Intellectual Property After Everything Can Be Downloaded

And four other intriguing things: a conveyor belt city, immortality, a crazy keyboard, and the distinct subgenre of e-literature.

1. Intellectual property in a world without scarcity

"More recently, new technologies promise to do for a variety of physical goods and even services what the Internet has already done for information... While none of these technologies are nearly as far along as the Internet, they share two essential characteristics with the Internet: they radically reduce the cost of production and distribution of things, and they separate the informational content of those things (the design) from their manufacture. Combine these four developments – the Internet, 3D printing, robotics, and synthetic biology – and it is entirely plausible to envision a not-too-distant world in which most things that people want can be downloaded and created on site for very little money. The role of IP in such a world is both controverted and critically important."


2. Italian architectural collective Superstudio's Continuous Production Conveyor Belt City.

"'The city moves,' they wrote, 'unrolling like a majestic serpent; over new lands, taking its 8 million inhabitants on a ride through valleys and hills, from the mountains to the seashore, generation after generation. The head of the city is the Grand Factory, 4 miles wide and 100 yards high, like the city it continuously produces . . . The Grand Factory devours shreds of useless nature and unformed minerals at its front end and emits sections of completely formed city, ready for use, from its back end.'"


3. Let's assume we figure out how to make ourselves immortal. What then?

"If humans could live forever, it would transform our civilization in ways more profound than just about any other technological breakthrough. Lifelong marriage—already on the ropes in the age of ever-lengthening lifespans—would cease to make sense. Overpopulation could become an even more significant issue than it is now. The cost of war might have to be re-evaluated. We could live long enough for humans to reach other stars. Young people might find themselves unable to compete in an ossified job market, full of people with centuries of experience. The Immortalists poses a straightforward question: Why shouldn’t we cure death?"


4. The space-cadet keyboard.

"The space-cadet keyboard was equipped with seven modifier keys: four keys for bucky bits ('control', 'meta', 'hyper', and 'super'; the latter two of which were introduced by this keyboard) and three shift keys, called 'shift', 'top', and 'front'. Many keys had three symbols on them: a letter and a symbol on the top, and a Greek letter on the front. For example, the 'L' key had an 'L' and a two-way arrow on the top, and the Greek letter lambda ('λ') on the front."

+ Found via @girdish's keyboard research.


5. A Yale undergrad tries to make sense of e-literature, whatever that might be.

"Nowadays, Cayley uses computers to create programs and algorithms that generate poetry. Sometimes he works with existing texts or with words gleaned from Google’s Ngram Viewer and uses computer programming to impose a set of rules upon the text that could be poetically interesting. Other times, the poem’s text is designed to change with every reading, so that a reader experiences the same process each time but not necessarily the same words. For Cayley, the literal text of the poem is not the poem; the poem is the process generated by the program."


I'm in Miami for The Atlantic's Start-Up City event, so I don't have access to my dictionary of 1957 American English usage tips. HOWEVER, I am interviewing one of the founders of Rap Genius, which gives me the occasion to share the first page of Teju Cole's Open City, as annotated by Cole on Rap Genius. Worth your time, promise.


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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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