Cloudy with a Chance of Totalitarianism

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by Robert Wright

This NY Times op-ed by Jonathan Zittrain about the perils of “cloud computing” has gotten some buzz, but not enough, I think. It raises the question of whether moving our software and content from the desktop to the "cloud" could make it easier for authoritarian governments to control the flow of information. In this light, Amazon’s recent deletion of Orwell's work from Kindles everywhere shifts from amusingly to ominously ironic. I’ve long argued that microelectronic technology has naturally decentralizing effects on power, and I’m convinced that this has been its upshot to date in places like China. Indeed, Orwell’s 1984, which envisioned video staying under the sort of centralized control that TV started out with, has in that sense proved way off. (Huxley’s Brave New World got more stuff right.) But who knows? Maybe Orwell will have the last, bitterly ironic, laugh. This is one of the most important questions of our time, and Zittrain’s op-ed is just the beginning of the conversation.

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