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Blown to Bits: Your Life, Liberty, and Happiness After the Digital Explosion

Blown to Bits: Your Life, Liberty, and Happiness After the Digital Explosion

Blown to Bits: Your Life, Liberty, and Happiness After the Digital Explosion

Blown to Bits: Your Life, Liberty, and Happiness After the Digital Explosion


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What you must know to protect yourself today

The digital technology explosion has blown everything to bits—and the blast has provided new challenges and opportunities. This second edition of Blown to Bits delivers the knowledge you need to take greater control of your information environment and thrive in a world that’s coming whether you like it or not.

Straight from internationally respected Harvard/MIT experts, this plain-English bestseller has been fully revised for the latest controversies over social media, “fake news,” big data, cyberthreats, privacy, artificial intelligence and machine learning, self-driving cars, the Internet of Things, and much more.

  • Discover who owns all that data about you—and what they can infer from it
  • Learn to challenge algorithmic decisions
  • See how close you can get to sending truly secure messages
  • Decide whether you really want always-on cameras and microphones
  • Explore the realities of Internet free speech
  • Protect yourself against out-of-control technologies (and the powerful organizations that wield them)

You will find clear explanations, practical examples, and real insight into what digital tech means to you—as an individual, and as a citizen.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780134850016
Publisher: Pearson Education
Publication date: 12/05/2020
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 376,883
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Hal Abelson is Class of 1922 Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at MIT, and an IEEE Fellow. He has helped drive innovative educational technology initiatives such MIT OpenCourseWare, co-founded Creative Commons and Public Knowledge, and was founding director of the Free Software Foundation.

Ken Ledeen, Chairman/CEO of Nevo Technologies, is a serial entrepreneur who has served on the boards of numerous technology companies.

Harry Lewis, former Dean of Harvard College and of Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, is Gordon McKay Research Professor of Computer Science at Harvard and Faculty Associate of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society. He is author of Excellence Without a Soul: Does Liberal Education Have a Future? and editor of Ideas that Created the Future: Classic Papers of Computer Science.

Wendy Seltzer is Counsel and Strategy Lead at the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), based at MIT. She founded Lumen Database, the pioneering transparency report for online content removals.

Table of Contents

Preface xvii

Chapter 1 Digital Explosion: Why Is It Happening, and What Is at Stake? 1

The Explosion of Bits, and Everything Else 4

The Koans of Bits 7

Good and Ill, Promise and Peril 17

Endnotes 19

Chapter 2 Naked in the Sunlight: Privacy Lost, Privacy Abandoned 21

1984 Is Here, and We Like It 21

Location, Location, Location 27

Big Brother, Abroad and in the United States 32

The Internet of Things 42

Endnotes 48

Chapter 3 Who Owns Your Privacy?: The Commercialization of Personal Data 51

What Kind of Vegetable Are You? 51

Footprints and Fingerprints 57

Fair Information Practice Principles 64

Always On 70

Endnotes 71

Chapter 4 Gatekeepers: Who's in Charge Here? 75

Who Controls the Flow of Bits? 75

The Open Internet? 76

Connecting the Dots: Designed for Sharing and Survival 79

The Internet Has No Gatekeepers? 85

Links Gatekeepers: Getting Connected 86

Search Gatekeepers: If You Can't Find It, Does It Exist? 94

Social Gatekeepers: Known by the Company You Keep 104

Endnotes 112

Chapter 5 Secret Bits: How Codes Became Unbreakable 117

Going Dark 117

Historical Cryptography 122

Lessons for the Internet Age 131

Secrecy Changes Forever 135

Cryptography Unsettled 147

Endnotes 148

Chapter 6 Balance Toppled: Who Owns the Bits? 153

Stealing Music 153

Automated Crimes, Automated Justice 155

The Peer-to-Peer Upheaval 160

No Commercial Skipping 167

Authorized Use Only 168

Forbidden Technology 172

Copyright Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance 177

The Limits of Property 183

Endnotes 187

Chapter 7 You Can't Say That on the Internet: Guarding the Frontiers of Digital Expression 193

Child Sex Trafficking Goes Digital 193

Publisher or Distributor? 198

Protecting Good Samaritans-and a Few Bad Ones 205

Digital Protection, Digital Censorship, and Self-Censorship 215

What About Social Media? 219

Takedowns 221

Endnotes 222

Chapter 8 Bits in the Air: Old Metaphors, New Technologies, and Free Speech 227

Censoring the Candidate 227

How Broadcasting Became Regulated 228

The Path to Spectrum Deregulation 241

The Most Beautiful Inventor in the World 245

What Does the Future Hold for Radio? 255

Endnotes 261

Chapter 9 The Next Frontier: Al and the Bits World of the Future 265

Thrown Under a Jaywalking Bus 266

What's Intelligent About Artificial Intelligence? 267

Machine Learning: I'll Figure It Out 268

Algorithmic Decisions: I Thought Only People Could Do That 273

What's Next 277

Bits Lighting Up the World 282

A Few Bits in Conclusion 287

Endnotes 288

Index 293


Blown to Bits Preface

For thousands of years, people have been saying that the world is changing and will never again be the same. Yet the profound changes happening today are different, because they result from a specific technological development.

It is now possible, in principle, to remember everything that anyone says, writes, sings, draws, or photographs. Everything. If digitized, the world has enough disks and memory chips to save it all, for as long as civilization can keep producing computers and disk drives. Global computer networks can make it available to everywhere in the world, almost instantly. And computers are powerful enough to extract meaning from all that information, to find patterns and make connections in the blink of an eye.

In centuries gone by, others may have dreamed these things could happen, in utopian fantasies or in nightmares. But now they are happening. We are living in the middle of the changes, and we can see the changes happening.

But we don't know how things will turn out.

Right now, governments and the other institutions of human societies are deciding how to use the new possibilities. Each of us is participating as we make decisions for ourselves, for our families, and for people we work with. Everyone needs to know how their world and the world around them is changing as a result of this explosion of digital information. Everyone should know how the decisions will affect their lives, and the lives of their children and grandchildren and everyone who comes after.

That is why we wrote this book.

Each of us has been in the computing field for more than forty years. The book is the product of a lifetime of observing and participating in the changes it has brought. Each of us has been both a teacher and a learner in the field. This book emerged from a general education course we have taught at Harvard, but it is not a textbook. We wrote this book to share what wisdom we have with as many people as we can reach. We try to paint a big picture, with dozens of illuminating anecdotes as the brushstrokes. We aim to entertain you at the same time as we provoke your thinking.

You don't need a computer to read this book. But we would suggest that you use one, connected to the Internet, to explore any topic that strikes your curiosity or excites your interest. Don't be afraid to type some of the things we mention into your favorite search engine and see what comes up. We mention many web sites, and give their complete descriptors, such as, which happens to be the site for this book itself. But most of the time, you should be able to find things more quickly by searching for them. There are many valuable public information sources and public interest groups where you can learn more, and can participate in the ongoing global conversation about the issues we discuss.

We offer some strong opinions in this book. If you would like to react to what we say, please visit the book's web site for an ongoing discussion.

Our picture of the changes brought by the digital explosion is drawn largely with reference to the United States and its laws and culture, but the issues we raise are critical for citizens of all free societies, and for all people who hope their societies will become freer.

Cambridge, Massachusetts

January 2008

© Copyright Pearson Education. All rights reserved.

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