Eassay, computer science A Gift of Fire This page intentionally left blank A Gift of Fire Social, Legal, and Ethical Issues for Computing Technolo

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Eassay, computer science A Gift of Fire

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A Gift of Fire
Social, Legal, and Ethical Issues
for Computing Technology

fourth edition

Sara Baase
San Diego State University

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Credits and acknowledgements. Excerpt from Mike Godwin speech: at Carnegie Mellon University, November 1994.
Copyright © 1994 by Mike Godwin. Reprinted with permission. Excerpt from Jerrold H. Zar’s “Candidate for a Pullet
Surprise”: from JOURNAL OF IRREPRODUCIBLE RESULTS, 39, no. 1 (Jan/Feb 1994). Copyright © 1994 Norman
Sperling Publishing. Reprinted with permission. Excerpt from “Social and Legal Issues”: From INVITATION TO
COMPUTER SCIENCE, 1E by Schneider/Gertsing. Copyright © 1995 South-Western, a part of Cengage Learning,
Inc. Reproduced by permission. www.cengage.com/permissions. Appendix A.1: The Software Engineering Code of
PRACTICE © 1999 by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. and the Association for Computing
Machinery, Inc. Reprinted by permission. Appendix A.2: The ACM Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct. ACM
CODE OF ETHICS AND PROFESSIONAL CONDUCT. Copyright © 1999 by the Association for Computing
Machinery, Inc. and the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. Reprinted by permission. Adi Kamdar
Excerpt: Adi Kamdar, “EFF Denounces Flawed E-Verify Proposal That Would Trample on Worker Privacy,” July 1, 2011,
www.eff.org/deeplinks/2011/07/eff-denounces-flawede-verify-proposal, viewed July 31, 2011. Reprinted under the terms
of the Creative Commons Attributions License. Calvin and Hobbes “today at school . . . ” cartoon © 1993 Watterson.
Reprinted with permission of UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE. All rights reserved. Calvin and Hobbes “what’s all the
fuss about computers . . . ” cartoon © 1995 Watterson. Dist. By UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE. Reprinted with
permission. All rights reserved. “Opus” cartoon used with the permission of Berkeley Breathed and the Cartoonist Group.
All rights reserved.

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in the United States of America. This publication is protected by Copyright, and permission should be obtained from
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Many of the designations by manufacturers and sellers to distinguish their products are claimed as trademarks. Where
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printed in initial caps or all caps.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Baase, Sara.
A gift of fire : social, legal, and ethical issues for computing technology / Sara Baase. — 4th ed.

p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-0-13-249267-6
1. Computers—Social aspects. 2. Computers—Moral and ethical aspects. 3. Internet—Social aspects.

4. Internet—Moral and ethical aspects. I. Title.
QA76.9.C66B3 2013
303.48′34—dc23 2012020988

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

ISBN 10: 0-13-249267-9
ISBN 13: 978-0-13-249267-6



To Keith, always

And to Michelle Nygord Matson (1959–2012)

For her love of life, learning, and adventure
For her laughter, wisdom, and determination
For her friendship

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Preface xiii

Prologue 1


1.1 The Pace of Change 4
1.2 Change and Unexpected Developments 6

1.2.1 Connections: Cellphones, Social Networking, and More 7
1.2.2 E-commerce and Free Stuff 15
1.2.3 Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Sensors, and Motion 17
1.2.4 Tools for Disabled People 21

1.3 Themes 23
1.4 Ethics 26

1.4.1 What Is Ethics, Anyway? 26
1.4.2 A Variety of Ethical Views 28
1.4.3 Some Important Distinctions 36
Exercises 40


2.1 Privacy Risks and Principles 48
2.1.1 What Is Privacy? 48
2.1.2 New Technology, New Risks 50
2.1.3 Terminology and Principles for Managing Personal Data 56

2.2 The Fourth Amendment, Expectation of Privacy, and Surveillance
Technologies 60
2.2.1 The Fourth Amendment 61
2.2.2 New Technologies, Supreme Court Decisions, and Expectation of

Privacy 63
2.2.3 Search and Seizure of Computers and Phones 66
2.2.4 Video Surveillance and Face Recognition 68

