Peer to Peer Beyond the North South Paradigm

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  • Article. Layne Hartsell.


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"In the literature today on global affairs, there is a widely used concept known as the Global North-South (N/S). The North is considered to be the developed countries and the South is the developing world. The concept generally indicates a complex relationship of trade and/or the transfer of technology, knowledge or financial assistance from wealthy countries to those of the South. Here we would evaluate the further usefulness of the concept and its accuracy, seeking to find a better term which reflects productive communities and their collaborative efforts made possible through current information technology and communications (ICT). Superficially, there is some awkwardness to the concept of North-South, since Australia and New Zealand do not fit the meaning of the Global South, whereas, areas of Europe and former Eastern Bloc countries do not resemble the North. Even areas of the United States, such as New Mexico, South Dakota and inner cities resemble the poverty and problems of a third world country, in a direct parity. On a deeper level, and most importantly, there are a number of countries that are regressing and not developing. These are the countries which are seemingly left out of the concept of the Global North-South dichotomy or paradigm.

It is our aim to discuss the potential for an emergence of a better understanding of the global dynamics of the commons, both economically and technologically, through knowledge and openness between peoples. We would introduce and explore the concept of Productive Community Collaborations (PCC) which comes from the Peer-to-Peer (P2P) perspective indicating a dynamic commons for more complex processes such as science and high tech, and even early nanotechnology found in biotechnology. From Nairobi to Oslo, Adiss Adabba to New York, Chiang Mai to Seoul, and out to the villages, productive communities can share ideas, knowledge and experiences creating an intricate network of open systems and science.

The paradigm of the N/S assumes that knowledge and technology go South, many times in the form of charity and not as productive capacity and peer interaction, while unfortunately, wealth goes the other way in a massive deficit concerning value for money, economic sovereignty, and human rights. PCC is a system complementing national programs and other institutional arrangements where productive communities can collaborate, globally. The capacity for real collaborations is in creating new technology development, which is now occurring at the grassroots level with a fairly high sophistication and complementary to the current system. Major representable examples are: the Arduino project for computer technologies; the nutrient dense project for sustainable growing; the Wikispeed Car, which is a 100 mpg (140 km per gallon), level five safety rated car;[Michel] and Sensorica[Tiberius], an open source biomedical company producing special high tech and nanotech sensors.

While the term Global North-South is widely used, and thus many know the assumed meanings which enable discussion, we argue that a term is needed which represents the relationships involved in the transfer of knowledge, technology and goods. The concept would be for both linguistic use, and in exactitude, for what is necessary for all to survive and thrive, therefore following global justice to create a functioning, vibrant global commons. Such a system is urgently needed for goods and services which are essential, however, we would go beyond simple essentials, and include basic and thriving needs in order to advocate for thriving productive communities.

Reflecting on the actual situation, there is transfer back and forth between the North and South, especially of natural resources in what many think is a collaborative process, however, it is highly limited and exploitative. Such ‘transfer’ is mostly one way, and without the large scale sharing found between productive communities. Therefore, the concept of Peer-to-Peer PCCs is more useful in stressing the organizational and technological aspects to address the issues of need, integrated with the necessary wealth, knowledge, and logistics, all with a full participation of those in the developing world interrelated with others in the developed world.

We would also add that the concept of North-South does not capture, correctly, the permanent global exchanges, which are already occurring, nor does the concept encompass the inalienable right that each person has to access the major, necessary technologies of the time. PCCs due to their open sharing adhere to the ethical principle that technologies and wealth are necessary for the benefit of humankind and therefore as a matter of justice, access must be created for those necessary technologies developed through global exchanges of knowledge. PCCs should not be seen in the realm of charitable contributions, which are far too often the case in transfers from the Global North to the South. Charitable contributions are necessary in emergencies such as natural disasters; however, current charity ‘theory’ should not be seen as a real system for development. The current system clearly does not empower the humanity involved on either side of the exchange. In contrast, PCCs are people working and sharing together of knowledge, ideas, hardware, spaces, and money, through a multiplex of networks, which are already developing for science literacy and the reproduction of technologies through crowdsourced knowledge and expertise, coupled with the conditions of various locales.

