[ExI] effective altruism

Ben Zaiboc ben at zaiboc.net
Mon Jul 15 20:14:49 UTC 2019

Well, my remark was supposed to be rather tongue-in-cheek, but if we are 
going to be serious about it, my main objection is that MS seems to have 
been, and still is, the ringleader of the whole attitude that software 
companies have today, an attitude that is not inevitable, and that I 
think is destructive and holds us back massively, and is so pervasive 
that many people have trouble even conceiving that things could be 

It seems to be the natural order that when you buy (or, I should say 
'pay for', because you can't usually actually /buy/ it) a piece of 
software, you don't own it, you hardly have any rights at all regarding 
it, you're not, in practice, allowed to understand how it works or 
modify it, or even to try to (often that's actually illegal!), and you 
are prevented from even understanding what you're agreeing to when you 
hand your money over, because the license terms are deliberately very 
long and obscure.

It seems inevitable that any software that you use is subject to 
arbitrary changes by the vendor, forced upgrades, often at inconvenient 
times, and sudden disappearance of features regardless of whether you 
find them useful or not. And of course, you can't just do what you wish 
with it. It's a bit like buying a bike that you're not allowed to change 
the gears or brakes on, can't even fit a different bell if you want, and 
the options for adjusting the handlebars and saddle are severely 
restricted to pre-set choices. And don't even think of changing the 
tyres! On top of this, it will stop working unless you take it in for 
regular services when it may be returned a different colour, with 
different lights, etc., etc.

I think it's odd that nobody would tolerate it if, when you take your 
car to be serviced, it was returned with the pedals swapped round, the 
handbrake removed altogether and your radio hidden away somewhere 
inaccessible, with brand new controls installed that don't do what you 
want anymore, but yet people accept this level of interference routinely 
when it comes to software. Not to mention the snooping. Of course, 
people /will/ accept it when their cars start reporting how they are 
used to various unknown parties, because they will have been conditioned 
to accept this kind of invasion of privacy because that's how their 
computers behave, and cars are increasingly turning into computers on 

I'm not claiming that this culture is exclusively Microsoft's doing, but 
they certainly were enthusiastic early leaders in establishing it. And 
things don't have to be this way. There are software systems that don't 
treat the user as an enemy, that don't mean "against the user" when they 
use the word "Security", and that allow the user to own the software, 
modify it, control it, and get the use from it that /they/ want, rather 
than the use that the vendor wants to impose on them.

As a transhumanist and extropian, I'm always in favour of individual 
choice, with the only restriction being that you don't harm others by 
your choices. All the big software companies these days are explicitly 
opposed to that principle. They want the only choice on the table to be 
/their/ choice, and to hell with anyone who is harmed or disadvantaged 
in any way by it.

I'm not against change, even random change (which is often what you seem 
to get with many software products), but I am against imposing that 
change on the users without asking them, and without allowing any 
possibility of opting out of it (short of stopping using the software 
altogether, which just isn't an option for many users). Just look at the 
Microsoft support forums and you'll find scores, of not hundreds, of 
user complaints and requests and pleas, about features that have been 
imposed on them that Microsoft refuse to even listen to, let alone do 
anything about.

It didn't have to be this way. There are ways of making money without 
treating your customers with such utter contempt.

OK, that's my rant over. Back to normal programming now (pun intended).

Ben Zaiboc

More information about the extropy-chat mailing list