The Open Source Initiative and odd sociopolitical implications (abstracted)
I’m going to present this as objectively as I can. I am obviously biased toward crowdsourcing and this is not the spirit of the movement. Crowdsourcing is intended to be more eudaimonic and altruistic as opposed to coercive; so I’ll be sharing my thoughts not only on the more positive aspects but also the possible and probable issues that I have found. If there is something that I have missed; criticisms, solutions and of course patches are certainly welcome.
In the first days of this “Technological Revolution” some of the old school hackers that we now know and love were made painfully aware of the resource constraints of closed models. They began thinking about how they wished the system were designed and began designing the best approximation of that ideological system. Some of them even just started writing software out of love for doing it and allowed their projects to emerge autonomously. Combinations of many approaches and the solutions that were found began to congeal into a promising system for development. There could be even more to it though. It bears resemblance to the methods used by the scientific community in that there is open collaboration and lots of independent testing and peer review. This is something that could have translated over via higher education but that is just a suspicion.
The principles are seemingly solid. It’s a distributed system that inherently promotes cooperation, security and ethics. This is done by changing the collective motivation of the project members. Open Source software projects tend to be not for profit. This removes some of the negative responses associated with profiteering. The currency is instead public support; which has its’ advantages too. All any project really needs is public support. This has been shown in many test cases with crowdsourcing and crowdfunding resources like Linux, Sourceforge, Kickstarter and Indigogo. There is a surprising amount of support that is given to projects that spark public interest. This also could increase the possible total resources of the project. Much of the code for open projects is written by volunteers that are aspiring programmers who enjoy programming and want the experience. The code is then filtered upwards to the senior project members for review. The individual open projects might seem to be centralized because of the upward filtering of the product however the administrators don’t have as much control as one might think. The contributors have leverage as contributors and could easily move to another project or even start their own. They can’t loose their work because it’s open. They can just take it or anyone elses’. All they have to do is share. The main reason that crowdsourcing is such an elegant system is it frees the developers to develop as they see fit by not being so constrained by economics and logistics. The economics and logistics of the system are somewhat conducive to the desired development environment.
There are some issues with this system concerning the overall stability and consistency of the software projects. Some of this is to be expected. The developers are working toward a goal and it may not necessarily be for a stable software project. The objective might instead be to experiment and hopefully innovate. They may be pushing the boundaries of the “state of the art”. There are however many software projects that are more than reasonably stable and consistent. These projects tend to have periodic stable releases. The issue here revolves around the amount of effort put into researching solutions that suit your needs. Another cause of this is the lack of hardware projects. The bulk (almost all) of the hardware used by open software is proprietary. It has been historically difficult to get support from proprietary vendors. This was and is a huge issue because the developers need an understanding of the hardware to be capable of writing working drivers for it. In spite of this disadvantage open software has still been cobbling together working releases. This issue could also translate down to individual applications making them unstable on certain hardware or distribution releases. This is an issue that is being addressed through a few open hardware projects. Support for these projects has the potential to greatly improve the state of open source. There is also the issue of technical support. Most of the solutions for this is in the form of community forums where users share tech support solutions. This isn’t always the best solution for the technically challenged or for anyone in a pinch. This does however seem to be a solvable issue. The most complicated and perplexing issue is in the philosophical implications of the system becoming mainstream. In systems that promote ethical behavior; is one actually choosing to be ethical? I hope to illustrate this more clearly later on.
The Star Trek future conjecture:
In the series of series Star Trek, the socioeconomic system is fundamentally democratic. All basic needs are met and resources are democratically distributed. This bares resemblance to the open initiative. If it were to be adopted there would be striking similarities.
The open model is a distributed system as opposed to our current centralized system. There are a lot of advantages to this. The system would be less likely to be manipulated in positive or negative ways because of the lack of available complexity. The reason for this is the complexity is distributed among many entities as opposed to aggregated in a central structure. This gives these entities leverage in the system and promotes more democratic decision making. Centralized complexity gives more influence to the members of the central establishment because the complexity is readily available to them. In our current system we approach change by trying to influence the central establishment. The open model is reliant on public support making it intrinsically more democratic. The solutions themselves are crowdsourced and emerge somewhat autonomously.
The open model insists upon collaboration even between projects with the licensing. The General Public License is an agreement in sharing changes of, or additions to the source of the licensed software. It does this through stating that these additions and changes are subject to the General Public License. This effects the ecosystem in many positive ways. The competition becomes more focused on innovation, interest and suiting public needs. It allows more human resources to be focused on interesting projects. It frees developers from the expense of protecting an IP. It gives developers access to huge databases of code to draw from in the event that their project needs it. The list goes on.
If crowdsourcing were to become mainstream the general public could be apt to adopt the principles as a heuristic. This could bring about a great deal of change relatively quickly. As conjecture the system might not have a unit currency because public support would take its place. This would mean that essentials would be free and project resources would be allowed with proof of public support. This seems feasible with current technologies. The decentralization of the system would make it inhospitable to negative influences like corruption. A strong, stable middle class with distributed influence would in principal be the major influence.
The sheer numbers and diversity of the influential entities would likely create a more stable economic environment. The principle of diversification is native to the system. The opportunities would be reliant on the wants and needs of the public. This would be the most democratic system to date.
At this level of decentralization it would be difficult for any one entity to have far reaching influence into this system. It would require a great deal of effort in influencing large numbers of entities. It would also take a great deal of resources for coercion; that would be difficult to acquire in this system.
Since necessities are granted, work would have a different context. It would be a way to give ones gifts or, ones able body and or mind to contribute to society. This has a positive psychological effect (see Positive Psychology).
This system being somewhat autonomous would greatly reduce the concerns of the central government. Provisions for common defense, adjudication, resource distribution and tasks that private entities wouldn’t be capable of would likely be centralized to some extent.
Education would of course be free. The idea is not only feasible but currently being implemented. There are numerous resources for free educational materials of all levels including higher education.
The idea of designing a system to promote ethical behaviors isn’t really hard to justify. It might cause pause and concern for possibilities of decreased personal liberties however no one has the liberty to infringe on others liberties. By referencing such a principle, fairness and justice could be adjudicated.
There seems to be a disturbing and interesting philosophical issue with such a system. Though it seems to be fair and have the potential to be an almost utopian society; there’s something unsettling about a system that just works. It’s a philosophical dilemma concerning the will to act ethically. I would like to believe that there is no coercion in this hypothetical system however one would be coerced to act ethically within it. It would essentially be a systemic dictatorship. Of course quantified it would be more complex than that but the layers that unfold do not seem to resolve the dilemma.
It has been said that we live in our ancestors utopia. I would agree with this with one caveat. It has come with a cost that would likely be unsettling to our ancestors. Historically this is the way that history changes. In looking toward the future it would be safe to assume that some of the changes and/or consequences would likely upset current sensibilities. With this in mind it seems that the idea of a utopia is nothing more than a subjective ideology. This also brings into question our current political affiliations and ideologies. Where do we stand with these? Are we promoting our own liberties at the expense of others? Are we heuristically supporting a system that cannot support us? Have we outgrown our current state?