2.3 The Business and Social Sectors 70
2.3.1 Marketing and Personalization 70
2.3.2 Our Social and Personal Activity 75
2.3.3 Location Tracking 79
2.3.4 A Right to Be Forgotten 82

viii Contents

2.4 Government Systems 84
2.4.1 Databases 84
2.4.2 Public Records: Access versus Privacy 90
2.4.3 National ID Systems 91

2.5 Protecting Privacy: Technology, Markets, Rights, and Laws 95
2.5.1 Technology and Markets 95
2.5.2 Rights and Law 100
2.5.3 Privacy Regulations in the European Union 110

2.6 Communications 112
2.6.1 Wiretapping and Email Protection 113
2.6.2 Designing Communications Systems for Interception 115
2.6.3 The NSA and Secret Intelligence Gathering 116
Exercises 119


3.1 Communications Paradigms 134
3.1.1 Regulating Communications Media 134
3.1.2 Free Speech Principles 137

3.2 Controlling Speech 139
3.2.1 Offensive Speech: What Is It? What Is Illegal? 139
3.2.2 Censorship Laws and Alternatives 141
3.2.3 Child Pornography and Sexting 146
3.2.4 Spam 148
3.2.5 Challenging Old Regulatory Structures and Special Interests 152

3.3 Posting, Selling, and Leaking Sensitive Material 153
3.4 Anonymity 159
3.5 The Global Net: Censorship and Political Freedom 163

3.5.1 Tools for Communication, Tools for Oppression 163
3.5.2 Aiding Foreign Censors and Repressive Regimes 165
3.5.3 Shutting Down Communications in Free Countries 168

3.6 Net Neutrality Regulations or the Market? 169
Exercises 171


4.1 Principles, Laws, and Cases 180
4.1.1 What Is Intellectual Property? 180
4.1.2 Challenges of New Technologies 182
4.1.3 A Bit of History 185
4.1.4 The Fair Use Doctrine 186
4.1.5 Ethical Arguments About Copying 187
4.1.6 Significant Legal Cases 190

Contents ix

4.2 Responses to Copyright Infringement 196
4.2.1 Defensive and Aggressive Responses From the Content Industries 196
4.2.2 The Digital Millennium Copyright Act: Anticircumvention 201
4.2.3 The Digital Millennium Copyright Act: Safe Harbor 204
4.2.4 Evolving Business Models 206

4.3 Search Engines and Online Libraries 208
4.4 Free Software 211

4.4.1 What Is Free Software? 211
4.4.2 Should All Software Be Free? 213

4.5 Patents for Inventions in Software 214
4.5.1 Patent Decisions, Confusion, and Consequences 215
4.5.2 To Patent or Not? 218
Exercises 220

5 CRIME 229

5.1 Introduction 230
5.2 Hacking 230

5.2.1 What is “Hacking”? 230
5.2.2 Hacktivism, or Political Hacking 236
5.2.3 Hackers as Security Researchers 237
5.2.4 Hacking as Foreign Policy 239
5.2.5 Security 241
5.2.6 The Law: Catching and Punishing Hackers 245

5.3 Identity Theft and Credit Card Fraud 250
5.3.1 Stealing Identities 251
5.3.2 Responses to Identity Theft 253
5.3.3 Biometrics 257

5.4 Whose Laws Rule the Web? 258
5.4.1 When Digital Actions Cross Borders 258
5.4.2 Libel, Speech, and Commercial Law 262
5.4.3 Culture, Law, and Ethics 265
5.4.4 Potential Solutions 266
Exercises 267

6 WORK 275

6.1 Changes, Fears, and Questions 276
6.2 Impacts on Employment 277

6.2.1 Job Destruction and Creation 277
6.2.2 Changing Skills and Skill Levels 282
6.2.3 Telecommuting 284
6.2.4 A Global Workforce 287

x Contents

6.3 Employee Communication and Monitoring 293
6.3.1 Learning About Job Applicants 293
6.3.2 Risks and Rules for Work and Personal Communications 296
Exercises 304


