Owning the Future: Staking Claims on the Knowledge Frontier

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9780395841754: Owning the Future: Staking Claims on the Knowledge Frontier

Knowledge is the key variable of the new global economy. But in the rush to stake claims in the knowledge economy, players are losing sight of impending threats to innovation, limitations on choice, and the fostering of monopolies that will inflate the costs of goods and services we take for granted. If this continues, Shulman warns, we will lose the public education and public access that are the bedrock of a democratic society. As knowlege becomes a valuable commodity, people will hoard it, fight over it, and seek to control it like never before. Owning the Future chronicles the battles for control over the intangible new assets - genes, software, databases, and technological information - that make up the lifeblood of the new economy. These battles will affect our jobs, our schools, and the information we read, influencing the price and availability of products and even fostering international conflict.

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Review:

Information wants to be free--or so goes the motto of every laptop libertarian from Newt Gingrich on down. But if Seth Shulman's sweeping overview of current trends in the ownership of knowledge is as correct as it is convincing, information has in fact never been less free than it is right now. The more valuable knowledge becomes, the more fiercely corporations and individuals struggle to control it--through patents, trademarks, and other legal tools.

Freedom of information is the most obvious potential casualty of that struggle--but it's far from the only one, argues Shulman. At risk in the current intellectual land rush, he insists, are nothing less than our prosperity, our sense of economic justice, and our democratic principles.

Those are strong claims, but compelling evidence backs them up. Shulman draws some of his most eye-opening examples from the computer industry, in which acts of info-monopolizing run the gamut from the subtleties of the Microsoft case to the absurdities of software patents that have actually granted ownership of particular numbers. But it's the breadth of Shulman's argument--moving briskly across the high-tech landscape from computers to pharmaceuticals to genetic engineering to university research practices--that gives it force. Shulman leaves you with the sense that few aspects of our social and economic future will remain untouched by the new knowledge monopolies and that the time to rethink their place in our world is now. --Julian Dibbell

About the Author:

Seth Shulman is an award-winning journalist and the author of The Threat at Home: Confronting the Toxic Legacy of the U.S. Military. He is a former Knight Science Fellow at MIT, and his writing has appeared in many publications, including The Atlantic, Smithsonian, Nature, Parade, The Progressive, and Technology Review.

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