Stigmergy and access to tools (was Re: My letter to Obama)

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Paul D. Fernhout

Nov 10, 2008, 12:08:22 PM11/10/08
Josef Davies-Coates wrote:
> [Paul Fernhout wrote:]
>> it is likely even the average person 100 years from now will
>> have access to a broader range of products and services than even the
>> wealthiest person today.
> I don't understand this type of thinking as it seems to assume
> on-going business as usual economic growth whilst completely ignoring
> peak oil, climate change and economic collapse.

As the last part of what I wrote in response to this to try to clarify my
thoughts on this, here is a mention of a tool I am working on and a way that
indirect collaboration can proceed under free and open license.

== On some tools I am working on

On a tangent from the Obama letter thread, I just got a cgi script written
for the Pointrel Social Semantic Desktop system that in theory can allow
collaboration on semantic webs (we'll see if it works as I hope), so I can
show some tools progress, though it is still not in a state fit to be that
useful yet (and it lacks documentation, etc.).

The code is here under a LGPL license:

I just point it out to show progress towards combining both ideals and
tools, and how we don't need to wait for "Obama" to save us, even if his
help would be appreciated obviously.

From a recent message I wrote:
So, I roughly have this stack of technologies in my mind as a dream for open
manufacturing, where each level builds on the one below it:
* OpenVirgle & Appropedia & LUF 2.0 & other Open Manufacturing communities
* OSCOMAK tools
* PataPata Environment
* Pointrel Social Semantic Desktop (coordination over http)
* Java and Jython

That doesn't mean people in other communities would have to give up their
Semantic MediaWikis; that's just a possibility I am working towards. One
might expect to create tools so the Semantic Web (MediaWiki) and the
Semantic Desktop (Pointrel) could interoperate. And there are other projects
with related goals, like NEPOMUK, so people might well prefer them.
So people don't have to wait or rely on me, either. :-)

Anyway, I'll make a more general announcement on the Pointrel version of
OSCOMAK when there is something more solid and easy to use to show. This is
more, as I said, just to try to link words and deeds.

== Some Stigmergy about to happen?

I'm thinking I might eventually try to import Appropedia into that system as
something to play with (respecting the license, of course).
"The license Appropedia uses grants free access to our content in the same
sense as free softwareW is licensed freely. This principle is known as
copyleftW. That is to say, Appropedia content can be copied, modified, and
redistributed so long as the new version grants the same freedoms to others
and acknowledges the authors of the Appropedia article used (a direct link
back to the article satisfies our author credit requirement). Appropedia
articles therefore will remain free forever and can be used by anybody
subject to certain restrictions, most of which serve to ensure that freedom."

The "access to tools" bit in the title of this email was swiped from "The
Whole Earth Catalog" which Appropedia reminds me of a little.

But the big difference is that Appropedia has content under a free license
so I can experiment with it and share the results, but something like this
Whole Earth Catalog spinoff does not:
"The content on the, including without limitation, the text,
software, scripts, graphics, photos, sounds, music, videos, interactive
features and the like ("Content") and the trademarks, service marks and
logos contained therein ("Marks"), are owned by or licensed to New Whole
Earth LLC, subject to copyright and other intellectual property rights under
the law. Content on the Website is provided to you AS IS for your
information and personal use only and may not be downloaded, copied,
reproduced, distributed, transmitted, broadcast, displayed, sold, licensed,
or otherwise exploited for any other purposes whatsoever without the prior
written consent of the respective owners. New Whole Earth LLC reserves all
rights not expressly granted in and to the Website and the Content."

Here is another one from the 1970s that is for sale (although they have the
content online, you can't do anything with it as far as I can tell):
And they don't have the actual content of the books they review online, just
on the CDROM. Contrast again with this free collection:

I am sad to see the legagy of the Whole Earth Catalog and the Appropriate
Technology Sourcebook not be under a free license in this day and age, just
like I am sad to see any of the other great printed resource from the 1960s
and 1970s not make it onto the web due to crazy long copyrights.

Here is my comments on one book especially that helped inspire OSCOMAK:
called "Energy Primer: Solar, Water, Wind, and Biofuels" that was published
by the Portola institute:
"Google Scholar and self-dealing and a tragic example (was Re: Mining)"
In that case, I point out how Wikipedia now covers most of that content and
more, thankfully. All an example of "The Tragedy of the Anticommons":
"The tragedy of the anticommons is a neologism coined by Michael Heller to
describe a coordination breakdown where the existence of numerous rights
holders frustrates achieving a socially desirable outcome. The term mirrors
the older term Tragedy of the Commons used to describe coordination
breakdowns arising from insufficient rights holders. The concept provides a
unifying framework for a range of coordination failures including patent
thickets, submarine patents, nail houses, and more generally bureaucratic
red tape. Overcoming these breakdowns can be difficult, often violent, but
there are assorted means including eminent domain, Laches, patent pools or
other licensing organizations."

And that's all involved in understanding what makes the difference between
open manufacturing and proprietary manufacturing. You can much more easily
at least *try* to build a future on free sources than the proprietary ones,
as you get new tools to manipulate things or information. And we are seeing
more and more new tools everyday. So, free and open licenses help support
"Stigmergy is a mechanism of spontaneous, indirect coordination between
agents or actions, where the trace left in the environment by an action
stimulates the performance of a subsequent action, by the same or a
different agent. Stigmergy is a form of self-organization. It produces
complex, apparently intelligent structures, without need for any planning,
control, or even communication between the agents. As such it supports
efficient collaboration between extremely simple agents, who lack any
memory, intelligence or even awareness of each other."

So, in some ways the Appropedia people (hi!) and myself are cooperating
without even talking directly, with the cooperation coordinated by building
on each other's freely licensed artifacts. And I think that is somehow a
defining point of a new alternative participatory economics, empowered by
the internet and free and open source licensing, which is what open
manufacturing is part of.

--Paul Fernhout

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