[p2p-research] Slashdot | EU Wants To Redefine "Closed" As "Nearly Open"?
Paul D. Fernhout
pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com
Tue Nov 3 16:29:15 CET 2009
This builds on what Ryan posted on November 2nd:
"[p2p-research] Policies on Drugs, Open Standards and Web Accessibility"
"Slashdot | EU Wants To Redefine "Closed" As "Nearly Open"?"
"A leaked copy (PDF) of Version 2 of the European Interoperability Framework
replaces a requirement in Version 1 for carefully-defined open standards by
one for a more general 'openness': 'the willingness of persons,
organizations or other members of a community of interest to share knowledge
and to stimulate debate within that community of interest.' It also defines
an 'openness continuum' that includes 'non-documented, proprietary
specifications, proprietary software and the reluctance or resistance to
reuse solutions, i.e. the "not invented here" syndrome.' Looks like 'closed'
is the new 'open' in the EU."
From and embedded link:
The European Interoperability Framework (EIF) is an important document
produced by the “Interoperable delivery of pan-European eGovernment services
to public administrations, businesses and citizens” (IDABC) for the European
Union. Version 1 came out in 2004, and since then battles have raged over
how Version 2 would address the issue of “openness”. Judging by a leaked
version of the near-final result, it looks like the lobbyists acting on the
behalf of closed-source software houses have won. ...
But it gets worse: not content with totally eliminating the concrete
definitions of open standards in Version 1, Version 2 then goes on to
re-define “closed” as just another shade of openness, but without any of the
"There are varying degrees of openness. Specifications, software and
software development methods that promote collaboration and the results of
which can freely be accessed, reused and shared are considered open and lie
at one end of the spectrum while non-documented, proprietary specifications,
proprietary software and the reluctance or resistance to reuse solutions,
i.e. the "not invented here" syndrome, lie at the other end. The spectrum of
approaches that lies between these two extremes can be called the openness
Got that? “Closed” lies at one end of the *open* spectrum, which
conveniently means we can *include* closed solutions in the interoperability
framework because they are part of that continuum. Indeed, Version 2 goes on
to say: "While there is a correlation between openness and interoperability,
it is also true that interoperability can be obtained without openness, for
example via homogeneity of the ICT systems, which implies that all partners
use, or agree to use, the same solution to implement a European Public
According to this line of thinking, if everyone were forced to use
Microsoft Word for document interchange, then that would provide
interoperability. Except that it wouldn't, because interoperability implies
at least two *different* things are are operating together:
self-interoperability is trivial. Version 2's “homogeneity” is better
described as a monopoly and a monoculture – and the last two decades have
taught just how dangerous those are. ...
Note: Some comments think that article overstates the case. In general,
there are lots of interesting comments, and the "European Interoperability
Framework" itself is relevant to P2P trends in any case.
One aspect of the new change, to talk about a continuum of openness, may be
a little more like what Michel sometimes talks about here as far as a range
of possible economic systems and letting the open ones outcompete the closed
ones. However, that's still different from setting public policy about
document standards, which may consider the public interest more strongly
than a business might.
As purely descriptive thing, it seems talking about a continuum is accurate.
Then one can talk about where one wants to be on the continuum.
Still, I feel the article is accurate in sentiment in the sense that the
political effect of that is to make it seem like it might be reasonable to
"compromise" in the middle. Sometimes compromise in the middle makes sense.
Sometimes it does not. At some point, like Ralph Nader suggests in another
context, "You Do Not Cut Deals with the System that Has to Be Replaced".
Even investors are starting to get this in a big way now, see an investor's
guide to open source:
"Most Influential People In Open Source" (from a business person's perspective)
"Open source: Big value, not big money"
"Google: The open-source savior we deserve"
"What Does Half of the Fortune 100 do when their Proprietary Software Dies?"
"R.I.P., open-source evangelism"
"We have reached a critical inflection point for open source.m With everyone
from Qualcomm to UBS to Microsoft embracing open source in one shape or
another, the question is no longer "why" to use open source, but rather
"how." Because of this changing mindset around open-source adoption, we no
longer need evangelists encouraging open-source adoption. Adoption is a
given. It's the default. No, what we need now are those that can illustrate
how to derive the most benefit from the inevitable adoption of open source."
So, this provisional draft attempt to "compromise" on open standards (which
is weaker that open source) seems even somewhat at odds with emerging
Of course, I think these are all ludicrous half-measures, given other
structural economic changes related to automation and better design (like a
basic income). To think people are still fighting over open standards when
this sort of technology is getting ready to come out of the lab and will get
rid of entire ranges of jobs:
"High-Speed Robot Hand Demonstrates Dexterity and Skillful Manipulation"
Imagine linking that high speed technology with situational awareness, indoors:
"Home Assistance Robot"
"Nova: The Great Robot Race"
I worked in the labs of two of the competitors there in the 1980s, both PU
related. One was the lab of Red Whitaker, a PU alumnus,
volunteering/visiting in his CMU lab (and also Hans Moravec's, but Red's had
more people and camraderie). I stepped a few times in the first ALVAN as
they were building the first one twenty five years ago, which is maybe part
of why I take this more seriously, because I was there and have seen the
evolution of these systems. The other is Alain Kornhauser, a professor whose
robot lab I managed and actually was a tiny bit involved with discussions of
robot car navigation back then. It was partly in response to my time at CMU
that I ultimately picked a different career path, like focusing on helping
people learn to grow their own food, or working towards sustainability
issues and global security issues. That was in part from the fear (a bad
motivation, true, compared to more positive ones like joy) that these smart
guys at CMU were smart enough to make robots that could wipe us all out, but
not smart enough to figure out a way to avoid that. :-( Well, twenty five or
so years late, I can see the ways to do something better with advanced
technology to make the world a better place for everyone (even the robots),
as can many people on this list and elsewhere who are doing all sorts of
related good things. Paul Hawken documents some of it here:
So, compared to talking about serious exponentially increasing changes
happening due to Moore's law and robotics and better design and so on,
arguing about how "closed" or "open" public information standards should be
seems very old fashioned and behind the times to me. Laughable, if it were
not so serious.
