Cypherpunks are activists who advocate the widespread use of strong cryptography (writing in code) as a route to progressive change. Julian Assange, the editor-in-chief of and visionary behind WikiLeaks, has been a leading voice in the cypherpunk movement since its inception in the 1980s. Now, in a wave-making new book, Assange brings together a small group of cutting-edge thinkers and activists from the front line of the battle for cyber-space to discuss whether electronic communications will emancipate or enslave us. Do Facebook and Google constitute "the greatest surveillance machine that ever existed"? Far from being victims of that surveillance, are most of us willing collaborators? Are there legitimate forms of surveillance, for instance in relation to the "Four Horsemen of the Infopocalypse" (money laundering, drugs, terrorism and pornography)? And do we have the ability, through conscious action and technological savvy, to resist this tide and secure a world where freedom is something which the Internet helps bring about?
Cyperpunks is formed as a conversation between Assange and his copatriots Jakob Appelbaum and Andy Muller-Maguhn and picks up on the same theme, but also the promise that cryptography may hold as a defence against the erosion of privacy (the title is a wordplay on this). Some of the stuff about cryptography was new to me and very interesting, however I often lost attention throughout the book due to its talkative style. I ended up a bit disappointed, but the topic is one of our age's most important, and it is always good to hear what those that are in the middle of the issues have to say.
The end-notes of the book were really helpful in some cases. Still, there were some topics in the conversation where some background information might be helpful. It is not a literary piece of art work but a transcript of a discussion amongst four technocrats. Still a recommended read for anyone who is exploring this side of the technology.
Plagiarism has been the flashpoint on GR this weekend. I thought about the controversy when copyright law is called into question throughout Cypherpunks. Sharing and privacy not only maintain autonomy, so the book goes, but each further civilization. It is difficult to argue with that. That said, this discussion was all a bit "meh" for me. Lord knows I hate that judgment but it sticks to me. There is total lack of rigor in this book. Points are made and then begins a retreat into glib rejoinders and cliché. It is important to recall that this occurred before the Snowden revelations. I will likely explore some secondary sources now.
For me, that's fine. I know that Jacob and Julian are very good with such discussions, and Andy and Jeremie are quite good at this kind of thing as well, as it turns out. There are no revolutionary new ideas here, but it serves as a short summary of the problems of the world and the internet, as seen by these people.
I picked this book up on sale for $1, which it is definitely worth. I am not sure how much more I would be willing to pay for it, though, simply because I basically already knew pretty much everything they are talking about. If you, however, are looking for an introduction into the world view of these people, by all means, give it a read.