The University of Alaska, Anchorage was honored to have Richard M. Stallman visit to deliver a lecture. I can proudly say there was a good showing for him though we put him in the second biggest auditorium we have which only seats 300 and not the big fifteen hundred seater in the main auditorium. Considering Anchorage has over two-hundred thousand people in it who are supposedly wealthier and better educated then the norm I was somewhat disappointed. Depak Chopra came up here the week before and charged $20 a ticket to a full house in Anchorage's biggest municipal auditorium.
I had heard about him from a post by Gina Miller who wrote glowing words about him so I knew I had to see the man myself. I was very impressed by his intelligence, ethics, personality and sense of humor. The audience loved it when he put on his robe and halo to become Saint Stallman of cyberspace!!
The entire discussion lasted about two and a half hours. I asked him what he thought about nanotech and how it related to the free software movement. He replied that nanotech would make the world "either a heaven or a hell" but it was too far off for him to comment on how his movement might impact nanotech.
In the hallway I got the chance to ask him if he had ever met Gina "Nanogirl" Miller. I explained she was the reason I had attended the lecture. He said he couldn't recall it and someone with that nickname would have probably stuck out in his mind. But then in Alaska it is much easier to get a chance to talk to someone after their lecture then it is in Los Angeles or Seattle! A lot less people to contend with!
Later in the hallway I asked him if he had ever heard of the Extropian Institute and he said the name sounded vaguely familiar. I explained a little about it (a group that believes technology could have a very positive transforming effect on humanity) and mentioned some of its favorite topics like A.I., cryonics, space colonization and uploading. At the mention of uploading he perked up and said the idea fascinated him as an approach to immortality.
Stallman asked me if I knew of Greg Egan! Then he said that "Permutation City" was a favorite of his. Interestingly Stallman said in his lecture that he does not surf the net at all and instead devotes a huge amount of time answering emails!
When there was just a group of about a dozen of us he broke into song!! He sang an Irish style ballad with his own lyrics that told of the importance of hackers working for the common good and not just to get rich. It went on for several verses and we were all very impressed. The man really can sing!!
There were scheduling problems in terms of limited time and yet a number of things he wanted to do before flying out which included eating at one of our finer restaurants. The UAA activities staff were having problems arranging things. Stallman in just a few minutes figured it out step by step as he talked to them. Someone commented out loud "the man definitely has the mind of a hacker".
I am so glad I attended the lecture. I do find Stallman to be perhaps too idealistic but people like him give me renewed faith in humanity. I do feel that companies do have a right to ask folks not to make copies since that cuts into their profit margins and they did develop the software and yet they should not be greedy in terms of price.
The coercive means some companies are using to stop copying from happening are very disturbing. Stallman talked of communist nation style "ratting out your neighbor" posters that have gone up in company hallways and even subways. He said the scariest thing is that the computing lobby is pressuring congress to pass a law that would make it illegal to reverse engineer programs or even program your own software that uses the same algorithms as to what the proprietary software might use. This would make the development of free software extremely difficult. He kept on making the point that the good guys could still be crushed in the end if he does not get enough support. He asked for programmers to be willing to volunteer to help him with new versions of his free software.
If Richard Stallman and his movement is crushed or even severely marginalized I could see the nanotech utopia we hope for in thirty to fifty years from now never coming to be. By that time corporate america will have the laws, copyrights and patents wrapped up so tight in their favor that the vision of nanotech combined with open source software will simply not come to fruition. I was deeply stirred by Mr. Stallman and would hope that those of you who are gifted programmers (and that is most of you) would donate at least some time to helping him fight a power-hungry system that must not be allowed to seize the last vestiges of economic freedom from us. Time is of the essence here.