Cory Doctorow at 28c3: The Coming War on General Purpose Computation

By Aaron Williamson | January 4, 2012

In his keynote from the 28th Chaos Communication Congress last week, Cory Doctorow outlines the primary threat to software freedom in the 21st century: that as our lives become more dependent upon general-purpose computers, the attempts of industry and government to control computing will fundamentally endanger our personal liberty. Using the now-familiar history of digital rights management—its rise, its failure, and legislative efforts to enforce it—Cory illustrates how those threatened by technology will inevitably seek to cripple it. But the so-called copyright wars waged by content owners, he says, were only “a skirmish”:

The problem is twofold: first, there is no known general-purpose computer that can execute all the programs we can think of except the naughty ones; second, general-purpose computers have replaced every other device in our world. There are no airplanes, only computers that fly. There are no cars, only computers we sit in. There are no hearing aids, only computers we put in our ears. There are no 3D printers, only computers that drive peripherals. There are no radios, only computers with fast ADCs and DACs and phased-array antennas. Consequently anything you do to “secure” anything with a computer in it ends up undermining the capabilities and security of every other corner of modern human society.

This problem has been at the center of SFLC’s recent work. It’s the reason we’ve fought for disclosure of the software running implantable medical devices and are asking the Copyright Office to limit the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provisions to ensure that people can install whatever software they choose on their personal computing devices.Thanks to Cory for his clear and accessible explanation of the threat to free computing and for his call (at 36:00) to support SFLC’s efforts to fight restrictive implementations of UEFI.

You can download a high-resolution copy of the entire speech here or watch it on YouTube (Flash required).

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