[p2p-research] Building Alliances (invention vs. innovation)

Paul D. Fernhout pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com
Sat Nov 7 05:51:58 CET 2009

J. Andrew Rogers wrote:
> On Fri, Nov 6, 2009 at 4:49 PM, Paul D. Fernhout
> <pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com> wrote:
>> To invent something takes enough money to stare out of the window for years,
>> which is a lot to an individual, but not much in the scheme of things.
>> To take an invention, and dominate the marketplace with it, calling it an
>> innovation, that generally take a lot of capital. :-) And it seems to me,
>> that is more what Andrew is talking about.
> I'm actually talking about both, because in some ways they are not all
> that separable in a well-functioning system. A lot of interesting
> research is essentially forgotten because of incompetent (or
> nonexistent) reduction to practice.

Also, at a large place like IBM Research, they say focus on the B's and not 
the M's, meaning billion dollar ideas, not million dollar ideas. That's why 
there are so many unhappy researchers around in big places like that with 
great ideas to help lots of people, but the ideas get shelved because they 
are not profitable enough to be worth productizing and selling. Sometimes a 
researcher can negotiate rights and leave the company and make a product 
from it, but it is rare. Of course, that all assumes management is any good 
at assessing the commercial value of an idea, or that it can foresee where a 
small idea might lead.

> The point that you are not getting is that the various bits seem like
> they could be done on the cheap, but you have to use individuals that
> can do the whole thing from end to end.  

Who is "you"? Who has a "whole thing"? Whose "end to end"? What do you mean 
by "use"? Why do you want to "use individuals"? You're operating from a 
whole paradigm that would place you right at home at an old IBM Research (I 
have no idea what it is like now), but ultimately, peer production is a 
different model of engagement with a commons of ideas, digital artifacts, 
and other people.

Those differences will effect both what you do yourself and how you do it in 
stigmergic and/or social cooperation with others.
3. Collaboration in small groups (roughly 2-25) relies upon social 
negotiation to evolve and guide its process and creative output. ...
4. Collaboration in large groups (roughly 25-n) is dependent upon stigmergy.

> Those individuals are very
> rare and consequently very expensive; 

I don't think you can assume this, in several ways.

HR departments are good at exploiting people. So, how does the average 
person who is an expert at something know what they can really command? The 
HR department has a lot more information, even than here:

Just because someone is rare, they may also be desperate from rare positions 
rarely being available. :-)

Even thought programmer productivity can vary several orders of magnitude 
(even negative), almost no place pays more than a few times between top and 
bottom on a programmer pay scale.

Besides, just get someone cheaper from India to do it. :-) And even if they 
do mess it up, the hiring manager will probably be long gone anyway.

And when all else fails, a combination of intimidation and knowing that if 
they leave they can't play with what they wrote anymore with keep most 
programmers in line, up until the point some invisible threshold of pride is 

That's not how I'm saying it is good to run a company, but that's how many 
of them are.
   "Code Monkey"

Programming as a business means most business issue apply. Most of the 
energy goes into social aspects of the organization. Chance are that 
technical success has nothing to do with social success (and may even have a 
negative correlation). Money will be gotten form VC, spend, and then the 
thing will fall apart, and be sold off to the next bigger sucker. That's how 
most business seems to work.

You are painting an ideal picture in some ways, probably because you take 
pride in your work and assume everyone else does. :-)

One important aspect of a basic income is that it is like telling all the 
students the first day of classes they all are recieving an A+ for the 
semester; only the motivated and interested people will keep coming.

So, a big advantage of a basic income is all the people who don't want to be 
programming will leave the profession. By my guestimates, 95% of all 
programmers are just making work for each other, and productivity would go 
up if they went off and did other things. :-) Maybe 99%? Most of what most 
programmers have done is "reinvent a buggy Common Lisp" or a buggy Smalltalk.

But, programming is so much fun for so many people, and people do learn and 
get better as they keep doing something, that you don't want to keep people 
out of the profession. :-)

 > even in your minimum basic
> income scenario, you can't force people to do the parts they don't
> want to do but the work does not partition for all practical purposes.

Forcing people to do work stuff is not fun (except maybe for some 
authoritarian type people, unfortunately).

