Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Challenges of Technology

A few days ago, DW posed a series of questions in response to the article on the extradition of an Australian man for violating US copyright laws.

I boiled his questions down to:

1. Technology (science) and globalization has a way of challenging every concept of human interaction and long held beliefs
2. In the medical profession it challenges responsibility, liability and obligation of health care providers.
3. In cyber space it challenges the concept of public domain, legal easement, property rights Profit and intellectual property are 'special interest' in cyber space?
4. Like 'civil rights' we are heading for unforeseen problems of special interest?

Nothing I have to say on these subjects is highly original, but maybe I can word it so that some folks who found it too abstract in the past can get their arms around this stuff.

Comments are more than welcome.

Yes, technology and globalization is a challenge in every aspect of our interaction. For instance, privacy. In 1800, to achieve privacy for a conversation, a couple of people needed only to walk a few hundred feet away from anyone else. And immigration. In 1800, immigrants moved only by walking - or if they were "men of means" they rode horses. There were mass migrations in the days of old, but they usually either followed, or were met by massive losses in population. To say that early Christians would have had a tough time dealing with the lack of privacy in today's society is an understatement. The Bible itself tells us to seek privacy for prayer, meditation, and fellowship.

In medicine, the Hippocratic oath made sense because when the brain died, or when the patient was unable to breath or eat, the body died. Now we can keep the body alive years after the patient, for all practical (and many philosophical) reasons, is dead. The most vivid example of this in recent history is Terri Schiavo a woman who was, for all reasoned argument, dead, but whose body was kept alive for years on trivial moral and legal arguments. In the end, the result of this was many formerly respectable people making up scientific arguments out of thin air at the behest of a doctor who apparently had already lost his license to practice for bilking people who had no hope by saying he could reverse permanent brain damage.

There are many other aspects this impacts. Until the 20th century, doctors were "on their own." The professionalization of schooling and practice of medicine was followed almost immediately by the politicalization of medicine. Their latest politcalizations are attempts to undermine the 2nd amendment and to promote vegetarianism by false science.

In cyberspace? We wouldn't have anything called cyberspace without technology. Now that I have stated the obvious, public domain and easement had to be completely redefined in cyberspace - and are still in the process of being redefined again. Public domain on the Internet mostly means places where anyone can publish. The ultimate used to be USENET = normally a place where anyone can write (the writings are not public domain - just the space where they write it). It is currently being "mailbombed" by some jerk that is piping in articles 30,000 at a time. This renders the area unusable by ordinary users. I don't know if this will ever be fixed, as it has been a problem for years and the USENET community doesn't really want to restrict access to what used to be an area that was free for all to post. Blogspot, Typepad, and Livejournal may be the future.

Easement would be the traffic flowing across someones network that belongs to someone on another network. The current battle there is "Net Neutrality" and both sides have taken up extreme positions - and have taken up misrepresenting their opponent's position. Just like rePublicans and democRats.

Property, especially intellectual property rights are a constant battlefield on the Internet. Once upon a time, copyrights and patents were reasonable. Copyright was for up to 14 years. The original reasoning for intellectual property laws was "promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts..." as was written in the Constitution. In recent years, however, it has become a counterproductive obstacle to progress, bent only on increasing revenue for corporations - and in many cases, it only increases the activity in their legal departments. The first case of this that I am aware of was IBM's Micro Channel Architecture (MCA). This was in internal system in a computer, developed at the right time to make PC's smaller, faster and more flexible. But IBM got greedy with the patents (100 of them) and as a result, no one except IBM used it. Ultimately this led to the early demise of MCA, and adoption of EISA and VESA architecture. Neither of the new architectures went over as well as MCA had the potential for, and in the end, not only did IBM not make much money on their invention, the rest of the computing world was adrift looking for a solution for several years. PCI eventually caught on, and the world left IBM behind.

In the area of copyright, the 7 to 14 year rule was essentially replaced with the Disney rule. All copyrighted material since the inception of Disney is still under copyright, as Disney and other corporations kept getting the time extended, until now it is almost 100 years.

As for the argument that intellectual property rights are a "special interest" in cyberspace, this is not strictly true, but cyberspace provides special challenges on both sides of the issue. On the side of people infringing copyright, electronic media is generally easy to make perfect copies of, and the copying can take place at lightning speed. An article, researched for months at great expense can be spread all over the world in minutes, and if the publisher doesn't take extraordinary steps, neither the publisher nor the author will get compensated for their work. On the other side of the issue, the government has been creating more and more laws to try to keep this under control - some draconian in their nature and others just downright intrusive into the private areas of our lives. If you are a software maker and you provide some feature that circumvents an anti piracy protection, you can be prosecuted in federal court - even if there is a legitimate use for that feature, such as software to make Adobe Books available to blind users. And both the FBI and Sony have been known to put software bugs on people's computers to see if they can catch someone making illegal copies or to stop them from making copies. In the case of Sony, this bug both interfered with the normal function of the computer, and left the computer open to attacks by others. Sony was sued, but the legal firm supposedly representing the people whose computers were damaged seemed to be more interested in collecting millions in lawyers fees (they did) than justice. In the end, the people got about $8 each.

There are many parallels between these "special interests" and civil liberties. In fact, many of these are civil liberties of a sort. Each has a corresponding challenge in the physical world.

3 comments:

dw said...

That was a good groundwork to my thinking. I caught myself thinking of cyberspace as like a freeway. No matter what laws there are people violate them as well as have accidents. People do everything in their cars too. lol

If it weren't so necessarily convenient 'at your own risk' would be the logical solution to keeping cyberspace free from governments controlls and they will eventually censor and tax. Maybe they just haven't worked out the software and legal details yet.

My views is very limited here and I would like to hear some other opinions.

dw said...

"There are many parallels between these "special interests" and civil liberties. In fact, many of these are civil liberties of a sort. Each has a corresponding challenge in the physical world."

That is the key.

TRex said...

The "at your own risk" model works for many of the things on the Internet, but not all.

I think a tollway model would have been a great benifit to the whole system. Problem with that was the roots of the Internet were government and universities, both of whom had an interst in the "free" flow of ideas.

Wish the world were that simple.

TRex