7.1 Evaluating Information 312
7.1.1 The Need for Responsible Judgment 312
7.1.2 Computer Models 321

7.2 The “Digital Divide” 329
7.2.1 Trends in Computer Access 329
7.2.2 The Global Divide and the Next Billion Users 331

7.3 Neo-Luddite Views of Computers, Technology, and Quality of Life 332
7.3.1 Criticisms of Computing Technologies 333
7.3.2 Views of Economics, Nature, and Human Needs 336

7.4 Making Decisions About Technology 342
7.4.1 Questions 343
7.4.2 The Difficulty of Prediction 344
7.4.3 Intelligent Machines and Superintelligent Humans—Or the End of the

Human Race? 347
7.4.4 A Few Observations 350
Exercises 350


8.1 Failures and Errors in Computer Systems 362
8.1.1 An Overview 362
8.1.2 Problems for Individuals 364
8.1.3 System Failures 367
8.1.4 What Goes Wrong? 375

8.2 Case Study: The Therac-25 377
8.2.1 Therac-25 Radiation Overdoses 377
8.2.2 Software and Design Problems 378
8.2.3 Why So Many Incidents? 380
8.2.4 Observations and Perspective 382

8.3 Increasing Reliability and Safety 383
8.3.1 Professional Techniques 383
8.3.2 Trust the Human or the Computer System? 388
8.3.3 Law, Regulation, and Markets 389

8.4 Dependence, Risk, and Progress 392
8.4.1 Are We Too Dependent on Computers? 392
8.4.2 Risk and Progress 393
Exercises 395

Contents xi


9.1 What Is “Professional Ethics”? 404
9.2 Ethical Guidelines for Computer Professionals 405

9.2.1 Special Aspects of Professional Ethics 405
9.2.2 Professional Codes of Ethics 406
9.2.3 Guidelines and Professional Responsibilities 407

9.3 Scenarios 410
9.3.1 Introduction and Methodology 410
9.3.2 Protecting Personal Data 412
9.3.3 Designing an Email System With Targeted Ads 414
9.3.4 Webcams in School Laptops1 415
9.3.5 Publishing Security Vulnerabilities 416
9.3.6 Specifications 417
9.3.7 Schedule Pressures 418
9.3.8 Software License Violation 421
9.3.9 Going Public 422
9.3.10 Release of Personal Information 423
9.3.11 Conflict of Interest 424
9.3.12 Kickbacks and Disclosure 426
9.3.13 A Test Plan 427
9.3.14 Artificial Intelligence and Sentencing Criminals 427
9.3.15 A Gracious Host 430
Exercises 430

Epilogue 437


A.1 Software Engineering Code of Ethics and Professional Practice 439
A.2 ACM Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct 447

Index 455

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This book has two intended audiences: students preparing for careers in computer science
(and related fields) and students in other fields who want to learn about issues that arise
from computing technology, the Internet, and other aspects of cyberspace. The book has
no technical prerequisites. Instructors can use it at various levels, in both introductory
and advanced courses about computing or technology.

Scope of This Book

Many universities offer courses with titles such as “Ethical Issues in Computing” or
“Computers and Society.” Some focus primarily on professional ethics for computer
professionals. Others address a wide range of social issues. The bulky subtitle and the
table of contents of this book indicate its scope. I also include historical background to put
some of today’s issues in context and perspective. I believe it is important for students (in
computer and information technology majors and in other majors) to see and understand
the implications and impacts of the technology. Students will face a wide variety of issues
in this book as members of a complex technological society, in both their professional
and personal lives.

The last chapter focuses on ethical issues for computer professionals. The basic
ethical principles are not different from ethical principles in other professions or other
aspects of life: honesty, responsibility, and fairness. However, within any one profession,
special kinds of problems arise. Thus, we discuss professional ethical guidelines and case
scenarios specific to computing professions. I include two of the main codes of ethics and
professional practices for computer professionals in an Appendix. I placed the professional
ethics chapter last because I believe students will find it more interesting and useful after
they have as background the incidents, issues, and controversies in the earlier chapters.

Each of the chapters in this book could easily be expanded to a whole book. I had
to leave out many interesting topics and examples. In some cases, I mention an issue,
example, or position with little or no discussion. I hope some of these will spark further
reading and debate.

