A Little Bit Pregnant: Cory Doctorow at Boundaries, Frontiers and Gatekeepers iSchool Conference

by Socrates on March 6, 2011

Yesterday I attended the keynote speech at the Boundaries, Frontiers & Gatekeepers third annual University of Toronto iSchool student conference.

The keynote speaker at the conference was best selling author, activist and blogger Cory Doctorow, whose presentation was titled A Little Bit Pregnant: Why it’s a Bad Idea to Regulate Computers the Way We Regulate Radios, Guns, Uranium and Other Special-Purpose Tools.

In his keynote speech Cory addresses the issue of computer regulation in general and, more specifically, asks: What happens when we take the failed regulatory model from the copy-right realm and try to import it into other realms too? What are the consequences?

Here are some key points from Doctorow’s speech:

“Designing general purpose computers that sneak around their owners’ backs is a terrible idea. We’ve already seen what happens when you add just a little bit of control to networks and computers - most recently we saw Iran’s and Egypt’s secret police mining Facebook to figure out whom to arrest. Virus writers and identity thieves have already figured out that when there is a technology, that is supposed to prevent copying, running on a computer, that prevents certain programs from being seen or modified by users, that those are the programs you’d want to infect with your viruses because they also cannot be seen by the user of the computer.


Once we create the facility to lawfully intercept terrorist communications, or to speedily take down copy-right-infringement or to interdict pirate software, or to remotely prevent bad radios from running, we create the tools by which tyrants, crooks, snoops and jerks will spy on and control us, even if for the best of reasons.


Building a general purpose PC that is just a little bit locked down is like finding a woman who is just a little bit pregnant. Once the facility can be used for a legitimate purpose, it can also be used for illegitimate purpose…”

So, what is Cory’s proposed way of addressing some of the more clear-cut current and potential future problems surrounding the usage of general purpose computers, such as creating DIY super-bugs, illicit criminal or terrorist communications and child-pornography?

Well, you’ll have to hear his keynote speech in full to find out.

P.S. Special thanks to Mike, Joseph and the rest of the TVO crew who so generously provided a line-in for my audio recorder in order to capture the best possible audio quality for this singularity podcast.

Update: Due to readers’ requests I am also posting the audio of the question period after the keynote speech:


Video Update: TVO just posted the video on their YouTube Channel:

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  • http://craphound.com/?p=3348 Cory Doctorow’s craphound.com >> Blog Archive » Audio of yesterday’s iSchool talk

    [...] Other Special-Purpose Tools") yesterday and was kind enough to record and podcast it with a great write up. Here's the MP3, too! Comments (0) | Posted on March 6, 2011 08:39 PM [...]

  • Asdf

    I’d like to hear the Q&A, too!

  • http://singularityblog.singularitysymposium.com/ Socrates

    Hi Asdf,
    Unfortunately I don’t have the recording of the Q&A. I am sorry about that. Next time I will make sure I do.

  • http://weakinteractions.wordpress.com/2011/03/08/a-little-bit-pregnant-cory-doctorow-in-toronto/ A little bit pregnant: Cory Doctorow in Toronto « weak interactions

    [...] On Saturday I was privileged enough to attend Cory Doctorow‘s keynote speech at the University of Toronto’s third annual iSchool conference, Boundaries, Frontiers and Gatekeepers. I’ve been a fan of Cory since he started writing for the Guardian in 2007, and his novel Little Brother will be required reading for any teenagers I happen to have influence over (though now that I’m over 25, they really shouldn’t trust me to give them advice about what to read). The keynote speech was called A little bit pregnant: Why it’s a bad idea to regulate computers the way we regulate radios, guns, uranium and other special-purpose tools, and you can find an excellent podcast of it on the Singularity blog. [...]

  • http://singularityblog.singularitysymposium.com/ Socrates

    Hi Asdf, after your request I managed to contact someone else and get the audio recording of the question period. Hope you like it!

  • http://profiles.google.com/hopkinsju Justin Hopkins

    The Q&A period is awesome! Can you post a link to the mp3 so we can add it to our playlist?

  • http://profiles.google.com/hopkinsju Justin Hopkins

    God I’m a noob… Thanks for the link ;)

  • http://singularityblog.singularitysymposium.com/ Socrates

    See the link right above your comment Justin! You can right click and download from there ;-)

  • http://singularityblog.singularitysymposium.com/ Socrates

    No problem! You are welcome!

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