The End of General-Purpose Computing

Some years ago I wrote a near-future story in which computers had fallen into disfavor. Not in the manner of Dune, but somewhat related to that.

In our own lives, the last few years have seen computers becoming increasingly present. On Christmas day, I watched as several young people present sat with their devices, absorbed in that interaction and with little attention for the people around them. This is the common scene, and it accompanies the same horsepower that adds so much access to knowledge to our lives. I often wonder how even-increasing computing in our lives will turn out.

But it might not work out that way. In this transcript of a talk by Cory Doctorow (a hat tip to my good friend MB), he talks about a different sort of threat to computing devices. There is certainly some merit to his warning, and I found it interesting:

And it doesn’t take a science fiction writer to understand why regulators might be nervous about the user-modifiable firmware on self-driving cars, or limiting interoperability for aviation controllers, or the kind of thing you could do with bio-scale assemblers and sequencers. Imagine what will happen the day that Monsanto determines that it’s really… *really*… important to make sure that computers can’t execute programs that cause specialized peripherals to output organisms that eat their lunch… literally. Regardless of whether you think these are real problems or merely hysterical fears, they are nevertheless the province of lobbies and interest groups that are far more influential than Hollywood and big content are on their best days, and every one of them will arrive at the same place – “can’t you just make us a general purpose computer that runs all the programs, except the ones that scare and anger us? Can’t you just make us an Internet that transmits any message over any protocol between any two points, unless it upsets us?”

The concept is the collision of SOPA and the Fairness Doctrine, and it is coming our way.

===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle