Thursday, August 18, 2011

Demystification of technology

I have been surprised by the degree to which the openness of the Internet has been re-closed somewhat. The toothpaste has partially been put back in the tube. The "walled garden" model of closed apps for closed devices, in my opinion, runs contrary to real freedom and the kind of thing that can be empowering for ends that are positive for lots of people. The ends could assume more of a liberal model- a society with good governance and maybe social services in return for taxes, or it could assume the situation that is a de facto standard, second economy that libertarians may espouse, where internet-based crowdsourcing takes place. (A side note is that both models are okay in the hands of honest, competent actors, and both models suffer in the case of accidental or deliberate false positives in the ways that the economies run.) It seems to me that proprietary Apple apps and proprietary Google/Android apps, and Zuckerberg/Facebook and Twitter-the-company as a few gigantic platforms for "anyone who's anyone," take global communication and the empowerment possibilities for improving the lives of every single person, and dampen that down by more or less draconian central control over developers, users, perhaps censorship and editorial policies - every aspect.

Therefore, I'm interested in the demystification of technology. I'm interested in open-source hardware. I don't know exactly what the barriers are for making your own. The example of open-source software and the Free Software Foundation is inspirational, but software doesn't need physical stuff like plastic, metal and wood.

We rely on a network of cel towers. We rely on massive cables that go across the ocean floor and carry internet traffic. We rely on the formerly-ARPA backbone. But more and more I am starting to believe that any business too big to say 'no' to a government request will be micronationalized, cut loose, micronationalized, cut loose, as the government requires, and under those circumstances you might as well just consider them synonymous with government.

Cameron talked about shutting down Blackberry and Twitter. There was no iota of a possibility that Blackberry or Twitter would refuse. BART shut down cel communications in order to inhibit communication about a protest over BART police killing someone. Apparently the cel companies pay rent to BART, and that's why BART could ask and the companies said yes.

What I envision, and probably don't have the chops to write, would be something that goes open source one better. Vast software repositories are still cryptic, so it's great that it's open, but you still may not be able to work on it at will. (Or possibly the situation is that it calls out the programming chops of everyone who digs in to it, and some can, and some can't, and I can't! Heh. So in trying to democratize and demystify technology for the less brilliant, I'm trying to democratize and demystify it for myself, cause I am less brilliant than a lot of open-source software devotees.)

The thing that would revolutionize open source would be something that makes open source understandable in layman's terms, so that a person could re-build an open source project according to what it is supposed to accomplish, and if there are complicated algorithms involved, they would be broken down into some kind of understandable principle. Similar to the 200-in-one electronics kits, which go through the concepts of how capacitors and resistors work. I picture it as some kind of atomic-scale hypertutorial. I really adore what Khan Academy is doing, so why can't we have a step-by-step, work at your own pace tutorial to how Google works, or some other really "advanced" technology works?

I guess at some point what's unique about the big names is not the "10% inspiration" , but brute force maybe? And money? Like having the resources to host banks upon banks of servers. I seriously doubt whether the global crowd couldn't do this better with something like the SETI@Home project.

Another rebuttal is, "it's already going on, dude." It probably is - just the fact that I came upon the idea is not going to be pivotal in anything. But like Deep Throat said to Woodward, "follow the money." Demystification of technology could help with the very left-wing goal of redistributing income and/or the mainstream liberal/progressive goal of better lives for more people.

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