Well, maybe we need to just accept that, until someone comes up with another 
approach they find of more interest?

Besides, lots of unpleasant things get done in the average home (like 
cleaning the toilet) because someone thinks they are important. The same can 
be true of software or other things.

Continually woven throughout your comments here is a "hurry up" kind of 
language. Maybe like "slow food" movement we need a "slow programming" movement?

Historically, teams that refuse to give deadlines tend to get stuff done 
faster (said somewhere in the Mythical Man Month I think, but maybe 
somewhere else).

> Hell, open source software has giant implementation holes and many of
> those apps have tons of volunteers and people that could legitimately
> contribute if they chose to. Speaking from my own experience writing a
> lot of open source code in the past, I only did the parts I wanted to
> and ignored the rest.


But it's been my experience that most open source programmers want to do 
more but just don't have the time for money reasons. With a basic income, I 
think those holes would quickly get filled.

> Real software R&D doesn't produce things an ordinary programmer can
> contribute to. Take, for example, sensor fusion -- a real problem --
> where you merge unrelated measurements of reality into a single,
> coherent model on a computer. 

Come on, high school and college students are doing that now. And not just 
with Lego NxT :-)

 > Use cases are things like virtual
> worlds, Microsoft's Photosynth, agricultural modeling in the
> developing world, cloud-based relational databases, and numerous other
> applications, all with severe limits based on a "simple" problem in
> theoretical computer science that has been around for many decades. 

OK. But there are often many approaches that were outlined decades ago that 
we're just waiting for cheaper hardware to use. Hans Moravec talks about this.
"The big freeze. From 1960 to 1990 the cost of computers used in AI research 
declined, as their numbers dilution absorbed computer-efficiency gains 
during the period, and the power available to individual AI programs 
remained almost unchanged at 1 MIPS, barely insect power. AI computer cost 
bottomed in 1990, and since then power has doubled yearly, to several 
hundred MIPS by 1998. The major visible exception is computer chess (shown 
by a progression of knights), whose prestige lured the resources of major 
computer companies and the talents of programmers and machine designers. 
Exceptions also exist in less public competitions, like petroleum 
exploration and intelligence gathering, whose high return on investment gave 
them regular access to the largest computers."

> No
> existing strategy in literature points to a solution so it will have
> to be something new. So you purchase the entire body of relevant
> computer science literature, analyze it, and clean-room a brand new
> theoretical basis for a solution that actually works based on a
> previously unknown mathematical relationship between constructs in
> topology theory and join calculus with some other ideas thrown in. 

Well, nobody I know would work that way. :-)

Most people are a lot more adhoc that that. :-)

What does it meant to "purchase the entire body of relevant computer science 
literature" anyway?

 From a typical p2p perspective, people would do what they could from 
publicly published papers on the web. Sure, maybe there might be niches 
somewhere that did not cover. Maybe you are in one. But 99% of interesting 
software would probably be covered.

Still, I'm not disagreeing with this notion: :-)
"Scott Rosenberg coins this as Rosenberg's Law:  Software is easy to make, 
except when you want it to do something new.  The corollary is, The only 
software that's worth making is software that does something new."

But, when a lot of people are working on a problem, even separately, one may 
have a sudden success and then show it around, and people can build on it.

> If
> you publish it, a dozen people might read it, half of which might
> understand it. Your programmer basically has to be a theoretical
> expert on topology theory and join calculus to correctly implement the
> solution in the context of one of the above applications. That's a
> problem.

Maybe. Or maybe someone will just figure out another approach. Or decide 
some other problem is more important.

> In the real world no one competent volunteers to see it all the way
> through because there is a lot of slog work involved and no one cares
> about the whole process. 

Well, sure, but you have "volunteer" in there which I read as "volunteer to 
solve my abstract technical problem for me so I get all the profits".

If we are just talking about math types having fun, sure, some might slog 
away for years just because they want to (like Andrew Wiles). A basic income 
makes that more possible.

> Additionally people that can solve problems
> like this are exceedingly rare and valuable, 

Valuable to whom?

Also, there are lots of different problems in the world.

The whole p2p thing is more that people decide what is valuable to them. And 
their priorities may differ than yours, especially if a project is just 
being done for the money or to dominate some area of activity with a monopoly.

