Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Things that need to be free

Jimbo Wales asks for input trying to put together a list of things that need to be free (open) in the next century. Here are some of my nominations:

  • Software - It's going to take a long time, but most software will be open source for practical reasons, including auditing, flexibility, and as an escrow against a proprietary vendor's demise. It will eventually be unacceptable to NOT get the source to programs. People will still pay for it, and Microsoft may even figure out how to dominate it, however.
  • Protocols and Standards - TCP/IP, Ethernet, 802.11, and all of the other protocols will continue to be free and open, with competitive proposals working their way into public acceptance. As the manufacturing revolution forces hardware into the open (see below), the embedded standards such as DVD, CD-R, and others will be forced out into the open as well. When anyone can make an optical drive from scratch in their basement, nobody will build in region codes.
  • Hardware Design / Firmware - Eventually everything from CPU processor designs all the way to the latest iPod-3D design will work there way into the open. Like software, some will be open source, and some will be the result of a commercial firm and a more traditional engineering process. Everything will have a URL printed on it somewhere, where you can see all of the specs, and find pointers to the user community dedicated to it.
  • Manufacturing - Advances in manufacturing technology at the small end will allow you to turn out custom chips, and build your own gadgets in your garage, albeit for more cost than items that are mass produced.
  • Patents - The need for the public to be able to review patent applications and derive advancement of the arts will eventually force the entire process out into the light of day. The USPTO will eventually have ALL of the patent application process online. The public will be an essential part of the review process for prior art, which is necessary to stem the tide of bad patents and fleeing patent clerks.
  • Law - All of the laws will be available online, along with the discussions that lead to the adoption of them, similar to a Wiki. It will be quite practical to find out exactly what tradeoffs and considerations were made when a law is written, making it much easier to follow the spirit of a law, and stop worrying so much about the letter of it. Court decisions and the output of trial processes will also go into a public database. Companies which make their profits from locking up the law,will be forced to reconsider their business model.
  • Copyright - If you believe the current "everything is a remix" meme , there is nothing truely original. It's the gathering together of ideas and expressing it as a new synthesis that is valuable, and that will continue to be rewarded and encouraged by Copyright. The extension of copyright as a tool for locking down culture will not last.
  • Identity - All of our medical, financial, legal, and other information will be available to our guardians and us in an open format. We'll get to decide who gets to access which parts of it, and get an audit trail of everything.
  • Culture - A great deal of our culture is tied up in the stories and shared beliefs that make a community. We will not tolerate commodification and lockdown of our culture by large corporate entities.
  • Computing - Regardless of the current apparent progress of "Trusted" Computing, we will have general purpose computing for the long term.
  • Data - Our stuff, including photographs, movies, writing, poems, music, and all of the other creative and logistical output of our lives will be available to use in an open, known format. The vision of a world locked down by DRM will not come to pass.
Well these things to me seem to be general enough to make a fair start at Jimbo's list.

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