Re: Nanotech/Opensource: Opinions Needed.

From: Robert J. Bradbury (
Date: Sun Jul 09 2000 - 16:36:36 MDT

On Sun, 9 Jul 2000, Paul Hughes wrote:

> 1) As you may have heard Microsoft is trying very much to regain control
> by putting all of their software back into their central servers.

Could you cite a reference for this? (It sounds a bit far-fetched.)
Perhaps you mean that they intend to move to an active license
monitoring system for their software -- i.e. their software comes
from their servers when you need it. This is "software on demand"
or "software rental".

> The only way you'll be able to use software in the future is by logging
> in to their system.

Hmmmm, I doubt it will fly. I can always disconnect my ADSL line
when I boot my home PC.

> Wow, this sounds secure. Just think, all those things you do on the
> computer - private memos, dictation's, dirty pictures, all of it will
> be stored and manipulated via programs you login into at Microsoft's
> 'Central' servers.

Nobody in their right mind will buy this option. Corporate presidents
will not store corporate data at Microsoft unless Microsoft accepts
liability for data loss, guarantees privacy, etc. Even Microsoft
doesn't have pockets deep enough for that.

I think you may be confusing getting the software "on demand" from
a remote server with where the data the software uses is stored.

> Regardless of anything they may claim, they will have
> full power to control what you see, use and do, and ultimately have all
> the tools necessary to collect complete dossiers on what we all use,
> how we're using it, and where their software is being accessed.

Yes, they could monitor you every time you start Excel or Powerpoint
but that would require permanent connections for all PCs and we are
a long way away from that.

How you extrapolate that to "full power to control what you see or do"
isn't clear to me. You can make your data arbitrarily secure by simply
encrypting it.

> The old idea of liberating the people by offering them desktop computers,
> flattening hierarchies, decentralizing power will have been undone. We
> will have returned to the old paradigm of large centralized
> info-warehouses with the rest of us left with nothing more than dumb
> terminals circa 1970.

Huh? If so its going to be a big disappointment to Intel or TransMeta.

There is nothing wrong with info-warehouses to backup encrypted data
or centralized corporate databases for information sharing (group-mind)

If Microsoft makes their licensing of software more restrictive people
will simply move to other suppliers, esp. open source systems if they
feel so inclined.

> This whole thing bothers me a great deal, and for all intents and
> purposes is a return to Orwellian thinking with a vengeance.
> What do you think?

Most software is licensed, not owned. If the supplier wants to "fix"
the software so the license conditions can be verified (to reduce piracy)
then they have the right to do that. If they do it in a way that annoys
people, then they will lose market share.

> 2) -- re: construction of an open-source assembler --

> So here is the golden question - will the creator of this
> first assembler, weather it be Zyvex or some other company hold ALL the
> patent and intellectual property rights to all future assemblers based
> on their design?

According to patent law, for ~20 years yes. The key words are "their design".

> Since it is likely that hundreds of other companies
> will also be able to invent their own assemblers based on previous
> research, it is likely that they will be similar enough to Zyvex's
> design, that Zyvex could you use the power of law to stop them from
> using it. Or would it?

There seems to be an assumption that there is only 1 path to an assembler.
That is highly doubtful. High tech companies make businesses out of
figuring out ways around each others patents. Its a complex
business decision whether to try and work around a patent or to
pay whatever licensing fees are being demanded. If IBM wants to
pay Zyvex $50 billion for the rights to use the assembler patents
I doubt Zyvex is going to say no...

> Is it just as likely that nanotech will be so powerful, that the rule of
> law will be quickly ignored and hundreds of developers will jump on the
> revolution anyway?

Once you have the first assembler (proof of principle), you can bet that
many companies (and countries) will start projects to build their own.
It is doubtful that "rule of law" will be ignored however.

> Just imagine one and only ONE COMPANY having sole legal power of
> nanotechnology.

It will not happen (at least for long). The phase space for assembling
things is likely to be very large.

It may make sense to have a handful of companies (Zyvex and licencees
or Zyvex and competitors) to have the sole lawful right to manufacture
nanotech based designs. Given the power of nanotechnology, you may
want the designs going through careful review before they are manufactured
just to insure that dangerous stuff is not being manufactured.

Do you want every Tom, Dick and Harry to be able to have the ability
to assemble bubonic plague in their basement?

It is likely that a small set of companies will become leaders in
the economy from a manufacturing perspective. They will make their
money by imposing a small surcharge on the cost of the raw materials
and manufacturing. (It may be a big surcharge until the competition
gets rolling...). But the *real* money isn't in the manufacturing,
it is in the designs. It will be interesting to see how the
open source design debate plays out, since there are strong
arguments for the manufacuturers to not build things not open source
(approved/reviewed) designs. [Do you want to be the company that
manufactures the device that turns Cleveland into Grey Goo? How
the liability issues are handled is going to be quite interesting.]

In short, I think the concerns you cite are unlikely to be those that
will cause significant problems.


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