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5.0 out of 5 stars Power to the programmers! is it ok?, December 26, 2013
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This review is from: code 2.0 (Paperback)
Power to the programmers!

Margaret Mead famously said "Do not despise the power of an idea to change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that always has". That power of ideas to alter the ways we behave or how the world works has passed on from great leaders (think Martin Luther King) to inventors (think Edison) to clever marketers and now to mainly anonymous computer programmers.

Lawrence Lessig in his book "Code 2.0" makes the last point strongly. Code - computer programs - shapes our behavior in cyberspace and, more and more, in real space. As a constitutional lawyer, his focus is on regulation - who regulates what and the impact of this regulation on basic freedoms - of speech, of privacy, of intellectual rights. Regulation can be achieved by the state via laws or tax incentives; indirectly in general by society via cultural norms; or by code architectures.

The last point may not be obvious, but it is once you think about it. For instance, Lessig points out that the Patriot Act is a law, but it influences code writers at technology companies to leave open doors for the government to spy on its citizens, as strongly demonstrated by the recent NSA scandal. So the government regulates indirectly through code.

Commerce also regulates behavior through code, for instance by writing code that requires purchasers to provide authentication via a valid credit card. Finally, the writers of the code that runs the basic infrastructure of the internet regulate all the people who uses it -including spammers- by having code that makes it very difficult to identify who really sent a mail message.

But the present influence of the code writers far exceeds the legal aspects emphasized by Lessig. Any user interface influences behavior in subtle ways, much as a building or house architecture creates spaces that facilitate certain kinds of behavior. To take a present example, the two leading social networks (Facebook and Google+) influence behavior in very different ways. Facebook extended the definition of real-life "friends" to people that you do not know but who sent you a "friend request"; Google+ user interface instead encourages users to put the people that you do know into "circles" of people that have a common interest. The point to note is not that one system is better than the other; but just to note that these features are the product of Code, and that subtle changes to the code may produce huge changes in the behavior of people using that code. As more and more of our life is conducted though Code, more and more power is subtly transmitted to unelected code writers and the companies that hire them... is that a Good Thing?
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code 2.0
code 2.0 by Lawrence Lessig (Paperback - December 30, 2009)
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