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Economics Professors Say Copyright and Patent Laws Are Killing Innovation

Yes! Finally, someone agrees with me! More specifically, Michele Boldrin and David K. Levine agree with me that the copyright and patent system should be abolished, as it is stifling innovation; the opposite of what it was intended to do.

Read all about it here. Oh, and you can read their book here too.

How To Build An Artificial Intelligence

Ever wanted to build a fully artificially intelligent robot as a kid? I did.

So now that you’re older, why not use the OpenCourseWare materials at MIT? They have a complete Artificial Intelligence course online. Not only that, but they also have an online tutor that’s available for anyone to use.

That means you. Go! Go forth and learn some mad science! Muahahahaha!

Datalog As Exocortex Technology

The problem with Twitter and other microblogging tools is that they are too public. There’s no provision for logging private data at the moment.

Let’s say you have a private datalog that only you can access from the web or your mobile device. You use it to log private data, like when you get in bed, and when you wake up. Your daily weight. Your exercise and caloric intake. Ideas. Thoughts. Todo items. Interesting things to follow up on. Anything worth remembering.

Once this data is logged, you can do all kinds of data analysis on it. Plot your weight trend (like The Hacker’s Diet Online does). Keep a running total of your daily caloric intake.

You can then start programming the system with heuristics. It can suggest meals for you, keeping in mind what you already ate, what your weight goal is, how much exercise you’re getting, and what nutritional rules you should follow.

With proper device integration, cool things can happen. You can meet someone, take a snapshot, tag it with their name, and your phone sends it to your datalog where it goes into your private contact database. The datalog scripts can set reminders for you on your phone.

Basically, your datalog puts personal data in a format that is readable and usable by whatever scripts and data analysis tools you can imagine.

When you run heuristics on your data, you are automating something you would have done manually before, or not at all. You are offloading personal data processing to wherever you store that personal data.

This is the first step towards exocortex technology. And it’s completely doable.

The Ivory Tower And The Bazaar

Our country is theoretically a democracy. We don’t have Civics classes like they do in America, so most of our lessons in democracy come to us subconsciously.

School forms a large part of this subconscious education. I only started realizing how bad it was when I started reading books like The Underground History Of American Education (readable online) and The Hidden Curriculum.

Schools are not typically run as democracies. Examine their structure, and you will realize that they are dictatorships. Democratic Schools do exist, but they are by far in the minority, and they certainly aren’t state policy.

The hidden lessons are scary. Obey authority. Don’t take initiative. There is only one way to do anything. I think the most insidious lesson is that only the teacher can ever be right.

The trend continues in Universities. Learning is institutionalized. Only a select few have the right to create new knowledge. The Ivory Tower. What if there’s a better way?

Open education resources (OER) are not having as much of an effect on Universities. Some big universities, like MIT, Stanford and Berkeley, are releasing some of their courseware under copyleft licenses, but these courses are rarely complete. I have yet to see them use a single copyleft textbook.

In The Cathedral and the Bazaar Eric S. Raymond contrasts two different methods of open source development. In the Cathedral model, a small group of developers carefully craft all the code for a project. In the Bazaar model, the code is public and gets developed by anybody who wants to. The analogy may give us a hint as to why OER has such an insignificant effect on education.

What I’d really like to see some grassroots Bazaar style open content education. People collaborating to learn and discover new things, where anybody who can add value can participate, regardless of income or age. I want to see a meritocratic, autodidactic revolution.

Free love and knowledge, dude.


The world is undergoing a quiet revolution. While the RIAA and MPAA are suing the pants off anyone who they can pin copyright infringement charges on, the world is slowly moving beyond the concept of copyright.

It all started with Richard Stallman. By starting the GNU movement, he rebelled against the concept of non-free software. In the process, he made people start questioning the very concept of copyright.

Inspired by the GNU licenses, Lawrence Lessig started the creative commons movement. This provided licenses that can be applied to any work to remove many of the restrictions that traditional copyright law protects.

There aren’t just idle theories. Content producers are buying into the concept of less restrictive copyright on their works.

Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails released albums online for free. Cory Doctorow releases his books online for free. Baen Books puts many of their books online for free. Michael Moore released his latest documentary movie online for free. Technobrega artists in Brazil give their music away for free in order promote themselves. MIT, Stanford, Berkeley and other universities are releasing their course ware online for free.

What is interesting to note is that content distributors are the people who are fighting the hardest for the future of copyright. It wasn’t The Artists vs. Napster, it was the RIAA vs. Napster.

This is because content distributors have been exploiting the artificial monopoly of copyright for all it’s worth. The services that these conglomerates used to provide (distribution, marketing, exposure) is being replaced by the Internet.

By using copyleft licenses, people are effectively opting out of the copyright system. They are choosing freedom. People want information to be free.

The Ultimate Geek Club

You aren’t a true tech geek until you’ve got an ACM membership.

Nothing convinces management like whipping out your membership card. Argumentum-ad-awesome is irrefutable.

In addition, you get access to 1,100 books and 3000 courses through the ACM’s subscription to Safari Books Online, Books 24×7, and Skillsoft, but we all know that you’re really in it for the communion of great computing minds. Don’t you deny it.

As a bonus, South African computing professionals even get fantastic discounts when joining up.

I’m a member. Are you?

Moving Data

Moving data into South Africa is expensive, but moving it around inside the country doesn’t have to be.

Freedom toasters are a great way to move data inside the country, but there aren’t enough of them to go around. This is probably because they cost about R 39 000 each.

One alternative is a cheap Network Attached Storage (NAS) device. It’s possible today to build a 1.5TB NAS for about R 2500. Fill them up, and connect them to the network at LAN parties, Internet cafes, University networks, wireless area networks, and wireless hot spots.

Another alternative is something I like to call Post Toasties. Have a website where you can request DVDs to be burned, and mailed to you.

Then there’s the BYOD (Bring Your Own Drive) option. Why bother with network storage units? Have people bring empty drives to be filled up. Make it available as a service at internet cafes that have a NAS.

Use the above strategies as delivery options for an open content downloading service. I’m talking about things like the TED talks, and video lectures from MIT, Berkeley, Stanford, and ArsDigita University. As an individual it’s simply too expensive to download these by myself.

The thing is, if you create new ways of moving data, soon people will start making data to move around. Won’t be long before we’d see locally produced vlogs and web series. If they get good enough, maybe they’ll get picked up by local broadcasters.

I want to see what happens when we put powerful content moving networks in the hands of ordinary people, and how it will blur the lines between professional and amateur. I don’t want to wait for Telkom and Neotel to liberate us. I want us to liberate ourselves.

Blorg Money

The Blorg are a bunch of exocortex wearing neohippie infoanarchist hackers who go around liberating information, and sampling all the nootropics in the world. Their motto is “Free love and information, dude.”

One fine day, you help one of them out a tight spot. “Thanks man. The collective owes you one. Any time you need a favor, ask any of us.”

You never see him again, but suddenly all of them recognize you and greet you by name. You’ve been added to their centralized face/gait/RFID/aura recognition system. It’s a bit creepy, but they seem harmless.

You ask one of them about the favor. “We use a type of mutual credit system to keep track of money and reputation”, she says.

You are not familiar with the concept. An androgynous person clears their throat and says: “It is similar to LETS. I do something for someone. They credit me. They now owe the collective, and the collective owes me. Since everybody either owes the collective, or the collective owes them, we pay off one another.”

You wonder how the collective can owe you if you’re not one of them. “System not closed… tribe-collective can… interact with the external system… does not have a zero-sum value… Torvalds or… Stallman… has great reputation… with tribe-collective…” a somewhat spaced out guy tells you.

You don’t really understand. A tall woman elaborates: “The tribe can take on jobs. This increases the tribe’s value in the external economic system. It also increases the value in the tribe of the members who do the work. When the tribe spends resources on a member, their reputation drops. They who contribute the most, have the most reputation. When someone externally does something of value for the tribe, they also gain reputation in the tribe. If someone like Torvalds joined, he’s be an instant tribal elder.”

You ask about tax. “Tax? What an antediluvian concept. We don’t do tax. How can you tax favors?” a teenage boy crows.

