'Hack The Real World And Share The Results'

from the just-wow dept

Eben Moglen has been battling to defend key digital rights for the last two decades. A lawyer by training, he helped Phil Zimmerman fight off the US government’s attack on the use of the Pretty Good Privacy encryption program in the early 1990s, in what became known as the Crypto Wars. That brought him to the attention of Richard Stallman, founder of the GNU project, and together they produced version 3 of the GNU GPL, finally released after 12 years’ work in 2006.

Today, he’s Professor of Law at Columbia Law School, Founding Director of the Software Freedom Law Center and the motive force behind the FreedomBox project to produce a distributed communication system, including social networking that is fully under the user’s control.

He’s also a great orator, as he demonstrated once again at the F2C: Freedom to Connect conference last week. Introducing the discussion that followed Moglen’s talk, Doc Searls said: “that was not just one of the best speeches I’ve heard, it’s one of the most important,” and said that it felt like an “I have a dream” moment.

Moglen’s keynote was entitled “Innovation under austerity”, and tackled a range of big themes: the effects of disintermediation brought about by the Internet; the global financial crisis; the imposition of austerity; the increasing levels of youth unemployment in parts of the Eurozone; and the desperate need for innovative ideas to get us out of this mess. He tied all these together by observing that the multi-trillion dollar economy created by e-commerce had been made possible by innovation born of the passion and curiosity of mostly young people hacking on open systems.

As Moglen said, transcribed here by Stephen Bloch:

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.

From this central observation, Moglen noted that such open innovation offered a possible way out of the current economic crisis, since, uniquely, it thrived in conditions of austerity (think of Linus Torvalds writing the Linux kernel in his Helsinki bedroom on a PC bought partly thanks to a student loan from the Finnish government.)

Where the banking institutions of our day have failed spectacularly, and shown themselves to be forces for wealth destruction, open innovation as practised by free software and Wikipedia and all the other collaborative endeavors around the world, has been quietly creating real value on an unprecedented scale and in an extremely short time.

Moglen suggested that open innovation was fuelled by the energy of the young — precisely the part of society that is paying the price for the older generation’s mistakes. To help pull ourselves out of the current crisis, he urged the world to tap into that youthful potential by making knowledge as widely available as possible — through open content — and by providing young people with open tools to explore and invent with.

He concluded by warning that the rise of the digital behemoths like Apple and Facebook were exactly the wrong solution, offering closed hardware and something just as bad on the software side. As Moglen put it:

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.

The whole speech is pretty much at that level of sharp analysis combined with sharp-tongued wit. Watch it below — it lasts around 45 mniutes — and decide for yourself whether this will go down in history as one of the key moments of the early digital age.

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Comments on “'Hack The Real World And Share The Results'”

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Anonymous Coward says:

I agree with this article completely except one key sentence that I take issue with
” open innovation as practised by free software and Wikipedia and all the other collaborative endeavors around the world, has been quietly creating real value on an unprecedented scale and in an extremely short time.”

The fact of the matter is in terms of real world physical value no software has on it’s own produced anything. Wikipedia is a wonderful tool and glorious however it has never produced a physical good.

That is the essential problem with all IP is that ultimately ideas, and information are not property. So although the information age has vastly improved our ability to accesses, retrieve, and store information. It hasn’t actually produced anything on its own, rather people have taken advantage of the information they now have accesses to, in order to build real world value.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Agreed ideas by themselves are nothing if not implemented, a famous example of that is Leonardo DaVinci that sought knowledge and was well ahead of its time but since he didn’t share that knowledge it got lost only to be rediscovered when it didn’t matter anymore it didn’t help no one, although I am a fan of Mr. Leonardo and I understand that part of the problem was a society that would punish him for publishing some of his findings like atherosclerosis, he was incapable of maneuvering those societal rules and was not able to implement anything of great importance to science at the time. wealth was not created when he made the observation and discoveries, only after a long time after others glimpsed at what he did and put in practice some of his ideas creating revolutions of their own, in that sense Wikipedia is the provider of tools that make possible the work of others more quickly, without having to redo everything every single time it has its value but it is not beginning and end of wealth creation, is most likely the starting point in a long road.

Christopher (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

“Agreed ideas by themselves are nothing if not implemented”

That is right but Wikipedia is not just an idea but the product of collaboration. Its like a walk in the woods. If someone walked before you and chopped the weeds and some trees you benefit from his efforts because he cleared the way. If you make it even better and 50 people after you do the same over time there is a road with economic value.

Anonymous Coward of Esteemed Trolling (profile) says:

Re: Re: how do you have a job ?

Yes it is. Wikipedia is software. You control it remotely with other software.


You get commissioned to make reports.
Your reports are valuable because of the work carried out making them.


The report can be useful, sensitive and highly confidential but that does not alter reality.
The pdf can be copied limitless times, at near-zero cost. #WORTHLESS


Even with a “literally worthless” final product, profit is still there to be made.


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Withholding information and disseminating false information is control, which manifests itself as power.

That’s why Adolph Hitler had power. That’s why religion has power. That’s why FOX “news” has power. That’s why Rupert Murdoch has power. That’s why China has power. That’s why the United States has power.

And we don’t want any of them to be powerless, do we?

Without the withholding of information and disseminating of false information, those entities would be powerless to control the world.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Information is in and on itself without value.
Information that you can’t use for whatever reason is worth nothing the value is in the capability to implement them, both have no value alone, they only have value when combined.

What good is an idea that is not implemented?
What good is an implementation of nothing?

So real value only happens when both ideas and implementation happens.

Also not all information can be used all the time some are time sensitive, environment sensitive and thus of no value at the wrong time or environment.

Separating both doesn’t seem productive, since it creates the erroneous assumption that ideas can stand on their own in the world and be valuable just for being ideas without never having to be implemented to create something or do something.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Re: Re:

In most ways sharing is legal now. IP maximalists would prefer that it wasn’t but it is. We can still loan out a physical book that’s inspired or interested us though the same activity is considered “piracy” on the Internet mostly due to scale and the false notion that every download is one lost sale which is untrue. The information contained within a patent is sharable though creating an identical product isn’t allowed while work arounds are and improvements of various kinds are allowed based on the information contained in the patent.

(Which works well for physical objects seems to collapse completely for software and business method patents which contain far more vapour than reality and claims which are often beyond the current state of technology without code or other information required to get there. Hence, patent trolls.)

Arne Babenhauserheide (profile) says:

Writing to the web

I loved that speech! And when he finished, I had tears in my eyes?

But what I thought again and again: We need more people to use Freenet: Decentral free software, can be read anonymously, easy to write to, and not even the need to be online 24/7 to publish your website or blog – but avoiding central control.

I hope it will be part of the freedombox.


Arne Babenhauserheide (profile) says:

Writing to the web

I loved that speech! And when he finished, I had tears in my eyes?

But what I thought again and again: We need more people to use Freenet: Decentral free software, can be read anonymously, easy to write to, and not even the need to be online 24/7 to publish your website or blog – but avoiding central control.

I hope it will be part of the freedombox.


manny says:

All information has value

All the information in your head has or had value at specific given times in your life.

And all information on the internet was written by someone, meaning it was on their heads.

Even wrong information has value, because many times is the start of digging in the correct information.

Wrong information/ideas, failures and incorrect implementations can in time lead to the right information.

“You can’t know what is right until you know the things that are wrong.”

Don’t fear Failure my friends!

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