Because it was the first stop on Doctorow's tour, he got choked up speaking about Swartz's suicide. He said that he promised Aaron's family that he would discuss suicide at all of his stops to honor Aaron and I know I wasn't the only one whose eyes were watering up as Cory talked about what he wished he could've told Aaron. He said that in this age of technology, it is easier than it has ever been to know more about people than we ever have before, but we can't know how someone is feeling unless they tell us, and unless we ask. Later, in the question and answer section, an audience member thanked him for all of his words about depression and suicide and told the audience that we should keep in mind that for every murder in the US, there are two suicides, and we never hear much about them. (1) I've been thinking about this a lot recently, especially after reading my local suburb's weekly newspaper which informed me that two weeks ago we had four suicides. Four, in one suburb, in one week.
The next few questions were of interest to me but I was concentrating so hard on what Doctorow was saying that I probably messed up transcribing. An audience member asked what he thought of country to country cyber warfare, which Doctorow answered by saying that he finds it immensely irresponsible because the potential for blowback is so high. Malware can easily (and inadvertently) affect systems that were never intended to be involved, though he's not sure what we can do to support nonproliferation at this point. I'm not sure if it was at this point but sometime during the event he told a story about a programmer who showed that he could take control of pacemaker software and essentially insert a bug into it that could end up killing the users. Such dangerous potential. Along similar lines, another question was about why lawmakers would spend their time passing laws like the one from recent weeks which made it a felony to unlock your phone. (I wish I was kidding) Everything is dependent on computers these days and we all have an obsession with trying to lock them up and keeping people safe, but the answer is probably not keeping ourselves safe individually but by making the system safer--but not through censorware. (content filtering) Every word out of everyone's mouth at this event made me want to know more about computers and the internet. One audience member even said, "The more you talk, the more I feel like I am totally f*cked." To that, he said get involved. SOPA failed because so many people wrote to their lawmakers and spoke out against the proposed legislation.
I had no idea until the next question came up that the Seattle Police were experimenting with a drone program, which basically included using unmanned small aircraft for monitoring. The questioner asked what Doctorow thought of the city using CCTV to monitor Seattle's harbors for Homeland Security and using drones. (incidentally, Mayor McGinn grounded the drones just a day or two after this event because there were so many privacy concerns) Doctorow talked about how prevalent CCTV is in London, where he resides. He said it hasn't really had much effect on how much crime is committed, though it has had some effect on how many people are convicted of crimes. To this, he said that prevention should be the actual goal. He told an anecdotal story about a friend of his, a lawyer, who was stabbed and killed outside a tube station. Did the recently installed CCTV prevent his murder? No. Even if it did eventually provide evidence against his assailants, what good is it if it doesn't prevent the actual crime? He said that use of surveillance also lessens the feeling of community we have with our neighbors. No one likes being watched.
To a question about why he decided to write a sequel to Little Brother, Doctorow said he never intended to do so but that he had an idea for a scene and he went with it. He said it was immensely satisfying to revisit all of his old characters. He also said that he'd recently written a short story for the White House about emerging technology. His task was to write short fiction on how some sort of technology could be applied in the field. Imagine their surprise when he turned in a story about how activists and protesters could manipulate a police drone program by tapping into it and then maneuvering entire crowds of people around to evade police. Everyone had a laugh about that one.
I had my copy of Pirate Cinema signed after the event and Doctorow was pleasant and approachable to everyone despite having been up since 2am that day. He even drew a skull and crossbones on my title page. The only (and I mean ONLY) downside to this event was the fact that I had to listen to some douchebag coder from Google treat an out-of-town intern at Amazon like an infant while I was waiting in line. I was this close to calling him out on his nonsense. Learn some social skills, dude.
Seriously, go see him on tour if he's coming anywhere near you. Your brain will thank you.