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Cory Doctorow Wants You to Know What Computers Can and Can’t Do

The New Yorker: “…Doctorow, who is fifty-one, grew up in Toronto, the descendant of Jewish immigrants from what are now Poland, Russia, and Ukraine. Before becoming a novelist, he co-founded a free-software company, served as a co-editor of the blog Boing Boing, and spent several years working for the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation. Our first conversation, in late 2020, took place just after he had published the novel “Attack Surface,” part of his Little Brother series; it dramatizes the moral conflict of cybersecurity insiders who try to strike a balance between keeping their jobs and following their consciences. The second time we spoke, Doctorow told me that he had eight books in production. “I’m the kind of person who deals with anxiety by working instead of by being unable to work,” he explained, when I asked how he was handling the ongoing pandemic. Among those eight books were “Chokepoint Capitalism,” co-written with the law professor Rebecca Giblin and published this past September, and “Red Team Blues,” a novel set in the world of cryptocurrency, which will come out in April. In the course of two interviews, Doctorow discussed the right and wrong lessons that one can learn from science fiction, the real dangers of artificial intelligence, and the comeuppance of Big Tech, among other topics. Those conversations have been edited for length and clarity…”

Google is a company that’s only made one-and-a-half successful products in its entire history. It made a search engine and a Hotmail clone, and everything else that it’s done that’s successful it bought from someone else. The only way it was able to build a good video service was by buying YouTube. This is why merger scrutiny is such a big deal, because these companies are not built by super geniuses who use their access to the capital markets to build these impregnable businesses which no one else can assail. They are regular, venal mediocrities who use their access to the capital markets to buy everyone who might threaten them. If there’s merger scrutiny, that just stops happening. My best hope for the next three years is that we win against Big Tech, then we take on Big Everything Else. My more realistic one is, over three years, it’s probably not going to get to the point where we break up Big Tech. But I do think that we will have at least one major interoperability mandate in one major market—that would be the U.S., the European Union, or India. I think it’s quite possible that there will be interoperability mandates in China…”

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