Changes for the Fourth Edition

For this fourth edition, I updated the whole book, removed outdated material, added
many new topics and examples, and reorganized several topics. New material appears
throughout. I mention here some major changes, completely new sections and topics,
and some that I extensively revised.

xiv Preface

. This edition has approximately 85 new exercises.

. In Chapter 1, I added a section on kill switches for smartphone apps, tablets, and
so on, i.e., the ability of companies to remotely delete apps and other items from
a user’s device (in Section 1.2.1).

. All parts of Section 1.2 have new material, including, for example, uses of smart-
phone data and social network data for social research.

. I added a brief section on social contracts and John Rawls’ views on justice and
fairness (in Section 1.4.2).

New topics in Chapter 2 include

. smartphones and their apps collecting personal data without permission (in Section

. Fourth Amendment issues about tracking a person’s location via cellphone, track-
ing cars with GPS devices, and search of cellphones (in Sections 2.2.2 and 2.2.3)

. applications of face recognition (several places in the chapter)

. privacy implications of some social networking applications and social network
company policies

. a right to be forgotten (Section 2.3.4)

Chapter 3 includes new sections on

. sexting (Section 3.2.3)

. ethics of leaking sensitive information (in Section 3.3)

. shutting down cellphone service or access to social media during riots or protests
(Section 3.5.3)

The chapter also has

. use of social media by freedom movements and countermeasures by governments

. more on Western countries selling surveillance systems to dictators.

Chapter 4 includes

. discussion of plagiarism

. expanded sections on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (Sections 4.2.2 and

. an expanded section on patents for software (Section 4.5)

Chapter 5 has new sections on

. hacking by governments to attack others (Section 5.2.4)

Preface xv

. expansion of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act to cover actions it was not
intended to cover (in Section 5.2.6)

Chapter 6 has new sections on

. how content of social media can affect getting hired and fired

. use of social media and personal devices at work

Chapter 7 has expanded sections on

. the “wisdom of the crowd”

. ways the Internet can narrow or restrict the points of view people see (in Section

Chapter 8 has

. an introduction to high reliability organizations (in Section 8.3.1).

Chapter 9 contains

. two new scenarios.

This is an extremely fast-changing field. Clearly, some issues and examples in this book
are so current that details will change before or soon after publication. I don’t consider
this to be a serious problem. Specific events are illustrations of the underlying issues and
arguments. I encourage students to bring in current news reports about relevant issues to
discuss in class. Finding so many ties between the course and current events adds to their
interest in the class.


This book presents controversies and alternative points of view: privacy vs. access to
information, privacy vs. law enforcement, freedom of speech vs. control of content on
the Net, pros and cons of offshoring jobs, market-based vs. regulatory solutions, and so
on. Often the discussion in the book necessarily includes political, economic, social, and
philosophical issues. I encourage students to explore the arguments on all sides and to be
able to explain why they reject the ones they reject before they take a position. I believe this
approach prepares them to tackle new controversies. They can figure out the consequences
of various proposals, generate arguments for each side, and evaluate them. I encourage
students to think in principles, rather than case by case, or at least to recognize similar
principles in different cases, even if they choose to take different positions on them.

My Point of View

Any writer on subjects such as those in this book has some personal opinions, positions,
or biases. I believe strongly in the principles in the Bill of Rights. I also have a generally

xvi Preface

positive view of technology. Don Norman, a psychologist and technology enthusiast who
writes on humanizing technology, observed that most people who have written books
about technology “are opposed to it and write about how horrible it is.”� I am not one
of those people. I think that technology, in general, has been a major factor in bringing
physical well-being, liberty, and opportunity to hundreds of millions of people. That does
not mean technology is without problems. Most of this book focuses on problems. We
must recognize and study them so that we can reduce the negative effects and increase
the positive ones.

For many topics, this book takes a problem-solving approach. I usually begin with a
description of what is happening in a particular area, often including a little history. Next
comes a discussion of why there are concerns and what the new problems are. Finally,
I give some commentary or perspective and some current and potential solutions to the
problems. Some people view problems and negative side effects of new technologies as
indications of inherent badness in the technology. I see them as part of a natural process
of change and development. We will see many examples of human ingenuity, some that
create problems and some that solve them. Often solutions come from improved or new
applications of technology.

