My latest Guardian column, “Beware the spyware model of technology – its flaws are built in,” is a look at some of the coming battles over the general-purpose PC and the general-purpose network, and how the copyright wars have shown us what’s at risk when we do regulation wrong. It’s adapted from my talk at last week’s University of Toronto iSchool conference:
The growing realm of 3D printing will generate all sorts of new problems in search of solutions. From sex toys (banned in some southern US states) to kits to modify semi-automatic guns and render them automatic, new groups of would-be network/device cops will crop up every day. The list of problematic 3D objects is practically endless: anatomically correct Barbie torsos that can fit the standard head and limbs; keys for high-security locks; patented gizmos; even objects held sacred by indigenous people.
Around the corner are the bio-printers that can output organisms, pharmaceutical compounds, and biological material. The potential for these devices is enormous, but so are the problems, from patent infringement to bioweapons (inadvertent and deliberate).
The thing is, we’ll be no more effective at building a bio-printer or a 3D printer or a software radio that can only execute certain programs than we were at building a PC that won’t copy a copyrighted song. The flexibility of the universal computer and the universal network is fundamental and non-negotiable. Building a computer that can run every program is infinitely simpler than building a computer that can run any program except for naughty ones. Building a network that can carry every packet is infinitely simpler than building a network that carries all traffic except for the traffic you wish it wouldn’t carry.