If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Innovation under Austerity | Eben Moglen

Innovation under austerity is not produced by collecting lots of money and paying it to innovation intermediaries. [Several examples of disintermediation: TV, encyclopedias, book publishing, music recording, magazine publishing] Disintermediation -- the movement of power out of the middle of the net -- is a crucial fact about 21st century political economy.

Intermediaries that did well in the past ten years are limited to two categories: health insurers in the U.S., owing to political pathology, and the financial industry. Health insurers in the U.S. may be able to capitalize on continuing political pathology to remain failing and expensive intermediaries for a while longer, but the financial industry crapped in its own nest and is shrinking now and will continue to do so.

The reality that disintermediation happens and you can't stop it becomes a guiding light in the formation of national industrial policy. The greatest technological innovation of the 20th century is the thing we now call the World Wide Web. That innovation both fuels disintermediation by allowing all sorts of human contact to take place without agents, and is itself a result of disintermediated innovation.

The browser made the Web very easy to read. We did not make the Web easy to write. So a little thug in a hooded sweatshirt made the Web easy to write, and created a man-in-the-middle attack on human civilization. That's the intermediary innovation that we should be concerned about. We made everything possible... and then intermediaries to innovation turned it into the horror that is Facebook. It's intermediated innovation serving the needs of financiers, not the needs of people.

What do we know about how to achieve innovation under austerity? We created the Cloud. We created the idea that we could share operating systems and all the rest of the commoditizable stack on top of them. We did this using the curiosity of young people, not venture capital. Venture capital came towards us not because innovation needed to happen, but because innovation had already happened.

That curiosity of young people could be harnessed because all of the computing devices in ordinary day-to-day use were hackable, and so young people could actually hack on what everybody used. That made it possible for innovation to occur where it can occur without friction, which is at the bottom of the pyramid of capital. Hundreds of thousands of young people around the world hacking on laptops, hacking on servers, hacking on general purpose hardware available to allow them to scratch their individual itches -- technical, career, and just plain ludic itches ("I wanna do this; it would be neat") -- which is the primary source of the innovation which drove all of the world's great economic expansion in the past ten years. The way innovation really happens is that you provide young people with opportunities to create on an infrastructure which allows them to hack the real world and share the results.

All of that innovation comes from the simple process of letting the kids play and getting out of the way. Which, as you are aware, we are working as hard as we can to prevent, now, completely. Increasingly, around the world, the actual computing artifacts of daily life for individual human beings are being locked so you can't hack them. The individual computing laboratory in every 12-year-old's pocket is being locked down. If you prevent people from hacking on what they own themselves, you will destroy the engine of innovation from which everybody is profiting. The goal of the network operators is to attach every young human being to a proprietary network platform with closed terminal equipment that she can't learn from, can't study, can't understand, can't whet her teeth on, can't do anything with except send text messages that cost a million times more than they ought to.

Disintermediation is beginning to come to higher education. [Coursera vs. MITx] Every society currently trying to restart innovation needs more education, delivered more widely at lower cost. Free software is the world's most advanced technical education system. It allows anybody, anywhere in the world, to get to the state of the art in anything computers can be made to do, by reading what is fully available, by experimenting with it and by sharing the consequences freely. True computer science: experimentation, hypothesis formation, more experimentation, more knowledge for the human race. We needed to expand that to other areas. The universalization of access to knowledge is the single most important force available for increasing innovation and human welfare on the planet.

Disintermediation means there will be more service providers throughout the economy with whom we are directly in touch. That means more jobs outside hierarchies and fewer jobs inside hierarchies.

We use the word "privacy" to mean several distinct things. [Secrecy, anonymity], autonomy: the ability to live a life in which the decisions you make are unaffected by others' access to secret or anonymous communication.

March 21, 2012, after close of business, press release announcing "minor changes to the Ashcroft Rules": government information about individuals of whom nothing is suspected will no longer be retained for a maximum of 180 days, but rather for a maximum of five years. In other words, infinity. We are moving from the society we've always known, which we quaintly call a "free" society, to a society in which the U.S. government keeps a list of everybody every American knows. What should be the Constitutional procedure for doing this? Should there be, for example, a law? They didn't need a law; they did it with a press release, on a rainy Wednesday after everybody had gone home. Very rapidly, and with no apparent remorse, the two largest governments on Earth (the U.S. and China) have adopted essentially identical points of view: a robust social graph connecting government to everybody and the exhaustive data-mining of society is both government's fundamental policy with respect to their different forms of stability maintenance.

It isn't just our civil liberties that are at stake. The other part of what that costs us is the very vitality and vibrancy of invention, culture and discourse, that freedom to tinker, to invent, to be different, to be nonconformist. This is what sustains social vitality and economic growth in the 21st century. There is no tension between the civil liberty policy of assuring the right to be let alone and the economic policy of securing innovation under austerity. They require the same thing. Free software, free hardware we can hack on, free spectrum we can use to communicate with one another without let or hindrance, free access to educational resources to every person on earth without regard to ability to pay."

Source: Innovation Under Austerity: Eben Moglen's call to arms from the Freedom to Connect conference

While speaking in New Delhi, India, in 2006, he remarked: "Anything that is worth copying is worth sharing." His other quotes: "The more we give away, the richer we become." And: "Note how even the smallest encounter with Free Software can make a man cheerful about the future of our judge" (said after hearing a judge of the Allahabad high court, India speak on the subject).

Moglen believes the idea of proprietary software is as ludicrous as having "proprietary mathematics" or "proprietary geometry". This would convert the subjects from "something you can learn" into "something you must buy", he has argued. He points out that software is among the "things which can be copied infinitely over and over again, without any further costs".

Moglen has criticized what he calls the "reification of selfishness". He has said, "A world full of computers which you can't understand, can't fix and can't use (because it is controlled by inaccessible proprietary software) is a world controlled by machines."

He has called on lawyers to help the Free Software movement, saying: "Those who want to share their code can make products and share their work without additional legal risks." He urged his legal colleagues, "It's worth giving up a little in order to produce a sounder ecology for all. Think kindly about the idea of sharing."

Moglen has criticized trends which result in "excluding people from knowledge". On the issue of Free Software versus proprietary software, he has argued that "much has been said by the few who stand to lose". Moglen calls for a "sensible respect for both the creators and users" of software code. In general, this concept is a part of what Moglen has termed a "revolution" against the privileged owners of media, distribution channels, and software. On March 13, 2009, in a speech given at Seattle University, Moglen said of the free software movement that, "'When everybody owns the press, then freedom of the press belongs to everybody' seems to be the inevitable inference, and that’s where we are moving, and when the publishers get used to that, they’ll become us, and we’ll become them, and the first amendment will mean: 'Congress shall make no law […] abridging freedom of speech, or of the press […].', not – as they have tended to argue in the course of the 20th century – 'Congress shall make no law infringing the sacred right of the Sulzbergers to be different."

On the subject of Digital Rights Management, Moglen once said, "We also live in a world in which the right to tinker is under some very substantial threat. This is said to be because movie and record companies must eat. I will concede that they must eat. Though, like me, they should eat less."

Eben Moglen is a professor of law and legal history at Columbia University, and is the founder, Director-Counsel and Chairman of Software Freedom Law Center, whose client list includes numerous pro bono clients, such as the Free Software Foundation.

F2C2012: Eben Moglen keynote - "Innovation under Austerity"

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