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Cory Doctorow

Author, Activist, Journalist and Blogger

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Oligarchy and Technology

Abstract

Software has eaten the world and crapped out a dystopia: a place where Abbot Labs uses copyright claims to stop people with diabetes from taking control over their insulin dispensing and where BMW is providing seat-heaters as an-over-the-air upgrade that you have to pay for by the month. Companies have tried this stuff since the year dot, but Thomas Edison couldn't send a patent enforcer to your house to make sure you honored the license agreement on your cylinder by only playing it on an Edison phonograph. Today, digital systems offer perfect enforcement for the pettiest, greediest grifts imaginable.

We are living through an unparalleled moment of conspiratorialism, supercharged by tech, but correlation is not causation.

Tech is among the most visible indicators of a tendency toward oligarchy in our world, but the tendency is not technological in nature: the same abuses are present in every industry, from professional wrestling to fracking.

These concentrated industries are actual conspiracies: an industry with only a handful of major firms, regulated by insiders, is a conspiracy, and these conspiracies kill: the opioid epidemic, enabled by a well-funded conspiracy to suborn health regulators with falsified research, has a greater US body-count than the Vietnam war. The explanatory power of conspiracies in the world isn't the result of tech's incredible ability to persuade at mass scale -- rather, conspiracism thrives because so many of the sources of our collective trauma *are* conspiracies, and tech helps traumatized conspiracists locate and coordinate with each other.

Biography

Cory Doctorow (craphound.com) is a science fiction author, activist, and journalist. He is the author of RADICALIZED and WALKAWAY, science fiction for adults, a YA graphic novel called IN REAL LIFE, the nonfiction business book INFORMATION DOESN’T WANT TO BE FREE, and young adult novels like HOMELAND, PIRATE CINEMA and LITTLE BROTHER. His latest book is POESY THE MONSTER SLAYER, a picture book for young readers. His next book is ATTACK SURFACE, an adult sequel to LITTLE BROTHER. He maintains a daily blog at Pluralistic.net. He works for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, is a MIT Media Lab Research Affiliate, is a Visiting Professor of Computer Science at Open University, a Visiting Professor of Practice at the University of North Carolina’s School of Library and Information Science and co-founded the UK Open Rights Group. Born in Toronto, Canada, he now lives in Los Angeles.

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