Cory Doctorow: The Coming Civil War of General-purpose Computing


Hour long talk by Cory outlining the struggle over trust of our computers - that we put our bodies into and increasingly will put into our bodies.

Doctorow framed the question this way: “Computers are everywhere. They are now something we put our whole bodies into—airplanes, cars—and something we put into our bodies—pacemakers, cochlear implants. They HAVE to be trustworthy.”

The core issues for Doctorow come down to Human Rights versus Property Rights, Lockdown versus Certainty, and Owners versus mere Users.


  • there are two wars: the war on general purpose computing, that he thinks we will win, then the civil war which has no easy answers
  • the war versus general purpose computing:
    • computers that do everything we want but not the things we don’t want
    • someone else is in control of the computer you bought/own
    • printers that won’t print currency, 3d printers that won’t print weapons, etc
  • if we win then individuals will have control over:
    • the TPM (Trusted Platform Module) which at least shows if your computer has been tampered with
    • when you get your computing device you can sign it to make sure only the things you want are run on it
    • TPM guarantees the bootloader, which guarantees the OS, etc
  • assuming that privacy and individual control win out, then there is the harder problem:
    • you can control which software runs, but are you fit to do so?
      • computers that can cause harm to others (through negligence, mistakes or malice), ex: autos
      • computers that can cause harm to yourself (implants, etc)