if I did, the fact that I left you a refund wouldn’t have made up for the theft. Not all the books Microsoft is confiscating are even for sale any lon­ger, and some of the people whose books they’re stealing made extensive annotations that will go up in smoke.

What’s more, this isn’t even the first time an electronic bookseller has done this. Walmart announced that it was shutting off its DRM ebooks in 2008 (but stopped after a threat from the FTC). It’s not even the first time Microsoft has done this: in 2004, Microsoft created a line of music players tied to its music store that it called (I’m not making this up) “Plays for Sure.” In 2008, it shut the DRM serv­ers down, and the Plays for Sure titles its customers had bought became Never Plays Ever Again titles.

We gave up on owning things – property now being the exclusive purview of transhuman immortal colony organisms called corporations – and we were promised flexibility and bargains. We got price-gouging and brittle­ness.

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/ / Podcast

Even though I’m at Burning Man, I’ve snuck out an extra scheduled podcast episode (MP3): Barlow’s Legacy is my contribution to the Duke Law and Tech Review’s special edition, THE PAST AND FUTURE OF THE INTERNET: Symposium for John Perry Barlow:

“Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.”1

And now we are come to the great techlash, long overdue and desperately needed. With the techlash comes the political contest to assemble the narrative of What Just Happened and How We Got Here, because “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”Barlow is a key figure in that narrative, and so defining his legacy is key to the project of seizing the future.

As we contest over that legacy, I will here set out my view on it. It’s an insider’s view: I met Barlow first through his writing, and then as a teenager on The WELL, and then at a dinner in London with Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) attorney Cindy Cohn (now the executive director of EFF), and then I worked with him, on and off, for more than a decade, through my work with EFF. He lectured to my students at USC, and wrote the introduction to one of my essay collections, and hung out with me at Burning Man, and we spoke on so many bills together, and I wrote him into one of my novels as a character, an act that he blessed. I emceed events where he spoke and sat with him in his hospital room as he lay dying. I make no claim to being Barlow’s best or closest friend, but I count myself mightily privileged to have been a friend, a colleague, and a protege of his.

There is a story today about “cyber-utopians”told as a part of the techlash: Once, there were people who believed that the internet would automatically be a force for good. They told us all to connect to one another and fended off anyone who sought to rein in the power of the technology industry, naively ushering in an era of mass surveillance, monopolism, manipulation, even genocide. These people may have been well-intentioned, but they were smart enough that they should have known better, and if they hadn’t been so unforgivably naive (and, possibly, secretly in the pay of the future monopolists) we might not be in such dire shape today.

MP3

/ / Podcast

Even though I’m at Burning Man, I’ve snuck out an extra scheduled podcast episode (MP3): Barlow’s Legacy is my contribution to the Duke Law and Tech Review’s special edition, THE PAST AND FUTURE OF THE INTERNET: Symposium for John Perry Barlow:

“Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.”1

And now we are come to the great techlash, long overdue and desperately needed. With the techlash comes the political contest to assemble the narrative of What Just Happened and How We Got Here, because “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”Barlow is a key figure in that narrative, and so defining his legacy is key to the project of seizing the future.

As we contest over that legacy, I will here set out my view on it. It’s an insider’s view: I met Barlow first through his writing, and then as a teenager on The WELL, and then at a dinner in London with Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) attorney Cindy Cohn (now the executive director of EFF), and then I worked with him, on and off, for more than a decade, through my work with EFF. He lectured to my students at USC, and wrote the introduction to one of my essay collections, and hung out with me at Burning Man, and we spoke on so many bills together, and I wrote him into one of my novels as a character, an act that he blessed. I emceed events where he spoke and sat with him in his hospital room as he lay dying. I make no claim to being Barlow’s best or closest friend, but I count myself mightily privileged to have been a friend, a colleague, and a protege of his.

There is a story today about “cyber-utopians”told as a part of the techlash: Once, there were people who believed that the internet would automatically be a force for good. They told us all to connect to one another and fended off anyone who sought to rein in the power of the technology industry, naively ushering in an era of mass surveillance, monopolism, manipulation, even genocide. These people may have been well-intentioned, but they were smart enough that they should have known better, and if they hadn’t been so unforgivably naive (and, possibly, secretly in the pay of the future monopolists) we might not be in such dire shape today.

MP3