Pwning Tomorrow: a book review

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (the EFF) recently published Pwning Tomorrow (playing off the leetspeak term ‘pwn’, meaning ‘to own’).  They are calling it a speculative Fiction Anthology.  It contains a number of short stories that use science fiction as a way to look at some of the issues facing us in the coming years. You can download Pwning Tomorrow as a ebook from the EFF site by following this link:

Telling stories to get people thinking about technology and society is not new idea, as this quote by Cory Doctorow alludes to.

"From Mary Shelley to George Orwell to H.G. Wells to William Gibson, science fiction has been the most enduring, most convincing way for artists to engage in tech policy issues"
Cory Doctorow

Most of these stories stretch current concepts into the future.  You might be tempted to say “That’s a bit far fetched”, but the issue is how far.  Looking at some of these issues is a great way to show us what we should be looking forward to enjoying, or what sort of reality we should be extra careful to avoid.

I’ve got the music in me takes current approach for copyright infringement and takes it to a somewhat natural extreme - infringement action when you sing a song in your head. It’s an extreme position, but it does get you thinking - where is the line for copyright and IP enforcement? At what point does it become unfair?

Nanolaw with Daughter tells the story of a father teacher his 10 year-old daughter about micro-torts as she begins the task of looking after her own torrent of legal proceedings, including a raft of unenforceable SPAM. Examples include having to pay a fine for unlicensed singing of the national anthem at a baseball game. 

Business as usual is essentially the story of a person whose job doesn’t exist yet - being an on-call counsellor and help desk for AI-enabled ‘Internet of Things’ devices like fridges. Apparently almost half of the professions in 50 years time haven’t even been invented yet, but counselling fridges about the ethics of locking their owners out in order to fulfill their insurance requirements sounds like a rough gig to me.

Other stories include:

  • a sprinter taking part in a future augmented Olympics with blade-legs and all her 'superfluous' organs removed during racing (who needs a stomach when running a race)
  • a citizen-journalist, coupled with power of a crowdsource mob, thwarts a terrorist attack
  • what happens when Google takes over immigration and border protection screening (because Government isn’t equipped to “Do Search Right”)? You get ‘scroogled’
  • advanced warfighting through the medium of dance-dance revolution (e.g side-step shimmy = drone lays down suppressing fire).

Pwning Tomorrow was a really enjoyable read that we solidly recommend.