An end to PCs

In the last days of 2005, leading thinkers and scholars from around the world share their fears, hopes and expectations of 2006. Forty-nine of openDemocracy’s distinguished contributors, from Mariano Aguirre to Slavoj Zizek, Neal Ascherson to Jonathan Zittrain – offer their predictions for the coming year. Since this is openDemocracy, we did not expect them to agree. We were not disappointed. (Part Two)
Jonathan Zittrain
22 December 2005


2006 will see a fading away of the personal computer. Blackberries, iPods, Tivos, Xboxes, mobile phones – these chimeras of convergence will leave increasingly less room for the general-purpose PC. What should we miss most as the PC recedes? Its generativity. An open internet combined with PC platforms that any third party can program without permission from Bill Gates or Steve Jobs led to an extraordinary series of information technology innovations – chat, instant messenger, web browsing, email clients, screen savers, Napster.

So much innovation, in fact, that I fear people think that our cups already runneth over – that everything that might be invented already has been. As existing popular applications are reified into special-purpose objects, the generic PC, jack of all trades, master of none, will become less prevalent among diverse groups of people and institutions – instead being relegated to, and locked down within, white-collar office environments. At that point, coding new applications for it will be that much less attractive, since there will be fewer audiences ready to take them up.

We need to find a way to maintain the generative nature of the PC and internet – especially because so many of the innovations have to do with speech and dialogue, bringing people and cultures together that formerly would be ignorant of one another. We must do this even as the PC's very success and excess have sealed its fate.


Stop the secrecy: Publish the NHS COVID data deals

To: Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

We’re calling on you to immediately release details of the secret NHS data deals struck with private companies, to deliver the NHS COVID-19 datastore.

We, the public, deserve to know exactly how our personal information has been traded in this ‘unprecedented’ deal with US tech giants like Google, and firms linked to Donald Trump (Palantir) and Vote Leave (Faculty AI).

The COVID-19 datastore will hold private, personal information about every single one of us who relies on the NHS. We don’t want our personal data falling into the wrong hands.

And we don’t want private companies – many with poor reputations for protecting privacy – using it for their own commercial purposes, or to undermine the NHS.

The datastore could be an important tool in tackling the pandemic. But for it to be a success, the public has to be able to trust it.

Today, we urgently call on you to publish all the data-sharing agreements, data-impact assessments, and details of how the private companies stand to profit from their involvement.

The NHS is a precious public institution. Any involvement from private companies should be open to public scrutiny and debate. We need more transparency during this pandemic – not less.

By adding my name to this campaign, I authorise openDemocracy and Foxglove to keep me updated about their important work.

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