Snowcrashing Into The Diamond Age: An Essay By Extropia DaSilva


When Second Life launched in May 2003, it attracted a citizenship not unlike the Internet’s Usenet group of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Toward the end of 2006, a software tool known as Copybot went on sale, and for a brief while our metaverse reflected the web of the late ‘90s with its Napster-related controversy of peer-to-peer and open source versus IP theft.

2003-2006. Three years, condensed into which were events that defined the growth of the web over more than a decade. I wrote in a previous essay (‘The Metaverse Reloaded’) ‘the pace of change is quickening’ and you might take this as further proof. But I want to talk about something else the Copybot controversy highlights: Namely, the fact that history repeats itself; it rhymes.
Who were the first people to be affected by a Copybot-style threat to their livelihood? Well, I can assure you that it was not Metallica. In fact, to find the first Copybot one must go back in time to the 18th century. At that time, in Nottingham, England, the equivilent of SL’s content designers were the weavers who hand-crafted fine stockings, lace and other quality fabrics. The SL sellers’ guild feared that widespread ability to freely copy content would threaten their income. The weavers’ Copybot arrived with the invention of the power loom and other textile automation machines. An abrupt change in economic power occurred, slipping from the hands of the weaving families to the owners of the machines.

The shop owners of SL formed groups to protest against the selling and use of Copybot. By 1812, the weavers had formed a secret society. They made threats and demands of factory owners, many of whome complied. But this is where divergence happens. When the SL protests reached the ears of the Powers That Be (the Lindens) they eventually changed the terms of service to make using Copybot to replicate IP an offence. As the weavers’ increasingly guerilla tactics escalated into bloody battles, their actions also attracted the attention of the Powers That Be (the Tory government). But in this case the outcome was not in the weavers’ favour: Their group dissolved with the imprisonment and hanging of prominent members, and machines continued to displace workers as the Industrial Revolution steamrollered on.

We all know now that the arrival of the machines opened up new markets and more lucrative employment for people who could design, manufacture and market them. No doubt the widespread proliferation of Copybot would also have opened up opportunities for people enterprising enough to see beyond merely ripping off the hard work of others. But then, the reality of lost jobs is often more compelling than some indirect promise of new opportunities in new markets.

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