Show Notes for Ep. 8 “Cory Doctorow”

Cory Doctorow—celebrated author, essayist, blogger-journalist, and human rights activist—visits the podcast to talk about privacy, security, monopoly power, the innate conservatism of AI, moral reckonings, technothrillers, and his latest book, Attack Surface, part of a series which motivated a generation of hacktivists, thinkers, and techies to fight for freedom and equity in our increasingly digital world.

Content note for discussion of torture, and for use of an ableist insult regarding mental health. Also for use of bullying as a metaphor.

Recorded 24 January 2021 / Published 10 May 2021


  • 0:30: Introducing Cory Doctorow, and discussing his “post-scarcity complicated utopia” Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom.
  • 3:20: The subjectivity of social capital.
  • 7:55: Someone’s positive reputation can lead others to ignore bad actions, and a negative reputation can lead others to ignore good actions.
  • 12:15: Harlan Ellison, Trumpists, Haman, and truth and reconciliation.
  • 15:15: Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game, and Starship Troopers.
  • 21:05: C.S. Lewis, the Problem of Susan, and virtuous pagans.
  • 24:30: Writing fiction to figure out what’s going on in our heads; things we don’t know about ourselves appearing in our writing.
  • 29:30: If your work reveals something to you about yourself, then take the next step and act differently.
  • 32:10: Machine learning supposes the future should be like the past.
  • 33:05: Reduce the consequences of the platforms’ bad judgment by making them less powerful, and preventing them from buying competitors.
  • 36:45: Stop criminalizing interoperability.
  • 40:35: Make online communities interoperable, with freedom to move between communities.
  • 42:55: Federalism, and communicating with the public through multiple channels.
  • 45:55: Communities and governments deciding what things are acceptable or legal to say.
  • 49:45: Tech companies block interoperability; we can improve things by screen-scraping.
  • 54:20 : Brief intermission, featuring an ad for the Speculative Literature Foundation.
  • 55:00: Cory’s new novel Attack Surface, and ordinary people being lax about computer security.
  • 58:00: Cory’s YA novels inculcate in young people a view of the promise and peril of technology.
  • 1:02:10: “Use the temporary shelter that you get from technology to create structural changes in society.”
  • 1:04:40: Consumerism as a powerful tool.
  • 1:06:00: Making it easy for people to do good.
  • 1:09:40: Monopoly power can block interoperability.
  • 1:11:10: Technothrillers that are short on technology.
  • 1:14:30Little Brother is still relevant because the underlying policy and technical questions are stable.
  • 1:17:05: The technical material in Cory’s work is interwoven with the story, and is very digestible.
  • 1:19:10: Work in corporate computing can require focusing on unimportant things.
  • 1:23:20: In local government, it can be easy to focus on fine-grained decisions while missing big important equity issues.
  • 1:25:45: The villains in Cory’s novels Walkaway and Attack Surface.
  • 1:29:40: In Attack Surface, “being a good person to the people around you can mean being a bad person in the world.”
  • 1:31:30: How do you get to a utopian fictional world from where we are?
  • 1:34:10: Figuring out at each step what the best next step is to get to the kind of world we want.
  • 1:40:10: Another approach: make the easiest changes first, and prototype things at a smaller scale to gain insight.
  • 1:42:35: Writers can influence society.
  • 1:43:40: An anecdote about Ben’s son Noah and a sit-in at the European Parliament.
  • 1:45:00: Science fiction doesn’t predict the future, but it can help you mentally rehearse for scenarios.
  • 1:47:30: The insufficiency of copyright as a means to compel companies to honor their deals.
  • 1:55:40: Why Cory, Mary Anne, and Ben release their work for free (sometimes under CC licenses): people respond to generosity with generosity.
  • 2:06:15: Credits.

Authors and Works Mentioned

Alphabetically by author surname, or by title of work in cases where authorship isn’t simple.

Other Clarifying or Explanatory Links