The Future of Ideas

August 11, 2006 at 1:07 pm Leave a comment

Some comments and notes from The Future of Ideas by Lessig.

The book was a little different than I expected, dealing with the architecture of the Internet and how changes will affect future innovations.  I guess I was expecting more of a metaphysical exploration of ‘ideas’ kind of like the approach in Leonardo’s Laptop, but anyway….  The book was very interesting and relevant (net neutrality) and Lessig described concepts like ‘commons’ and ‘layers of communication’ and ‘spectrum.’ In my notes I tend to focus on the good things and successes of the Internet and not much on his main point – that innovation like we’ve seen is at risk due to fundamental design changes being made or proposed.

p.viii …the freedom that fueled the greatest technological revolution that our culture has ever seen since the industrial revolution: creativity and innovation marked the early Internet.

p.iv.  Mentioned “Shamans, Software and Spleens” by Boyle.

p.6 Machiavelli, The Prince: “Innovation makes enemies of all those who prospered under the old regime and only lukewarm support is forthcoming from those who would prosper under the new.” 

p.9  To move from the life of a “consumer”…to a life where one can individually and collectively participate in making something new.

p.14 “Just because control is possible, it doesn’t follow that it is justified.”

p.20 commons: a resource held in common, to which anyone within the relevant community has a right without obtaining permission, or permission is granted, but in a neutral way, and consistently applied.  Non-rivalrous = if used it’s not consumed.  If nonrivalrous, the problem is not that it might be exhausted, it can’t, but whether there is incentive to create. Rivalrous = has both problems – exhaustion and incentive.

p.22 Garett Hardin, “The Tragedy of the Commons” Science 162, 1968, 1243.  A pasture open to all, each herdsman must decide whether to add one more animal to his herd.  If so the herdsman reaps a benefit, while everyone else suffers because the pasture has one more consumer.  Co-problem: whatever costs there are, are costs that others bear, the benefits enjoyed by one herdsman.  Each herdsman has an incentive to add more cattle than the pasture as a whole can handle “Each pursuing his own best interest….”

Another tragedy: not taking part in collaboration, but enjoying the end product.

p.23 Layers of communications systems.  The bottom is the physical layer; the middle is the logical or code layer that makes the hardware run, protocols; the top layer is content, the stuff that’s transmitted.  Each can be controlled or free.

p.26 mentions Paul Baran and internet history.

p.37 The internet is end-to-end and applications run on the edges of the network.  New applications can just use it.  It’s open to any applications, it’s not optimized for any particular applications so it’s open to innovation not originally imagined.  It’s a neutral platform, can’t discriminate against some packets while favoring others.

p.39 Electricity grid is also end to end, roads are, they are this way because it was difficult to regulate back then.  Now it’s conceivable “Control is now feasible.  Would control be better”  Just because it’s possible doesn’t mean it’s justified.

p.57 knowledge is non-rivalrous. Your knowing something does not lessen the amount I can know.

[….but it does lessen the impact if we’re both leveraging that information as opposed to only me leveraging that information.  This underlies “knowledge hoarding.”  In other words, I want to keep it to myself so I get the prize.]

p.68 Open code creates a commons without overgrazing concern.  It’s an inverse commons, the grass grows taller when it’s grazed on. [also discussed in Smart Mobs, by Rheingold] The problem is to assure incentive to improve code.

p.73 Ch5 discusses use of spectrum?  Wide band radio.  Mentions Hedy Lamarr and her involvement with radio research and submarines.  Packet radio.  All of this sounds very intriguing.

p.85 Ch6 Commons are resources for decentralized innovation; individuals and corporations draw upon this value created by its openness and transform value into other value.

p.87 Why hold things in common?  When the resource has value because of its openness.  Mentions “Comedy of the Commons,” Rose. 

p.89 Not knowing how a resource will be used is a good reason for making it widely available, Baldwin “Design Rules” 2000.

p.95 The system of control we erect for rivalrous resources is not necessarily appropriate for nonrivalrous resources.  The same system for both may do real harm.  Even for nonrivalous resources some form of control will often be required…to ensure adequate incentive to supply the resource.

p.103 Begins a discussion of “creativity in real space” our intuitions about how best to order society…institutions built in the physical world…but the physics and constraints of cyberspace are different.  I’m reminded of the discussion in Small Pieces Loosely Joined by Rheingold with the discussion of building a physical store vs. an online store.  Physical stores maximize the path through the store to enable impulse buys.  We won’t stand for that online where all can be a click away.

p.104 The discussion here concerns “the dark ages” before the Internet took off, ca. 1970!

p.115 The birthday song is still copyrighted and nets nearly one million a year in royalties.

p.116 The digital world is closer to the world of ideas than things.  (Noosphere?)

p.120 Ch8 You can’t perfectly and costlessly copy a physical object.  Digital content can be copied perfectly and practically freely.  You can make a great deal of content almost freely and instantly.  Reminded here of Scrolling Forward by Levy and the discussion of digital documents and their comparison to paper documents.

p.121 …initial design of the Internet disabled the power of any in the middle to control how those at the ends interacted….this is the design of end to end.

p.123 HTML books: (dead?), project gutenberg

p.138 Platform of the Internet removes real-space barriers and encourages innovation, 1. because of commons at the code layer the net does not enable controls, 2. access to the physical layer is inexpensive, and the market linked to it is vast -think long-tail, and 3. there is opportunity to exploit data.

p.235 Film-making as a way of learning, student recombine a wide range of existing film in new and creative ways.  This changes the thinking process.  This is a new kind of thinking enabled by this emerging technology….but it can’t be displayed publicly due to copyright issues…this is how students who grow up digitally think and want to learn.

p.265 John Gilmore “We have invented the technology to eliminate scarcity, but we are deliberately throwing it away to benefit those who profit from scarcity.

p.301 notes, Canterbury Tales


Entry filed under: The Future of Ideas.

More from Leonardo’s Laptop The value of organization

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