To Abundance: The Cause Of, And Solution To, All Of Life's Problems

from the information-in-abundance dept

A month ago, I gave a little preview of the news that we, the team behind Techdirt, were launching a new think tank and network of innovators called the Copia Institute. That launch is happening today, with our event in San Jose, and I wanted to just provide a short post on why we’re doing this, and why it’s so important.

The word “copia” is Latin for abundance — and over nearly two decades of following, researching and writing about the innovation industries, over and over again, we see that it’s the story of abundance. Of an abundance of information, certainly, but also of the role that abundance plays in everything that we do. Businesses, business models and government policies that were all built for a world of scarcity run into trouble when suddenly plopped into a world of abundance. And we see it happening every day. There are the obvious ones that we talk about all the time around here: music, movies, news and software. But it goes way beyond that. A switch from a world of scarcity to one of abundance is going to impact nearly every other industry as well: manufacturing, finance, healthcare, energy and education among others.

The discussions that we’ve had in the past about the changes that hit music, movies, news and other industries were really only the beginning. The world is changing in very profound ways, and if you view it all through the lens of scarcity, it looks very, very distorted. The arguments over new business models and copyright laws were just a warmup to what is going to impact basically every industry and every society in the next few decades.

Understanding abundance matters. You cannot understand the world we are moving towards if you continue to view it solely on the basis of scarcity.

And thus, we’re building Copia — to bring together people who think about these issues, and who actually want to get together and do something about them, hopefully preventing crazy messes and lawsuits that we’ve seen in other arenas. Some of this may certainly involve working on policy issues, but there are lots of groups that are already doing that. Our focus, as an organization in the heart of Silicon Valley, will be on what innovators do best: innovating — but doing so with an awareness of the policy realities. And that means looking for creative solutions that don’t always rely on convincing policymakers to make this decision or not make that decision. We expect to be involved and engaged in those debates, but we’re really interested in coming up with other, more innovative solutions as well.

For example, nearly 15 years ago, as people were realizing that copyright law was just not built right to function in an internet era where people wanted to share stuff, a group of very smart individuals came up with Creative Commons. These days, as we sit around waiting for Congress to finally tackle patent reform, we see companies doing creative things like coming up with an Innovator’s Patent Agreement to avoid patents becoming tools of trolls. Tech companies came together to create a Defensive Patent License, and you even have companies like Life360 offering free legal support to any startup sued by the same troll that sued it.

These are creative solutions that involve innovation. They don’t solve everything, and those working on them still — quite reasonably — support policy changes as well. But we need more discussions about creative solutions that don’t involve just sitting around and waiting for policymakers to do their thing. We need to bring together the people who understand how the world is shifting, from one where everything was scarce to one where many things are abundant — and to look for ways to harness that abundance to create more good in the world, rather than to lock it down under rules of artificial scarcity just to make it conform to the way things used to be. That’s why, at our inaugural summit, we’re discussing a diverse range of things from health data & ethics to privacy to 3D printing to the blockchain to copyright, patents and freedom of expression.

That is what Copia is about. It’s about looking at the world through these eyes of abundance. It’s not about ignoring the policy world, but working closely with it — to better understand the impact of the decisions those in government make, and to help guide them along more reasonable paths that embrace and (even better) enable more abundance.

Research into why Silicon Valley became Silicon Valley suggests that it is the free exchange of ideas and information — brought about through a historical quirk of California state policy that outlawed non-compete agreements — that resulted in all of this innovation. That sharing of information (an abundant resource) has created so much innovation already. Copia is about continuing that trend, bringing together people to share ideas and come up with creative and innovative solutions to a variety of challenges — technology, business model and policy — to see what we can do to help the world transition into greater abundance and less scarcity.

As we make this journey, we expect you, our loyal community at Techdirt, to come along and be a part of the process. We’ll be using the discussions on Techdirt as part of this effort, to drum up interesting and unique ideas, new research, new tools and new inspiration. It will be an adventure into the world of abundance.

We’d also like to thank the sponsors that made this launch possible, starting with the MacArthur Foundation, which provided a grant that is enabling us to start this work. We’re also thankful for sponsorship from four of the best, most well-respected venture capital organizations in the world today: Union Square Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz, Foundry Group and Spark Capital. Finally, four technology companies have sponsored Copia as well: Google, Automattic (WordPress), Yelp and Namecheap. We should have additional sponsors to announce soon as well. We’re especially excited about the mix of sponsors from different areas. What we’re putting together is not a trade group, or an advocacy organization, but rather a group of people focused on innovating and bringing more good into the world through creative means.

* In case you don’t get the title reference, click here.

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Comments on “To Abundance: The Cause Of, And Solution To, All Of Life's Problems”

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16 Comments
ltlw0lf (profile) says:

The Cause Of, And Solution To, All Of Life's Problems

Now if we could only get spaceships (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Federation_of_Planets) to ply the vast distances in search for resources to make post-scarcity economy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-scarcity_economy) a reality.

Hopefully the future will be more Star Trek and less Childhood’s End.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: The Cause Of, And Solution To, All Of Life's Problems

It’s been too long since I read Childhood’s End, but if I remember correctly, it ended with everyone being better off than they started.

