Departing from the usual three speaker format, in May 2012 Google Firestarters gave Cory Doctorow the stage for one mind-blowingly intelligent, passionate and engaging hour. His subject, ‘The Coming War on General Computation’ introduced us to perhaps the most sinister consequence of living in a world where everything from your car to your hearing aid is a computer. He argued that those objects, primed with spyware by their manufacturers to keep tabs on the way we use them, will become observers, recorders and even controllers of our everyday lives. The copyright battles, already well documented by Doctorow, will be seen as mere skirmishes compared to this titanic clash between general computers – inherently capable of performing any computing task – and those manufacturers, marketers, law-makers and dictators who might seek to limit our use of them to serve their narrow interests.
He provided wave after wave of insight, prediction and inspired metaphor as he built his case, and as scribes it was all we could do to grab a foothold in the content as and when we could. Some jobs are like that.
The pace relaxed ever so slightly during the Q&A session afterwards, which gave us the breathing space we needed to pull our ideas together a little more. And we made a few tweaks a couple of days after the event as the significance of some of Doctorow’s points settled in our minds. Capturing all that energy and all those ideas is always a challenge, but we hope this gives a good sense of the event and the issues raised.