The war on general purpose computers is the war on science


Doctorow, C. (2018). The war on general purpose computers is the war on science. Perimeter Institute. https://pirsa.org/18050006


Doctorow, Cory. The war on general purpose computers is the war on science. Perimeter Institute, May. 09, 2018, https://pirsa.org/18050006


          @misc{ pirsa_PIRSA:18050006,
            doi = {10.48660/18050006},
            url = {https://pirsa.org/18050006},
            author = {Doctorow, Cory},
            keywords = {Other},
            language = {en},
            title = {The war on general purpose computers is the war on science},
            publisher = {Perimeter Institute},
            year = {2018},
            month = {may},
            note = {PIRSA:18050006 see, \url{https://pirsa.org}}

Cory Doctorow Craphound

Talk Type Scientific Series


The general purpose computer can run any program we can express in
symbolic logic; that makes it the go-to tool for accomplishing any task
that can be reduced to a computable function, and that's why software is
eating the world and cars and colliders and airplanes and pacemakers and
toasters are all just turning into computers in fancy cases.

That also means that every policy problem we can imagine will eventually
involve a computer -- and thus involve a lawmaker insisting that it must
be possible to make a computer that can run every program except for
some program that creates a problem in the world.

We don't know how to make that computer, but we can approximate it by
creating a computer with some spyware-like program running on it that
checks to see whether you're running a "naughty" program and shuts it down.

That's a spider we swallow to catch a fly. Here's the bird we swallow to
catch the spider: laws like Canada's C-11 make it a crime to
investigate, circumvent, or point out defects in systems that have these
spyware-like processes.

Companies have noticed that this offers some real upsides for them: they
can use these spyware-like processes to prevent users their customers
from using their own consumables (e.g. printer ink), parts, service
depots, apps -- anything that the company can command a high margin on,
provided that it's illegal for a customer to choose someone else's products.

What a deadly combination: companies are rapidly expanding the
constellation of devices that are locked in this way, and once a device
is locked in this way, it can't be investigated, its defects can't be
disclosed, and it can't be modified to improve it, mitigate its flaws,
and protects its owner from cybersecurity risk.

Peer review exists out of recognition that there is no way to know if
you're right until you let your enemies try to prove you wrong; in
creating a monopolistic right to control the use of products after they
were sold, Parliament also created the right for companies to enjoin the
most fundamental task of scientific knowledge creation: finding mistakes
and pointing them out.

This is urgent: our world is made of computers, those computers are
designed to treat their owners as their enemies, and security
researchers can't audit those computers without risking civil and
criminal reprisals. That's a catastrophe in the making.