Deus Ex: Human Revolution Is A Story About Technology, Morality And... DRM?

I bet you thought I was done writing about Deus Ex: Human Revolution. How wrong you were! Though in truth, I just wanted to share a particularly outstanding piece I just read about the game. So, this is me writing about writing about Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

DXHR tackled some weighty topics, from transhumanism to the limits of human self-improvement to the immortal question, "Rocket Launcher or Crossbow?" But one thing I hadn't thought to connect it with is the current debate about software Digital Rights Managament.

Fortunately, Rock Paper Shotgun's own X-Man Kieron Gillen is all over it with an in-depth piece pondering that, as well as the many other real-world issues addressed in the game. (It's worth noting that his piece goes into great detail about the story, all the way up to the end of the game. So, it's chock full 'o spoilers.)

Gillen's observations about how we are all already augmented are particularly cool:

Right now? We're all superhumans. And as time goes by, at least in the industrialised world, we're all increasingly superhuman. It's almost impossible to over-emphasise how much technology has made us titans. It was said, the Colt is the great equaliser. For the last century, I would favour your gran with a gun over any martial artist in the world. Today, I'd favour anyone with a basic understanding of Google over pretty much any scholar in matters of general knowledge.


If people are free to just do whatever they want, they're going to destroy the society. If everyone has a nuke, even if the vast majority can use it responsibly, it only takes a tiny portion to decide to mis-use it to bring ruination. So, by fair means or foul, there must be a way of enforcing discipline. By killswitching this world-ending they maintain control. They have added entirely unnecessary functions to a piece of technology because they distrust human nature to use it responsibly and maintain a societal order.

At which point you see the DRM metaphor. The Illuminati's plan is to put DRM into every piece of cybernetics to ensure that it's not misused — or, if it is misused, it can be prevented from causing wide-spread harm. Darrow's murderous critique isn't just that augmentations are dangerous — but that augmentations will leave you open to something like this. His problem is both what the augmentations let you do ("I can tear that dude's head clean off if I feel like it") and what they make you do ("They can make you feel like tearing that dude's head clean off if they feel like it"). Some technology is just too dangerous for anyone to allow it to exist, because the safety-locks you "have" to add to it are just as rife for abuse as the technology it exists to control.

Give it a read — it's a fascinating line of thinking, and a good reminder of how "improved" we all already are, from our instant access to vast stores of information to the ways we've made ourselves physically stronger, speeding up evolution with advances in medical research. As radical as some of the augmentations in DXHR may seem, in many ways they're already happening. We're each a bit more Adam Jensen than we may be comfortable admitting.

And so comes the inevitable question: How to maintain control? How to keep it all in check? And in the future, will our brains come bundled with always-on DRM?

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is About DRM [RPS]


    It's one of the hardest topics to talk about, for me at least. There is an overwhelming part of me that wants to paint my face blue and scream "FREEDOM!!", but there is also a very, very small part that knows that not everyone can be trusted with what is contained in the idea of true freedom. The mere fact is that all of us, no matter where we're from, what we've done or who we are, are all inherently free, or at very least, have the right to it. The idea that the powers that be fight over the control of the populous is not one so far fetched, especially in the world that we live in today, post 9/11.

    The problem with the question "how to maintain control?" is that inevitably, we need those maintaining control to be accountable for their actions. I'm not sure that, taking human nature into account, its entirely possible...

    I've been talking like I eat gravel for breakfast for years now. I was Adam Jensen before it was cool.

      Activates "JC Denton Voice Actor" Aug.


        Activates "Fish mouth" aug.

        "Flatlander Woman"

    This article highlights what made this game a 'Deus Ex game' for me. A good theme to a serious issue in the present real world in a fun cyberpunk universe.

    HR theme - Humanity's relationship with technology.
    Original Deus Ex theme - Humanity's relationship with governance.
    Invisible War - Should we blend the use of new technology with governance?

    I think humanity's relationship with technology is always one of both excitement and then fear. Look at the Internet, governments all over the world are playing 'catch up' to try and control this technology but it's essentially to late. The same will occur when augmentations like we see in Deus Ex become a reality and are widespread. Governments scared of what their people can now potentially do with new tech. Will the paralympics be the main event in a few decades?

    What makes this situation a complex one is DRM in computer games is designed to prevent potential theft of IP, while DRM in augmentations is designed to prevent potential physical violence to others.

    Humanity, the reason why you can't have nice toys is you break them.

    Neither. Takedowns and stun gun.

    I never asked for DRM.

    The question is ultimately about trust. Do you trust $NEFARIOUS_ORGANIZATION to have control over software and/or hardware that you use over anyone else? This is the original question that open source or open hardware tries to address -- but it's not perfect; do you trust the compiler not to insert backdoors into your open source software? Do you trust the hardware that you're running on not to have backdoors?

    Ultimately, unless you have control over the entire computing stack, you can't honestly trust what's running right at the top of it. (

    This is all pretty much computing 101, and a lot of transhumanist writing already answers a lot of the other concerns/questions arising from disruptive tech, but the trust question's quite salient to raise for now...

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