With increased manufacturing abilities since the patents are currently expiring on 3-D printers, we can expect the exponential emergence of a highly complex structure for PCCs in the near future. Such collaborations are attractive when we ponder the immediate necessity for the developing world to emerge using better energy systems developed from large scale investment such a social democratic systems, and complemented by P2P systems for locally-based applications with a glocal awareness. Societies have relied far too long on energy from fossil fuels and further on nuclear energy which yield pollution with toxic materials posing serious risks to public and ecological health. Currently, there is an awaking of a moral imperative to change these systems within the masses; a consciousness, which was not present only a decade ago. Unfortunately, time is a now a major factor.

In the developed world, many have lost jobs, or there have been few jobs available, as young adults have completed their studies over the past few years. Added to this strain, college is being priced above what students can afford. This tragedy is continuing as governments fail to address the issue sufficiently to develop the jobs necessary for their citizenry. In the U.S. and in Europe, the longer the unemployment crisis lingers, the greater the loss of skills of the workforce and thus competitive resiliency. In the developing world, there is likewise the need for the creation of jabs, but from a level of little infrastructure. Both worlds have their major challenges. Though the economic crisis has been a tragedy, there is an element of freedom which arises; a motivation for the expression of talent, already present, is looking for a way to express itself. And, if taken advantage of, better societies, both North and South may indeed be possible. The excitement can be found in that the global commons is emerging with many fields of operation and more to come. Collaboration and camaraderie are highly valued in the endeavor to create not only products and jobs, but the meaningful experiences found in a dynamic culture. Mutuality is more fundamental then competition, where competition is a ‘mechanism’ for honing talent and productivity. People are realizing the importance of sharing and building relationships through the development of projects together, ‘amazingly’ without rigid hierarchical structures for work, and they are doing so even for high tech projects, such as building computers, cars and biomedical devices. Heterarchy is the appropriate concept and not only are people innovating efficiently, but they are doing it themselves through free association, making a living and having fun. Their competitive advantage is being able to move quickly as these innovators are finding they can plan, manufacture and produce goods at a fraction of the current cost in the general market and in a fraction of the time. Through PCCs, this knowledge and camaraderie is traversing the globe, daily, creating ever more complex arrangements for making knowledge available at our fingertips and through online dialogue. P2P systems move beyond artificial hierarchies of ‘force,’ to fluidity in arrangements for projects on planning, manufacturing and logistics. Bosses are not likely found there, while leaders are; and those leaders change roles depending upon conditions. This adaptability is crucial to meet the pressures and challenges of the competitive conditions in the current system.

The vision of a more open and significant system of scientific collaboration between locales, regions, and globally, provides a pragmatic way for increased development through autochthonous growth which spreads out, and for participation with highly skilled individuals. This phenomenon is partly due to individualism but also mostly due to the economic crisis of the past few decades, which has led to the inability of the current system to provide an arena for everyone who wants to innovate, to do so. Some reject the pursuit of professional credentials, while others with professional credentials are welcomed; all preferring to rely on the P2P evaluation system, which arises naturally through collaboration in productive communities. The work of these innovators in the new commons speaks for itself as one reviews the myriad projects and products built in a P2P network.

Recently, a biohacker group out of Sunnydale, California has created a functional bioprinter, as reported by MIT Technology Review. The device was created at BioCurious, which is a community supported biology laboratory, utilizing the bioprinter, which can print living cells. The stated goal is to eventually print a leaf, and to perhaps have applications in renewable energy development. Skeptics believe that these kinds of projects are just people tinkering without the possibility of producing breakthrough science. Some of the largest technology corporations began in garages, reports the article. A year ago the same journal reported an article, ‘Doing Biotech in My Bedroom,’ where a young PhD student had decided to drop out and pursue the open technology route which is expected to lead to decentralized biology and general science in many ways.

We do not mean to encourage dropping out of school, which would deprive students of good information, though as mentioned, school tuition is becoming a deterrent. Also, we do not advocate for the development of large corporations necessarily. The essential idea is one of an open system with widespread productive capability through the sharing of knowledge and collaboration between highly efficient, intelligent teams which can now use the distributed manufacturing system and information communications technology (ICT) to bring goods to the market.