“You have asked many questions, and we have given many answers. We have repaid our debt.” a sober man tells you. The collective ignores you again. You feel a bit lonely. They’re an interesting bunch.

Maybe you can find another one who you can do a favor for…

NOTE: Mutual credit systems exist, though they usually stick to tracking just money. South Africa even has it’s own Community Exchange System.

A Rose Of Glass And Metal

I’m working late again tonight.

I have a hot date tomorrow evening, and I don’t want to leave the project unfinished. So instead of going home, I pop out quickly to buy an unhealthy dinner.

When I climb out of the car, a man approaches me.

“Would you like a flower?”, he says. He is holding out a bead and wire rose. I tell him no thanks.

“Would you buy me something to eat? I’ve had a tough day.” He has such tired eyes. I agree.

While we wait for the food, I ask him questions. His name is Samuel. He lives in town, and has to take a taxi out here every day. He knows about all the flea markets around, but he would have to pay for a table, and there’s too much competition. His brother taught him to make wire art, and it is hard. His fingers hurt from the effort of making them.

He shows me the things he has made. The long stemmed glass and metal roses, a tiny elephant, and the thing he is most proud of, “my little shoe”. The last one is his own design.

I wonder how I can help this man. I stare at the little shoe while trying to think of something. Supply and demand. Rarity makes something valuable. Discovering a niche. Anime figurines? Maybe a product with utility other than just aesthetic.

The food arrives, and I still have no words for him. No magical plan that will transform his business. He thanks me for the food, and bids me a good day. It’s been dark for an hour.

I feel helpless.

I don’t know how to help this man, or the other artists displaying their goods by the roadside. Everything has the same style, so we assume it comes from the same place.

The reason it all looks the same is because they learn from one another. The work has no voice, because it is the voice of them all.

I have no idea how to help this man and his brothers. I wish I did.

The Blorg

Most people know about network effects. You know, the value of a network (to its users) increases with the number of users on that network.

The same is true of information. Look at Wikipedia and Linux.

Millions of users added an article or two each to Wikipedia, and now everyone has a whole encyclopedia. (Actually, most of the users didn’t even submit complete articles. They just added fragments. It still works.)

With Linux, a thousand people wrote a thousand small inter-operable programs, and we end up with a hundred prepackaged algorithmic ecologies (also known as distributions).

The difference between the network effect in communications networks, and the network effect in information goods is that when not limited by copyright, the value of information goods extends beyond the contributers.

Think about it. You have to join the telephone network for it to be valuable to you, but you don’t have to be a programmer to use Linux (though it helps).

The network becomes more valuable when the nodes are heterogeneous.

These ideas can translate to organizations. I say “organization” because it won’t work if it’s a company.

Companies exist to maximize profit, despite any negative consequences of doing so. Companies will want to lock information away, because it is more profitable (to the company) to create an artificial monopoly (on that information), even though it is less efficient from the market’s perspective.

So don’t make it a company. Make it into a loose group of individuals who collaborate to solve problems or complete projects as needed.

Let them discuss their projects and solutions publicly. This way information on techniques and solutions get documented, and the knowledge travels both within the organization, and outside it, building reputation for the solvers.

Reputation is always connected to a certain skill set. It makes sense that reputation for one skill won’t transfer to a skill in a completely different skill set. You can’t transfer reputation for cooking to reputation for programming. You could get partial transfer for programming in one language to another, because with experience, programming is a skill that becomes independent of the language used.

Have an online marketplace where tasks and projects can be auctioned off to be completed by the lowest bidder, while keeping the reputation of the bidder in mind to judge whether they have a suitable level of skill to complete any given task. (This includes bids by project organizers who then have to form a team.)

The essence of this concept is a fusion of two ideas: Bloggers and the Borg* combine to form the Blorg. The Blorg is a hive mob research organization, a tribe mind think tank, for solving problems and creating value.

Because of the nature of the organization, they would probably focus on cultivating exponential network effects. In other words, rather than solve single problems, they would attempt to solve that class of problems, in order that the problem need never be solved again.

*The Borg is an unrealistic construct specifically because they do not strive towards heterogeneous membership. Their specialization would breed weakness into the system.