The proponents of SOPA, the Motion Picture Association of America, circulated a memo, citing research that SOPA would probably work, because it uses the same measures as are used in Syria, China, and Uzbekistan, and they argued that these measures are effective in those countries, and so they would work in America, too!
It may seem like SOPA is the end game in a long fight over copyright, and the Internet, and it may seem like if we defeat SOPA, we’ll be well on our way to securing the freedom of PCs and networks. But as I said at the beginning of this talk, this isn’t about copyright, because the copyright wars are just the 0.9 beta version of the long coming war on computation. The entertainment industry were just the first belligerents in this coming century-long conflict. We tend to think of them as particularly successful — after all, here is SOPA, trembling on the verge of passage, and breaking the internet on this fundamental level in the name of preserving Top 40 music, reality TV shows, and Ashton Kutcher movies!
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?”