You weary giants of Roombas and broomsticks

Today, I was reading "I am a strange loop", and while immersed in a story about virtual presence, I realized that it would be really cool if you could build a telepresence robot out of, say, a Roomba, a broomstick, and a Macbook.

Some clever guys obviously beat me to it. Check out these. For those who don't want to bother clicking the link: it's a telepresence robot that looks like... well, not all that different from a Macbook on a broomstick on a Roomba. Note that they plan to sell these at "between $1800 and $3000" in "2008"; by my estimate, the lower end of that might be less than the cost of the parts you'd need to make one.

And here's another fun question: what is the interaction of telepresence and immigration laws? If I live in one country, but my job is "in" another, where am I legally employed? This question first became very real to me when I lived in the US as a student and wondered what the legal consequences would be if I, through the primitive telepresence technologies of e-mail, telephone and ssh, were to do a little free-lance work for a Dutch company in Holland, paid in Euros on my Dutch bank account, with the Dutch company possibly never even realizing I was in California? (I never did it, but an American I know here does do the exact opposite.)

And why shouldn't he? Given ever improved telepresence technologies (I am really starting to like that buzzword, even though it's probably already gone out of style), immigration laws start seeming not only backwards and selfish, but positively hilarious. And that last thing is a good thing, because in the end, the only way you can really fight The Man is to poke fun at Him...

I have more to say about the political implications of this, but meanwhile, you can ponder whether John Perry Barlow was onto something when he wrote this (emphasis mine):

Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.

We have no elected government, nor are we likely to have one, so I address you with no greater authority than that with which liberty itself always speaks. I declare the global social space we are building to be naturally independent of the tyrannies you seek to impose on us. You have no moral right to rule us nor do you possess any methods of enforcement we have true reason to fear.

Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. You have neither solicited nor received ours. We did not invite you. You do not know us, nor do you know our world. Cyberspace does not lie within your borders. Do not think that you can build it, as though it were a public construction project. You cannot. It is an act of nature and it grows itself through our collective actions.


  1. Eh, sovereignty is obsolete.

  2. @cstangle: it probably ought to be, and maybe it will be, but I'm afraid it isn't.

  3. net neutrality... becoming more prominently debated of late