Edge Spotlights The Pancake People : Digital Information Copyrights

The March 7, 2005 Edge (7,300 words), has one of the most interesting discussions we have seen in a long time on the effects of the digital revolution. It is billboarded as “AN EDGE SPECIAL EVENT” featuring a match between these two heavyweights:

THE PANCAKE PEOPLE, OR, “THE GODS ARE POUNDING MY HEAD”
Richard Foreman
vs.
THE GÖDEL-TO-GOOGLE NET
George Dyson

as judged by

THE REALITY CLUB
made up of
Kevin Kelly, Jaron Lanier, Steven Johnson, Marvin Minsky, Douglas Rushkoff, Roger Schank, responding to Richard Foreman and George Dyson

What a great idea.

Relevant for the law are Marvin Minsky’s observations on copyrights (MINSKY is cofounder of MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and author of The Society of Mind).

“Mr. Foreman complains that he is being replaced (by “the pressure of information overload”) with “a new self that needs to contain less and less of an inner repertory of dense cultural inheritance” because he is connected to “that vast network of information accessed by the mere touch of a button.”

I think that this is ridiculous because I don’t see any basic change; there always was too much information. Fifty years ago, if you went into any big library, you would have been overwhelmed by the amounts contained in the books therein. Furthermore, that “touch of a button” has [improved] things in two ways: (1) it has [changed] the time it takes to find a book from perhaps several minutes into several seconds, and (2) in the past [it] usually took many minutes, or even hours, to find what you wanted to find inside that book — but now, a Computer can help you search through the text, and I see this as nothing but good.

Indeed, it seems to me that only one thing has gone badly wrong. I do not go to libraries any more, because I can find most of what I want by using that wonderful touch of a button! However the copyright laws have gotten worse — and I think that the best thoughts still are in books because, frequently, in those ancient times, the authors developed their ideas for years well [before] they started to publicly babble. Unfortunately, not much of that stuff from the past fifty years is in the public domain, because of copyrights.

So, in my view, it is not the gods, but Foreman himself who has been pounding on his own head. Perhaps if he had stopped longer to think, he would have written something more sensible. Or on second thought, perhaps he would not — if, in fact, he actually has been replaced.”
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