[p2p-research] Building Alliances

Paul D. Fernhout pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com
Sat Nov 7 02:29:30 CET 2009

J. Andrew Rogers wrote:
> On Fri, Nov 6, 2009 at 12:44 PM, Michel Bauwens <michelsub2004 at gmail.com> wrote:
> [snipped lots of smart stuff]
>> how much million dollars were needed by brin and his friend to develop the
>> google algorythm? the Bittorrent software of Bram Cohen?
> The PageRank algorithm wasn't innovative; the BigTable design was, but
> that took dozens of man-years to produce even the most basic version.
> I think you seriously underestimate the difficulty of implementing
> genuinely innovative software. The problem with most non-trivial
> innovation is that you can reuse relatively little of what you know
> because the assumptions are wrong. A fundamentally new architecture or
> a new algorithm from a new theoretical basis may force you to
> completely redesign all software that might be able to exploit it. R&D
> for a new type of algorithm may take a year to successfully complete,
> but it may take twice that long to re-engineer all the other software
> bits around it that will make it useful for real-world apps.
> All of that costs money.  R&D on theoretical computer science seems to
> take several months to a year to produce a successful result. A lot of
> R&D topics in software are related to massive parallelism and
> distribution -- testbeds at that scale don't grow on trees. Turning
> that research into a useful piece of software or code a mere mortal
> can use often requires many man-years of very boring code work that
> you have to pay smart people to do.

You make a lot of great points up to here. (I might quibble by saying that 
it is all even worse, because a lot of big company R&D is just for show or 
recruitment. :-)

But here, you go off the rails from a p2p perspective. :-)

It's the same mistake that Paul Romer makes, which I point out here:
I'm not talking about the market apologist version of "post-scarcity" at, 
say, Stanford:
     "Post-Scarcity Prophet: Economist Paul Romer on growth, technological 
change, and an unlimited human future."
   If you read that carefully, that supposed "Post-Scarcity Prophet" seems 
more obsessed with ensuring an abundance of ... scarcity. :-)
   There is not much talk of "free" or "cheap" for *everybody* as much as an 
obsession with more patents and more copyrights and more secrets -- which 
are all ways to create artificial scarcity in a market economy. So, a 
supposedly brilliant economist presumably would promote even more artificial 
scarcity through draconian copyright and such.
   This person (shortlisted for the Nobel Prize, the article says) can't 
understand that if *all* the basics are essentially "free" to the user 
through the miracles of improving F/OSS technology and a healthy natural 
world, then people's personal time for more desktop innovative R&D is mostly 
"free" too. :-) An example where he misses that is when he says: "If you're 
going to be giving things away for free, you're going to have to find some 
system to finance them, and that's where government support typically comes 
in." Maybe that is true now, but it is less and less true with each passing 
day. And no charge for this "free" essay, by the way. :-) A typical related 
problem is to confuse or ignore free as in "freedom" and free as in "price" 
by the way. This essay is free as in both (see the license at the end. :-)
The Debian community (which puts together a distribution of GNU/Linux) is an 
example of the true post-scarcity mythology in action:
(which is an idea represented in that last link both by the contents of the 
article and also by Wikipedia itself.) So, I also suggest the Princeton 
community think really hard about the really good post-scarcity stuff like 
is happening at Debian:
     "Study Reports On Debian Governance, Social Organization"
That report above essentially defines an approaching iceberg of an emerging 
post-scarcity society. Is Princeton University ready for it? :-) Because, 
frankly, Princeton can't hold it back any longer, even if it wanted to. 
Though it could probably make the future turn really bad for most people if 
it tried hard -- producing the dystopia linked above, run through polite 
military robots.

So, as I see it, there's the problem. You say, it takes lots of person years 
to do R&D. Having been around IBM Research, I agree. Most of the money there 
goes to people, even if some goes to fancy equipment too.

But, if other people are willing to program and invent for free, for 
whatever reason, then that changes the economics of the equation. And what 
is "boring code work" and what is "hard fun" differs from person to person, 
and context to context.

If you're willing to admit most R&D expense is to pay salaries, please don't 
make the same mistake Paul Romer makes, and otherwise take his next step, to 
then create artificial scarcity to pay those salaries. Another alternative 
is abundance for everyone, like through a basic income, or a gift economy, 
or local subsistence production using 3D printing, or some other approaches.

If we have a population of about seven billion people now on this Earth, and 
if even only one out of a thousand is willing to do "boring code work" for 
free (say, retired programmers and engineers as well as college students), 
that's still seven million people. :-) And that helps explain the success of 
Debian GNU/Linux.

The problem, from a corporate perspective is, these people want to work on 
what *they* want to work on, not what will make the *corporation* that wants 
to direct them the most money or give the corporation the most control over 
the marketplace.

Also, on paying "smart" people, keep in mind:
   "Studies Find Reward Often No Motivator: Creativity and intrinsic 
interest diminish if task is done for gain"

That pretty much undermines most of contemporary US economic theory. :-)

Obviously, people need to pay their bills. But, there is a difference 
between making creativity possible (a basic income) versus rewarding it 
directly (an incentive plan).

Also, I know from my time at IBM Research, has it been ten years since I 
heard this so I can directly attribute it to there(?), but someone there 
said at lunch one time, essentially: "We hire the top people from a handful 
of the most competitive top colleges, and then we wonder why they can't get 
along easily and learn to work together."

So, if you are going to hire smart people, look far and wide for 
team-oriented ones who are already doing good stuff. :-) And then *don't* 
give them any incentives. Not even much praise. :-) Related:
   "Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, 
Praise, and Other Bribes"

Of course, you'd have to look hard, given the school systems have 
intentionally broken most people so they could not function in such an 
environment. I would not even count myself as that team-oriented. But, here 
and there, people are coming alive on the internet and learning a different 
way of being. I'm even improving. :-)

Anyway, those aspects of p2p are probably what you are missing. :-)

But you obviously know a lot about conventional R&D. :-) Study this aspect 
of the difference, and you will be more and more awesome every day. :-)

--Paul Fernhout

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