But give it time. Five years is a factor of ten in computing power by
Moore's law (roughly) at the same cost. Ten years is a factor of ten times
ten, or one hundred. By 2019, with self-driving vehicles showing up
everywhere (GM has already predicted them for their own product lines), and
household robots finally becoming a big thing (people already have Roombas,
but better ones that can do more), people will at least be talking about
these issues when the objects are more than curiosities on TV.
As I see it, the reason to win this argument over open standards is to set
the stage for those other arguments down the road. We need to be developing
a technological infrastructure that reflects our best public values and
virtues. Do you want you household robots and cars, with core technologies
mostly designed by researchers getting public dollars, to be open or closed,
as far as your ability to view the source code of what they do and adapt
them to your needs? Or more likely, ask others to adapt them to your needs?
It will be hard to develop a healthy human and robot co-evolution and
symbiosis even with open systems; but with proprietary systems, managed by a
few to maximize profits and rents, it would much more likely be impossible,
The recent financial meltdown happened in part because financial
corporations, with vast amounts of money to spend on forecasters and smart
people, were unable to deal with the systemic risk they created.
Greenspan has admitted this:
"Greenspan Destroys Deregulation in 16 Seconds"
"Greenspan Says I Still Don't Fully Understand What Happened"
Are we going to let the same sorts of people set the standards for public
internet and robotics software for their own private gain, advocating
"nearly open" (read "closed") solutions because they can get rents from them?
For just one example, given every robot will probably have cameras, multiply
a current privacy issue about baby monitors by every home and street corner
in the world, if you don't know what your household robots do with the
information they process:
"Man Sues Over Leaky Baby Monitor"
So, here is a step beyond the current open/closed controversy, to the next
controversy to come, from something I wrote around 2001 to the Markle
Consider again the self-driving cars mentioned earlier which now cruise some
streets in small numbers. The software "intelligence" doing the driving was
primarily developed by public money given to universities, which generally
own the copyrights and patents as the contractors. Obviously there are
related scientific publications, but in practice these fail to do justice to
the complexity of such systems. The truest physical representation of the
knowledge learned by such work is the codebase plus email discussions of it
(plus what developers carry in their heads).
We are about to see the emergence of companies licensing that publicly
funded software and selling modified versions of such software as
proprietary products. There will eventually be hundreds or thousands of paid
automotive software engineers working on such software no matter how it is
funded, because there will be great value in having such self-driving
vehicles given the result of America's horrendous urban planning policies
leaving the car as generally the most efficient means of transport in the
suburb. The question is, will the results of the work be open for inspection
and contribution by the public? Essentially, will those engineers and their
employers be "owners" of the software, or will they instead be "stewards" of
a larger free and open community development process? ...
Decisions on how this public intellectual property related to automotive
intelligence will be handled will affect the health and safety of every
American and later everyone in any developed country. Either way, the
automotive software engineers and their employers will do well financially
(for example, one might still buy a Volvo because their software engineers
are better and they do more thorough testing of configurations). But which
way will the public be better off:
* totally dependent on proprietary intelligences under the hoods of
their cars which they have no way of understanding,
* with ways to verify what those intelligences do, understand how they
operate, and make contributions when they can so such automotive
intelligences serve humane purposes better?
So, this EU openness issue is a tip of a much larger post-scarcity iceberg,
"Wikipedia. GNU/Linux. WordNet. Google. These things were not on the visible
horizon to most of us even as little as twenty years ago. Now they have
remade huge aspects of how we live. Are these free-to-the-user informational
products and services all there is to be on the internet or are they the tip
of a metaphorical iceberg of free stuff and free services that is heading
our way? Or even, via projects like the RepRap 3D printer under development,
are free physical objects someday heading into our homes? If a
"post-scarcity" iceberg is coming, are our older scarcity-oriented social
institutions prepared to survive it? Or like the Titanic, will these social
institutions sink once the full force of the iceberg contacts them? And will
they start taking on water even if just dinged by little chunks of sea ice
like the cheap $100 laptops that are ahead of the main iceberg? "
I hope the Media Ecology workshop has gone well. Sorry it did not seem
feasible for me to go there. I feel a little peppier these days then when I
made that decision. Maybe it is the Vitamin D? :-) An important thing for
people to know who spent lots of time indoors working on free software and
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