Cory Doctorow is a science fiction novelist, a global thought leader on digital privacy and free open source technology, co-editor of the popular weblog boingboing.net and the former Director of European Affairs for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (eff.org), a non-profit civil liberties group that defends freedom in technology law, policy, standards and treaties. As a polymath of the digital era, his clear, informative explanations illuminates the challenges of our digital future.
You have written a science fiction story about self-driving cars. What is it about?
“Car Wars” is a response to the rise of the “trolley problem” in discussions of self-driving cars. This is a 50-year-old thought experiment about whether you should push an innocent man into the path of an out-of-control trolley to save some other people (say, a group of children). The promise of self-driving cars prompted a rash of similar thought-experiments: if your self-driving car has to choose between (say) killing you by driving off a cliff or crashing into a school bus, which measure should it take. But it strikes me that this is a profoundly wrong sort of thought experiment, because it proceeds from the notion that self-driving cars that are designed to kill their owners will be designed so that the owners can’t change that setting. Which is to say, we’re already conceptualizing of self-driving cars as devices that control their users, not the other way around — that policies set by remote parties will override the choices made by the people whose physical, vulnerable bodies are inside of them. So “Car Wars” is a response to this, about the dangers of a car that can’t be overridden by its owners: that it might be used for other purposes than intended.
You’re not very optimistic about the future, aren’t you?
I think that optimism and pessimism aren’t very useful ways to frame the future. The future is arriving whether we like it or not, so our job isn’t to hope that it will be good or despair because it will be terrible, but to do everything we can to make it better.
So when it comes to specific future developments, we should not rely on science fiction authors?
Science Fiction writers aren’t very good at predicting the future, which is a good thing, because the future isn’t predictable – what happens in the future isn’t the result of forces beyond human control that take us along for the ride, it’s determined by the actions that we take. Science Fiction writers can inspire people to fight for better future, or warn them about the need to avert worse ones, but we can’t predict anything (thank goodness!)
Boing Boing started as a magazine in 1988 and became an award-winning and well-known weblog. Common topics and themes include technology, futurism, science fiction, gadgets, intellectual property and politics. It twice won the Bloggies for Weblog of the Year, in 2004 and 2005.