Well when Lawrence Lessig, the law professor and the creator of the Creative Commons movement — where authors relinquish part of our copyright so that we can work with the world on creations together — when he coined the idea that code is law, he doesn’t literally mean law as in courtroom, or for judges, or the jurisdiction.

It’s more like physical law. It’s like Newton’s law. It’s like Einstein’s law. It means that it defines what is possible and what is impossible. It’s not what is right, what is wrong; or what is moral, what is immoral. It just defines the possibilities of the interactions that we can do online.

When I first learned programming when I was eight years old, I looked at programming language books, but I did not have a computer. So I used pen and paper to draw a computer to write my program, to simulate how a computer will go from the program that I compose, because computers are predictable.

If you can understand how it works, you don’t need the actual hardware. It’s like logic in that way. So when I practiced coding as a child, I was really like practicing a musical instrument, that has logic as its notes — and the possibility of interactions as its melodies.

Its melody is defining the kind of space, how much we can see — of other people, other computers, other ideas — with how much capacity, and what kind of actions we can do with it. Maybe we can “like” it. Maybe we can “subscribe” to it.

Maybe we can “follow” it. Maybe we can curate it. Maybe we can annotate it. All these acts are like in physical spaces, and they are built with architects obeying the law that is the code, just like the laws of gravity that defines architects’ work when they build buildings.

Keyboard shortcuts

j previous speech k next speech