Dyson: Turing, as a 23-year-old graduate student, derived the principles of modern computation more or less by accident???as a byproduct of his interest in something called the Entscheidungsproblem, or Decision Problem. It can be stated as: Is there a formula or mechanical process that can decide whether a string of symbols is logically provable or not? Turing???s answer was no. He restated the answer in computational terms by showing that there???s no systematic way to tell in advance what a given code is going to do. You can???t predict how software will behave by inspecting it. The only way you can tell is to actually run it. And this fundamental unpredictability means you can never have a complete digital dictatorship with one government or company controlling our digital lives???not because of politics but because of mathematics. There will always be codes that do unpredictable things. This is why the digital universe will never be a national park; it will always be an undomesticated, unpredictable wilderness. And that should be reassuring to us.
Reassuring, it is.
General-purpose computers are astounding. They’re so astounding that our society still struggles to come to grips with them, what they’re for, how to accommodate them, and how to cope with them. This brings us back to something you might be sick of reading about: copyright.
But bear with me, because this is about something more important. The shape of the copyright wars clues us into an upcoming fight over the destiny of the general-purpose computer itself.