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

Paul D. Fernhout pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com
Sat Nov 7 16:35:33 CET 2009

J. Andrew Rogers wrote:
> On Fri, Nov 6, 2009 at 8:51 PM, Paul D. Fernhout
> <pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com> wrote:
>> 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.
> You are obsessed with imagined servitude. Hint: in collaborative
> businesses that involve people of this caliber, anyone can leave any
> time they want because their skills are job security. No one is there
> that doesn't want to be. (In fact, our organization is as flat as is
> legally allowed by law.)

But, can people walk out the door and keep working on the code? To anyone 
who cares about their work, that is an important issue.

Likewise, any system where the capital is concentrated, and lots of legal 
agreements are in place, is going to have other aspects to the dynamics. 
Ideally, those are out of the way, but they are still there, and affect 
issues of direction and application, even unconsciously, as people self-censor.

Also, maybe in some sectors what you say is true, but for the most part, the 
USA has a glut of people who call themselves programmers or who have PhDs.

This is, mathematically :-), part of why that situation exists:
   "The Big Crunch" by Dr. David Goodstein, Vice Provost of Caltech
"To emphasize that point, I have plotted, on the same scale as Price's 
growth curve, the number of Ph.Ds in physics produced each year in the 
United States. Like any other quantitative measure of science, its behavior 
is much like Price's curve. The graph shows that science started later in 
the U.S. than in Europe. The first Ph.D was awarded soon after the Civil 
War, around 1870. By the turn of the century the number was about 10 per 
year, by 1930 about 100 per year, and by 1970, 1000 per year. The curve 
extrapolates to about 10,000 a year today, and one million a year in 2050. 
But that's not what happened. The growth stopped cold around 1970, and the 
number has oscillated around 1000 per year ever since. We didn't notice it 
at the time, but, at least in physics, The Big Crunch happened around 1970."

But I certainly agree with your earlier comments on the questionable value 
of schooling for learning to define and solve problems.

> You are not understanding the problem. Like I said, it is a real
> theoretical problem and it has not been solved.

Often solutions to long standing problems come from unexpected directions.

>>> 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.
> Nonsense. This is a theoretical complexity problem. They whole point
> is that you can throw all the hardware you want at the problem and it
> won't fix it.

Says you. :-)

Quantum hardware? :-)

But sure, maybe you are right in this one case. I don't know anything about 
your work.

But most problems in this world don't seem to fall into that category. They 
are things like getting enough Vitamin D. Or getting enough Omega-3 fatty 
acids. Or equitable access to land and the commons. Or things like that.

> There are occasionally interesting ideas in long forgotten papers, but
> you usually look for is a set of explicit assumptions in very old
> theoretical work that continue to be implicitly carried forward in
> later work even when the assumptions no longer make sense in the
> current context. It happens a lot in computer science literature and
> is often a useful wedge point for developing something new.

Yes, this often leads to paradigm shifts. It's been said you can tell how 
important a new paper is by how many shelves of books in the library it 
obsoletes. Or maybe, in the case you outline,

>> 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.
> This isn't software.  It is theoretical computer science and
> mathematics. The event horizon is the 1990s, but in some fields no
> significant progress has been made since the 1980s. Believe me, I
> would prefer to just download it.

Oh, come on, then it would not be as much fun for you. :-)

It's nice to talk to someone who likes their work.

>> 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".
> Again, you have a really bizarre view of the world. Are you
> hypothesizing the world in which everyone is volunteers, or the world
> in which these people are partners in a profit-making enterprise? Keep
> your story straight.

Well, in the context of what you are saying, and assuming yours is a 
commercial enterprise, I'm trying to see how they might connect.

>>> Additionally people that can solve problems
>>> like this are exceedingly rare and valuable,
>> Valuable to whom?
> Valuable in the sense that there is a highly competitive market for
> their talent. There is no plausible scenario where this is not true
> even if they weren't being paid.

Market require many factors to work well. Things like transparency. 
Widespread information about pricing. Actors who are not desperate. And 
other things. The market for people selling their time is often not like that.

>> 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.
> Huh? No one is talking about anything like this, but you keep bringing
> it up in contexts where it doesn't even make sense.

Maybe I just don't understand where you are coming from, OK. I assumed you 
were part of a commercial venture developing ideas you intended to license.

>> 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?
> That's lovely and all, but you are making no sense because nothing
> works this way.

It all works this way, emotionally. :-)

Really, you hire a great researcher. How are you going to know he or she is 
producing the best results they can? How do you know they are not holding 
back some great idea for development next year after they leave the company?

>>> 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? :-)
> Plenty, but to be honest most people don't care about that kind of
> thing. Only nuts like me enjoy trawling literature. Seriously, how
> many programmers do you know that read theoretical literature?

I would think there are more of them in other countries than the USA. 
Russian programmers are often better at these sorts of things, given a 
bigger emphasis on math. Some Indian programmers probably too.

>>> 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. :-)
> Not exactly the same. One is a mathematical assertion (that actually
> has some caveats, but that is for the advanced class).
>> I don't see the world you are talking about, using people, forcing people,
>> and so on,
> Since I don't see that world either, I have no idea what you are talking about.

Like water to a fish? :-)

Here is a related essay:
   "The Abolition of Work" by Bob Black, 1985

Maybe you through brilliance and good fortune have never seen the underbelly 
of the beast. I hope that remains so for you. :-)

What happens at work if tomorrow you suddenly see some great new approach 
that might help explain one of these problems if you worked on it some more? 
Can you work on it?

As a thought experiment, again assuming you are part of a commercial 
company, what would happen if you did suddenly start working on, say, the 
Hodge Conjecture?
How would the escalation of social control within your organization play out 
to get you back "on task" or eject you and replace you with a more compliant 

Maybe I should not point this out, if you are happy with the way things are 
now. :-)

Anyway, I'm working for a world where everyone has the equivalent of tenure 
at the Institute for Advanced Study. :-)
So, the question becomes, how do we go about getting the whole world both 
accepted into Princeton and also with full tenured Professorships (researchy 
ones without teaching duties except as desired? :-) And maybe with robots to 
do anything people did not want to do? This is just intended as a humorous 
example, of course. I'm not suggesting Princeton would run the world of the 
future or that everyone would really have Princeton faculty ID cards and 
parking stickers. Still, that's a thought. :-) That motel for scholars, The 
Institute For Advanced Study, is already a bit like this (no required 
teaching duties), so it's an even better model. :-)

--Paul Fernhout

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