When I use open source software, I am no longer a consumer, but a member of a user/developers community. If my Yosemite has a bug, I can complain to the multi billion dollar company Apple, that probably doesn’t care for me as an individual. Not so with Zotero, Inkscape, Firefox or any other great open source creation; I can visit the friendly virtual village, for help or even bug fixes, that are tailored to my needs.
Last week at Tilburg University, I attended a lecture / masterclass of the MIT psychologist Sherry Turkle. (Organized by the Dutch Nexus Institute).
The question that came to my mind, was not so much psychological as it was philosophical. Nature, the physical world, has many layers of detail and just as many realms of complexity. On the one hand, there are the microscopical and sub-microscopical levels. Little particles seem forever to be comprised of even smaller sub-particles. This level of complexity seems endless. On the other hand, there is the level of the stars, planets, milky way and universe. There is a countless number of stars and the universe is immense. So, at the macroscopic level, the complexity is endless to.
But even if you restrict you view to only the realm of humanity, there are different levels of complexity. On the one hand, you can have the social interactions within the family and on the other end the whole world with global trade, the Internet, global media. Life can be very simple, like the life you have in your street and the contact you have with your neighbors. Also, the contact with elderly people and children can be very simple and straightforward.
With all these different levels of complexity or simplicity in the human realm, the question for me is not which one of these levels are the reality, since they all seem to be real in their own vein. The question that I find interesting is: what is our natural level of complexity, what realm is the most relevant to the human condition, contributes most to our being?
This week I watched this inspiring, albeit a bit pessimistic talk by Bill Joy. OK, it is from 2008, but it is still very valid today. What Bill talks about is that because of the advanced technology, a maniac in a laboratory for instance could revive the Spanish Flu again and endanger millions of people. So the threads we are facing today are asymmetric. I will cost the terrorist only 1 million to produce the virus, but for society to protect itself for this individuals or small groups, the costs are a multitude of the cost for the single terroristic group, maybe even a factor of hundreds of thousands greater.
Because of this great asymmetricity, Joy pleads for secrecy concerning certain high risc scientific or technological findings. In other words: when we have invented something that could be misused by a terroristic group, we should not publish this scientific finding, but only disclose the background information to selected groups.
I don’t know what to think of this, my first reaction is that I do not like this prospect.
This summer, I have read the speech of Richard Hamming, called “You and Your Research”. It is very inspiring for all people that don’t want to settle with less important work, but strive for the big research topics out there.
This morning, I read an artikel on Yes Magazine about an excursion of US municipal and state politicians and ‘traffic specialists’ visit to my country, The Netherlands, because they want to learn how to promote bicycle use the way the Dutch have. For me, it was amusing to see towns like Utrecht and Amsterdam that are very familiar to me, through the eyes of Americans!