At a workshop on Ethical and Professional Issues in Computing sponsored by the
National Science Foundation, Keith Miller, one of the speakers, gave the following outline
for discussing ethical issues (which he credited to a nun who had been one of his teachers
years ago): “What? So what? Now what?” It struck me that this describes how I organized
many sections of this book.

An early reviewer of this book objected to one of the quotations I include at the
beginnings of many sections. He thought it was untrue. So perhaps I should make it clear
that I agree with many of the quotations—but not with all of them. I chose some to be
provocative and to remind students of the variety of opinions on some of the issues.

I am a computer scientist, not an attorney. I summarize the main points of many laws
and legal cases and discuss arguments about them, but I do not give a comprehensive legal
analysis. Many ordinary terms have specific meanings in laws, and often a difference of
one word can change the impact of a provision of a law or of a court decision. Laws have
exceptions and special cases. Any reader who needs precise information about how a law
applies in a particular case should consult an attorney or read the full text of laws, court
decisions, and legal analysis.

Class Activities

The course I designed in the Computer Science Department at San Diego State Uni-
versity requires a book report, a term paper, and an oral presentation by each student.
Students do several presentations, debates, and mock trials in class. The students are very

� Quoted in Jeannette DeWyze, “When You Don’t Know How to Turn On Your Radio, Don Norman Is On Your
Side,” The San Diego Reader , Dec. 1, 1994, p. 1.

Preface xvii

enthusiastic about these activities. I include several in the Exercises sections, marked as
Class Discussion Exercises. Although I selected some exercises for this category, I find that
many others in the General Exercises sections are also good for lively class discussions.

It has been an extraordinary pleasure to teach this course. At the beginning of each
semester, some students expect boredom or sermons. By the end, most say they have found
it eye-opening and important. They’ve seen and appreciated new arguments, and they
understand more about the risks of computer technology and their own responsibilities.
Many students send me news reports about issues in the course long after the semester is
over, sometimes after they have graduated and are working in the field.

Additional Sources

The notes at the ends of the chapters include sources for specific information in the text
and, occasionally, additional information and comment. I usually put one endnote at or
near the end of a paragraph with sources for the whole paragraph. In a few places the
endnote for a section is on the section heading. (We have checked all the Web addresses,
but files move, and inevitably some will not work. Usually a search on the author and a
phrase from the title of a document will locate it.) The lists of references at the ends of the
chapters include some references that I used, some that I think are particularly useful or
interesting for various reasons, and some that you might not find elsewhere. I have made
no attempt to be complete.

An italic page number in the index indicates the page on which the index entry
is defined or explained. The text often refers to agencies, organizations, and laws by
acronyms. If you look up the acronym in the index, you will find its expansion.

My website for this book (www-rohan.sdsu.edu/faculty/giftfire) contains updates on
topics in the book and other resources. Pearson Education maintains a website (www
.pearsonhighered.com/baase) with supplements for instructors, including PowerPoint
slides and a testbank. For access to instructor material, please contact your Pearson
Education sales representative or visit the site, where you will find instructions.


This book contains a large amount of information on a large variety of subjects. I have tried
to be as accurate as possible, but, inevitably, there will be errors. I appreciate corrections.
Please send them to me at GiftOfFire@sdsu.edu.


I am grateful to many people who provided assistance for this edition: Susan Brown
(Florida Atlantic University) for advice about citations; Charles Christopher for regularly
sending me legal articles perfectly targeted to topics I am writing about; Mike Gallivan
(Georgia State University) for checking the Web addresses in endnotes; Julie Johnson
(Vanderbilt University) for research assistance, an exercise, and the scenario and analysis
in Section 9.3.4; Patricia A. Joseph (Slippery Rock University) for research assistance and




xviii Preface

an exercise; Ellen Kraft (Richard Stockton College) for assisting with research and the
revision of Section 7.2; Jean Martinez for lively conversations about privacy, security,
and social media; Michelle Matson for conversations about several topics in the book;
Jack Revelle for bringing kill switches to my attention and sending me excellent articles;
Carol Sanders for reading and improving Chapter 2, finding useful sources, and for many
conversations about privacy, security, and social media; Marek A. Suchenek (California
State University, Dominguez Hills) for research on software patent history and for email
conversations about ethics, intellectual property, and human progress; Sue Smith, Char
Glacy, and Michaeleen Trimarchi for their observations about how researchers use the
Web; and my birding buddies, who got me out looking at birds once a week instead of
at a screen.