> so they have other things
> they could be doing even if it might be less valuable to society in
> some absolute sense. This is an extremely effective model, and you
> rapidly get results that would be nigh impossible to get any other way
> because you systematically force reduction to practice, but it is also
> very expensive.

Somewhere, I forget where at the moment, maybe Alfie Kohn, it was said that 
all intellectual work is volunteer. It's so hard to measure the output of 
ideas or basic research. To begin with, most people won't understand what is 
going on. And beyond that, how do you put a quota on breakthroughs-per-day?

So, there are other aspects of what you are saying I don't entirely agree with.

What works well IMHO is to take people interested in a field, put them near 
each other, and make exciting things happen around them and hope for the 
best. :-)

>> So, Google invented a search algorithm, maybe better than others at the
>> time, but probably not something others would not have invented in a few
>> years. But, then they partnered with people with money, and turned that into
>> a big company that centralized control of the invention is an innovative
>> thing.
> Google's search algorithm was not original to anyone familiar with the
> literature.  What was original, and ultimately made them the success
> they were, was the design of their database that allowed them to scale
> the way they did.  Again, all they did was take some obscure ideas in
> academic literature that had never been seriously implemented in a
> real system and figured out how to put them together. Any other search
> company could have done the same if they had been able to get the
> right set of bright polymaths working on the problem that were
> familiar with some seemingly unrelated bits of literature.

OK, but they did it and made a fortune. How many other ideas are their out 
there like that which p2p could find and develop? :-)

> And this was for a problem where the elements of a solution are widely
> understood by computer science geeks.
>> But, one could imagine that the people who started Google had just published
>> their idea, and further, that someway was found to adapt it, in a
>> "Folding at Home" distributed computer way to use idle CPU cycles and a p2p
>> meshwork. We might not need Google server farms at all to do fast searches.
>> But, there is not much incentive for people to spend millions or billions
>> developing that idea, even if it was better and more secure and more
>> democratic, because, in a captilist society, where is the profit?
> There are well-understood theoretical reasons why that won't work.
> Centralization was required, not a design choice. No need to look for
> the profit bogeyman when simple mathematics will do.

There's well understood theoretical reasons why slime can't exist too. :-) 
But it does, and probably a darn good thing, too. :-)
But that highlights the problem right there: It's all theoretical. 
Theoretically, biofilms shouldn't exist. Theoretically they will form in a 
certain way that dooms them to dissolving in a certain way after a period of 
time. That wouldn't be a problem; we could deal with biofilms that exist for 
a while and then disperse. But that's not what we see. We see biofilms grow 
and stay for very long periods of time. They are very hard to get rid of. 
Don't believe me? Go clean out the trap under your sink. Wait a week and 
look again. That black shit that smells like death died and rotted for a 
while? Biofilm.

The fact is, when the theory fits the profits, there's not much point in 
looking further, is there? :-)

But maybe the theory is right. Not something I know much about, the theory 
of distributed search. But life is full of times the theory is wrong. That's 
the kind of improvements you get by people staring out the window. As Thomas 
J. Watson used to say at IBM, "Think". He liked seeing people stare out of 
windows (in theory, in practice, at least in one of the original research 
buildings, almost no one hand an office with a window to the outdoors).

And we must study through reading, listening, discussing, observing and 
thinking. We must not neglect any one of those ways of study. The trouble 
with most of us is that we fall down on the latter -- thinking -- because 
it's hard work for people to think, And, as Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler said 
recently, 'all of the problems of the world could be settled easily if men 
[and women and boys and girls] were only willing to think.' "

I'm not so sure I agree as much with that anymore. There is a lot to be said 
for "feeling" too. :-)
"Do not ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come 
alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who 
have come alive. (Harold Whitman)"

See, P2P helps people to do that. A basic income would help, too. :-)

I don't see the world you are talking about, using people, forcing people, 
and so on, (all within the bounds of normal business) is really in accord 
with that sentiment by Herald Whitman.

It's a culture shift. A different paradigm for solving problems.

And if a problem in insolvable in the new paradigm that was solvable in the 
old one, maybe a new way will be found to deal with the situation. Maybe you 
will be the one to find the way forward, to find some address the issues you 
raise in a p2p paradigm? :-)

All the best.

--Paul Fernhout

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