From a P2P perspective, what is different is that the aforementioned bioprinter, or its diagrams for planning, are made available online for anyone to copy, similar to the biomedical device project, Sensorica. The verticalization of knowledge and wealth, going up into an artificial hierarchy, which has been quite successful at creating goods and services for a small number, however, has left vast numbers of people without access to even their most basic needs. P2P looks at both horizontal and natural vertical developments, to give a mutli-perspective on knowledge and production. The measure of horizontalization, makes ‘know-how’ sharable, thus broadening the potential availability for products. This kind of innovation is of great importance since we think it is going to spark interest in science in a wider community or knowledge commons, and therefore stimulate the production of better planning, design and manufacturing. And, as development proceeds, it will move ‘upwards’ as well, making quality products available at a fraction of the cost and adding to a healthy, stable economy. Horizontalization and verticalization with stability can be seen as a holism in technology supporting thriving communities. The innovations which could emerge are not to be dismissed, as this infant production and economic model begins to grow widely. As we travel about for our work, we see this model emerging. In Southeast Asia and in Mexico, in Europe and Brazil, people are always innovating: making water pumps, capturing sunlight, re-engineering their machines, creating online dialogues which bring together experts, and planning for innovative projects. The sky is really the limit on creativity as it comes together with the remarkable ICT technologies we have today.

Through open knowledge communities, platforms, and commons made available by internet connection, people can share knowledge and thus debate, in a more open way so as to eliminate errors more quickly while also preventing the potential redundancy or waste of time which comes from two or more highly innovative groups working on the very same project using similar processes. The open, or scientific commons approach allows for more efficiency, which will allow for innovators to make up for the grand budgets, which institutions have, along with open sharing which will reduce time, effort and investment. If we take the bioprinter or the Wikispeed car, for examples, the planning, design, manufacturing and administrative overhead for a large company to undertake is enormous compared to the relatively small investment necessary for P2P developed products. The overall benefit of the knowledge commons is in the practical democratization of science and the economy.

The Wikispeed car is a phenomenal emergence in the commons, not because the innovators didn’t think it could be done, but because of the lack of knowledge in the general society about the possibility of producing cars without a large factory. Tinkerers can be brushed off as having fun in their garages, until a group of innovators emerges from the garage with a car which is top rated in safety, has high gas mileage and has been built using knowledge collaborations from around the globe. The car, priced in the range of a normal sedan, is expected to drop as more of them are sold. And, the cost of planning, design and manufacture compared to a major motor company…. [Michel can you give the actual numbers here on how much e.g. Ford would take to make the wikispeed, compared to the DIY hackers?] As a simple addition to this story, the fact of car culture needs to be reevaluated due to necessary limits on fossil fuels, however the important message is the idea of planning, design, and manufacturing of what we thought took large scale factories and dependence on them.

In the commons, PhDs and 'uneducated' tinkerers work ‘elbow to elbow’ in virtual space bringing to their projects their own forms of understanding and 'genius' to create an atmosphere of collaboration and enjoyment from the sense of direction and purpose arising from a serious project.

Finally, for the Global South, do-it-yourself and hacking present some exciting possibilities as open science groups seek to facilitate collaborations, and advocate for wider communication, expanding the commons into a culture which is focused on thriving and not austerity, in a time when sequesters and austerity are decreasing culture. Through the increase of the activity in science and technology, jobs will be created and education will increase amoung all involved. Essentially, countries in the Global South can add high technology and perhaps advanced technologies to the wealth of their resources and workforce through P2P interactions. As we write this, we are fully aware that P2P still has to work out the physics, chemistry and biology, along with the socio-economic aspects of the theory, and for this reason we would advocate more innovation through better efficiency and access to information, which can create a truly dynamic market; one which is far more open, in a much wider way than current conditions.

Recently, the hashtag #GlobalP2P became one of the most used on Twitter as people became aware of the enormous potential in P2P. With the current momentum, we would focus the call for a global commons on science and technology through PCCs, which can bring people together to address major aspects of socio-economics with the intention of creating better societies through free association, full expression of talent and innovative capacity."