I thank the following people for reviewing the third edition at the beginning of
this project and providing suggestions for the new edition: Ric Heishman (George
Mason University); Starr Suzanne Hiltz (New Jersey Institute of Technology); Jim K.
Huggins (Kettering University); Patricia A. Joseph (Slippery Rock University); Tamara
Maddox (George Mason University); Robert McIllhenny (California State University,
Northridge); Evelyn Lulis (DePaul University); and Marek A. Suchenek (California State
University, Dominguez Hills).

This edition includes some material from earlier editions. Thus again, I thank all the
people I listed in the prefaces of those editions.

I appreciate the efforts of the staff at Pearson Education who worked on this book: my
editor Tracy Johnson, associate editor Carole Snyder, production project manager Kayla
Smith-Tarbox, the marketing department, and the people behind the scenes who handle
the many tasks that must be done to produce a book. I thank the production team: Paul
Anagnostopoulos, Richard Camp, Ted Laux, Jacqui Scarlott, and Priscilla Stevens.

Last but most, I thank Keith Mayers, for assisting with research, managing my
software, reading all the chapters, being patient, running errands, finding other things to
do while I worked (building a guitar!), and being my sweetheart.


Prometheus, according to Greek myth, brought us the gift of fire. It is an awesome gift.
It gives us the power to heat our homes, cook our food, and run the machines that make
our lives more comfortable, healthy, and enjoyable. It is also awesomely destructive, both
by accident and by arson. The Chicago fire in 1871 left 100,000 people homeless. In
1990, the oil fields of Kuwait were intentionally set ablaze. Since the beginning of the
21st century, wildfires in the United States have destroyed millions of acres and thousands
of homes. In spite of the risks, in spite of these disasters, few of us would choose to return
the gift of fire and live without it. We have learned, gradually, how to use it productively,
how to use it safely, and how to respond more effectively to disasters, be they natural,
accidental, or intentional.

Computer technology is the most significant new technology since the beginning of the
Industrial Revolution. It is awesome technology, with the power to make routine tasks
quick, easy, and accurate, to save lives, and to create large amounts of new wealth. It helps
us explore space, communicate easily and cheaply, find information, create entertainment,
and do thousands of other tasks. As with fire, this power creates powerful problems:
potential loss of privacy, multimillion-dollar thefts, and breakdowns of large, complex
systems (such as air traffic control systems, communications networks, and banking
systems) on which we have come to depend. In this book, we describe some of the
remarkable benefits of computer and communication technologies, some of the problems
associated with them, and some of the means for reducing the problems and coping with
their effects.

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Unwrapping the Gift

1.1 The Pace of Change

1.2 Change and Unexpected Developments

1.3 Themes

1.4 Ethics


4 Chapter 1 Unwrapping the Gift

1.1 The Pace of Change

In a way not seen since Gutenberg’s printing press that ended the
Dark Ages and ignited the Renaissance, the microchip is an epochal
technology with unimaginably far-reaching economic, social, and
political consequences.

—Michael Rothschild1

In 1804, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set out on a two-and-a-half-year voyage
to explore what is now the western United States. Many more years passed before their
journals were published. Later explorers did not know that Lewis and Clark had been
there before them. Stephen Ambrose points out in his book about the Lewis and Clark
expedition, Undaunted Courage, that information, people, and goods moved no faster
than a horse—and this limitation had not changed in thousands of years.2 In 1997,
millions of people went to the World Wide Web to watch a robot cart called Sojourner
roll across the surface of Mars. We chat with people thousands of miles away, and instantly
view Web pages from around the world. We can tweet from airplanes flying more than
500 miles per hour.

Telephones, automobiles, airplanes, radio, household electrical appliances, and many
other …

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