The unabridged version of this review can be viewed here:
Cory Doctorow is my favorite kind of futurenaut, one who is only a few years ahead of his time. His ideas are easily possible with existing technology, or nearly so. And that is equally wonderful and terrifying.
If you've been following Doctorow on Boingboing, twitter, or his posts on Publishers Weekly, you know he's been experimenting with Self Publishing. Selfpub/epub/newpub is looking more and more to be the way of the future, and what better way to figure out how it all works than to dive in, head first? Alright, maybe not head first, as Doctorow has been publishing his writings under creative commons with everything downloadable on his website for years now.
Some of these stories made me chuckle. Many of them caused my jaw to drop and my eyes to get all big and a thin whisper of "Holy ****" to escape my mouth. All of them made me think. And that, I believe, is the point.
Every entry in With a Little Help is a gem. Here are my thoughts on a few of them:
Epoch - Odell Vyphus is a lowly sysadmin. Maybe not so lowly, as he's in charge of keeping BIGMAC running. The year is 2037 or, and BIGMAC is a burly, 32bit, old school AI with a penchant for Mycroft Holmes and Hal9000 jokes. And he's a dinasour. BIGMAC eats a ton of energy, kicks out too much heat, no one has published a paper on him in years, and grad students are bored with him. Wait, why am I calling BIGMAC a "he"? BIGMAC is a fancy schmancy computer. Definitely an "it", not a "he". Odell also has a bad habit of anthropomorphizing talking computers. And BIGMAC has developed a bad habit of running a killer endgame. How do you kill a computer that doesn't want to die? If it's not alive, are you really killing it? How do you reconcile a very human reaction to an artificial construct that is begging for its life?
Scroogled - plainly put, this story scared the **** of out me. In this near future, Google is completely transparent about the fact that your search histories never die, adwords can be used to predict future behavior, personality profiles can be built via your blogspot connect friends, youtube searches, your picasa uploads and your gmail contact list. The US government could really use a hand with "Doing Search Right", and a deal is brokered. The technology has existed for years for this to be non-fiction. Do you remember everything you've ever googled and every picture you've ever viewed on someone's Picasa or saved in your GoogleDocs? Google does. Think about that for a minute, and realize nothing is stopping the Google Guys from waking up one day and deciding your search history is worth a pretty penny.