But I would love to live in the Star Trek universe. The one from the original series, not the one that has been depicted more recently.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: The Cause Of, And Solution To, All Of Life's Problems

It’s been too long since I read Childhood’s End, but if I remember correctly, it ended with everyone being better off than they started.

If by being better off, you mean not human, than yes. Humanity is extinguished and those children of humanity that remain are transformed into aliens, but at least for sixty years, everyone is better off.

Anonymous Coward says:

While a noble endeavor, it will be an uphill battle. That’s because the for-profit/capitalist system we live in craves just the opposite: scarcity. This is what every “successful” business hopes to exploit, create, or present the illusion of. It’s also the basis of many types of intellectual property — creating scarcity and exclusivity out of commonality — so the crafty few who can successfully “work the system” can indeed profit handsomely from it, at the expense of those who don’t.

Mike Soja (profile) says:

Re: for-profit/capitalist system

Capitalism is not a “system”. It is an artifact of the larger fact that humans are individuals striving to survive in a world of progress that continually supersedes itself, via individual spurts and lunges.

Innovation is always a scarce commodity, and always will be, and always will be more highly valued than non-innovation. The innovator is not exploiting the “system”, but enhancing it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Any thoughts on preventing being co-opted

Some think tanks occasionally sound less like independent thinkers and more like pretentious propaganda and PR firms. Have you put any thought into how you will prevent the tank from being steered in wrong directions by those who can buy steering committee and working-group seats? Or, in general, in what way will you prevent the tank from being influenced by the temptation to be more appealing to sponsors?

( I’m not trying to be inflammatory. I think you’ve done a great job of maintaining that independence here at Techdirt. )

FosterK says:

Be careful with terminology.

You initially speak narrowly of “information-in-abundance”, but quickly get sloppy… and then speak of general “abundance” in all the world.

Information abundance (unlimited quantities/zero scarcity) is possible; general abundance (consumer goods/services) is impossible.

Scarcity is a fundamental law of economics. There are never enough productive resources to provide all the goods and services that people want. The result is that people must constantly choose among competing alternatives. Chicken recipes(information) can be made available in unlimited quantities with no scarcity, but everyone in the world can NOT have a new Mercedes limousine or a luxury mansion.
Half the world, in fact, now lives at a poverty level due to the reality of economic scarcity.

Sloppy terminology can lead to (result from?) sloppy thinking.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

True enough that not everyone can have a Mercedes and a luxury mansion, but there are areas of the world where scarcity is enforced as opposed to naturally occurring.

Sometimes that enforcement does come from a business standpoint, but most of the time it’s political in nature.

Also a lot of those people don’t even touch poverty line, they live BELOW the poverty line.

Mike Soja (profile) says:

Re: scarcity

There are never enough productive resources to provide all the goods and services that people want. The result is that people must constantly choose among competing alternatives.

Your larger point is correct, but it needs to be said that people don’t always value the same things. Not everyone likes lobster. I could have chosen a Mercedes, but I freely bought something else. Many might not even need to own a car at all. The relative scarcity of Big Macs that McDonalds allegedly exploits doesn’t preclude me from indulging in Hardees five pound burger (with cheese).

The increasing availability of information is obviously a good thing, and will over time change products and services, but it is hubris of the largest sort to suppose that there is some sort of “policy” that can best manage the process.

It seems to me that Masnick and Techdirt have assumed that popularity earned in some arenas have endowed them with knowing what’s best for their fellows in arenas which are none of their business.

Pragmatic says:

Re: Re: scarcity

The increasing availability of information is obviously a good thing, and will over time change products and services, but it is hubris of the largest sort to suppose that there is some sort of “policy” that can best manage the process.

Well the much-vaunted laissez-faire approach has led to the surveillance state we’re in today, which exists mostly to protect incumbents’ profits.

It seems to me that Masnick and Techdirt have assumed that popularity earned in some arenas have endowed them with knowing what’s best for their fellows in arenas which are none of their business.

That’s nonsense. Your logical fallacies are straw man and ad hominem. We’re just talking about these things with a view to finding solutions. Besides, that which directly affects us IS our business.

If you truly want us to butt out so it’s only your business, get rid of IPR laws. End of problem.

Mike Soja (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: scarcity

the much-vaunted laissez-faire approach has led to the surveillance state

The free market has engendered the government’s corrupt violation of citizens’ rights? How is that not nonsense?

We’re just talking about these things with a view to finding solutions.

Insofar as Copia is a private endeavor, sure, more power to the enterprise, but as it seeks to influence policy (ie. force over one’s fellows) it’s liable to be just another part of the problem.

Mike Soja (profile) says:

Abandon all hope ye who enter here

Abundance needs no advocate. And the repetitive references to “policy” (an anodyne euphemism for government diktat) lend a stink to the allegedly good intentions.

While legacy “policy” is undoubtedly injurious to innovation and entrepreneurial endeavor, remediation is best sought in removal, as opposed to the invocation of more clever policy.

Copia is a little bit of putting a cart before a horse doing the rounds in a petting zoo in Ohio. The Internets (sic Bush) are a wonderful thing, but the human genome is an entirely different network, one incuriously immune to casual hacking.

Ergo, alleged solutions to even a smattering of life’s alleged problems are to be goggled at.

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