There is a change coming.
A bunch of smart people, wanting to talk to each other, came up with a variety of bits of code and protocols
and tried them out.
Bits failed, bits succeed, bits got bolted together, pulled apart and stuck back together again.
An on-going prototype that is still evolving today, even though the testers make up about 50% of the planet
and the cost of the total failure of that prototype would be catastrophic.
I’m talking about the web* of course. The internet, the information super-highway**, this mesh of connections and conversations. From the actually-quite-hard-to-visualise wi-fi hotspot to the tangible words that you’re reading now; it’s still a prototype.
Because what’s coming next, the next set of prototypes, is the transition from virtual to actual. It won’t just be your phone / tablet / pc that’s connected, it’ll be your fridge, your luggage, your bicycle, your house and your 3D printer. All of these will be connected and communicating to each other. Hopefully with you in the middle of it all…
3D Printers may just be producing simple plastic parts at the moment but the price is coming down to real-
world levels, metal-matrix devices are in development and some very smart people are thinking about how
carbon structures might be “printed” at a near-molecular level.
There is another level of business and personal disruption coming, but that brings with it another iteration of
the usual challenges, and these are the biggest threat to this next level of interconnectedness.
It’s not the limitations of technology, it’s not the limitations of raw materials nor is it some hypothetical
limitation of mankind’s ability to handle the “future shock.” The biggest threat is the status quo.
The status quo of large vested interests’ control of political representatives.
The status quo of copyright and patent law being so broken that they no longer promote innovation and
creation but actively inhibit it.
The status quo of the groundless legal-action that drives a new competitor out of business, not on merit but
on the threat of an un-payable bill.
The status quo that measures value by the number of ideas locked up rather than the number shared.
This can’t continue.
From a practical perspective, it’s a war that can’t be won. The most effective mechanisms against illegal file-
sharing are not threats of disconnection, not Digital Rights Management software, not multi-million dollar law-suits or night-time raids on flamboyant businessmen in foreign countries. People, ignore, discard and work around these things. No, the most effective methods are making the product legally available at the right price, in the right format and at the right time to meet the customer demand.
For ethical reasons too, it needs to change. Every day people across the world are dying because ideas
that could have saved them are locked up in intellectual property. As the technology progresses, it will be
increasingly unethical to ship something halfway round the globe if it could be printed in your garage from
locally sourced materials. If knowledge can be shared instantly and at nearly zero cost, how do we ethically
explain the withholding of that knowledge?
Copyrights and Patents can still serve a very valuable purpose, but not in their current form. We need to
go back to the reason for their existence and start again before they lose all credibility and go the way of
There is a change coming. Maybe we could try a couple of prototypes first…
* though if you removed the “wanting to talk to each other” bit and changed your perception of the word
“code” you could equally be talking about capitalism. But I’m not.
** I always think of Clive James when I hear this phrase.