Vernor Vinge on computers, freedom and privacy

Wendy Grossman reports in the Guardian from the Computers, Freedom and Privacy conference, describing Vernor Vinge's presentation of his incredible new novel Rainbows End and its relation to Orwellian notions of control. Rainbows End is probably the most mind-blowing work of science fiction I've read all year: it manages to touch on the future of fandom, consensus reality, copyright, DRM, scholarship, aging, generation gaps, and global politics, while telling a technothriller adventure story that I couldn't help but devour. In fact, the excellent plot pissed me off, because it kept me turning the pages so fast I could barely pause to appreciate the wild ideas in Vinge's worldbuilding.
The scenario he describes is the background he researched for Rainbows End. Set in 2025, the characters are surrounded by logical extensions of today's developing technology. Wearable computing is commonplace. Tagging and ubiquitous networked sensors mean you can look at the landscape with your choice of overlay and detail. People send each other silent messages and Google for information within conversations with participants who may be physically present or might be remote projections. One character's projection is hijacked and becomes the front for three people. The owner of another remote intelligence is unknown. Several continents' top intelligence operatives try to solve a smart biological attack that infects a test population with the willingness to obey orders.

Vinge makes two opening assumptions: no grand physical disaster occurs, and today's computing and communications trends continue.

He added a third trend: "The great conspiracy against human freedom." As novelist Doris Lessing has observed, barons on opposite sides of the river don't need to be in cahoots if their interests coincide. In our case, defence, homeland security, financial crime enforcement, police, tax collectors and intellectual property rights holders offer reasons to want to control the hardware we use. Then there are geeks, who can be tempted to forget the consequences if the technology is cool enough. Vinge quotes the most famous line from the comic strip Pogo: "We have met the enemy, and he is us."

Vinge's technology to satisfy these groups' dreams is the Secure Hardware Environment (She), which dedicates some bandwidth and a small portion of every semiconductor for regulatory use. Deployment is progressive, as standards are implemented. Built into new chips, She will spread inevitably through its predecessors' obsolescence.

Link (Thanks, Mark!)

Update: Jay sez, "Bazooka Joe at the smallWORLD podcast conducted an excellent interview with Vernor Vinge in which the author diplayed his dexterity of thought. He seems to make all the important connections."

Update: Jay sez, "Bazooka Joe at the smallWORLD podcast conducted an excellent interview with Vernor Vinge in which the author diplayed his dexterity of thought. He seems to make all the important connections."