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On the idea of "world wide mush" resulting from "open" development models

A recent article posted in the Wall Street Journal posits that the collectivization of various types of goods or services created by the internet is long term a damaging trend for human societies.

I think that the author misses truths that have been in place that show that collectivization is not a process that started with the internet but has been with us since we started inventing things.

It seems that Mr. Lanier is not properly defining the contexts under which different problems can benefit or suffer from collectivization. He speaks in general terms of the loss of the potential for creators to extract profit from their work but misses that this is and was true of human civilization since we first picked up a rock to use as a crude hammer. New things make old things obsolete and people MUST adapt to what is displaced (be it a former human performance of that task or use of an older product) so as to maintain relevance.

In some areas collectivization has no peer, the example he mentioned of Wikipedia is a good one. The incentive for contributing to an article is simply self serving but because it is applied over time to an evolving concentration of value (whatever subject topic is being edited) a convergence toward a more full telling of the "truth" of a given topic occurs. Revisions are not random and vandalism in fact engages repair mechanisms that prevent it long term such as closed edits for articles subject to vandalism. Another area where collectivization is great is in social networking where the "likes" and trends of user behavior are tracked and used to determine behavior highly correlated with interest..such as the desire to purchase a given product or go to a given country on vacation. This data can be very useful to marketers for targeting advertisements of for shaping recommendations to a users needs allowing them to spend less time searching and more time finding. The open collaboration model used within the confines of a closed enterprise can lead to massive improvements in the rate of development for companies that use these tools. The productivity gains realized from team collaboration and sharing services similar to the mentioned "Google Wave" are real and benefit the economy. "Mush" is not always the result.

In the hypothetical future that he postulates concerning medical robots displacing the need for many health care workers, the focus of the societies of that time ..from their educational institutions to their Health care facilities should be on the path to presage such change or sit back and go obsolete. The past is filled with examples of both happening, Rolls Royce went from building engines for British planes to building luxury automobiles. Nokia went from a rubber works and mining company 150 years ago to the wireless telecommunications company we know today..these are examples of recognition of the changes that technology forced on society and adapting but at the same time many countless companies didn't adapt and went extinct. The jobs of the people who worked at those companies disappeared and the people had to retool. The same will be true in the future for health care workers when those lithe robots start taking over, the move from physical to mental labor in the form of white color work has been slow and gradual and as things get better people will simply need to find new things to do or become virtually extinct.

It is interesting what happens to society when such virtual extinction takes place, vast oceans of people , their every need catered to by they become like the humans of the recent film "Wall E" ? or do they become like the Eloi of H.G. Wells "Time Machine" or do people end up more like they did in the nightmare shown in "Soylent Green" ? the answer depends on how well people can retool to whatever is next, whatever need we can serve with our biology that artificial bodies and minds can not...hard to think of anything that fits that boat and that could be reason for worry especially with a rapidly expanding population but I don't anticipate it as a problem for at least another 50 years, in that time we can still retool so that like Nokia we stay relevant despite what the future brings in new Technology. Also because technology is not homogeneous across the globe the lack of technological parity will enable the chance for a mediating market between the demand in poorer regions and supply of advanced technology in the richer ones, this will enable markets that people can exploit for time far beyond 50 years.


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