I write books. My latest is a YA science fiction novel called Homeland (it's the sequel to Little Brother). More books: Rapture of the Nerds (a novel, with Charlie Stross); With a Little Help (short stories); and The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow (novella and nonfic). I speak all over the place and I tweet and tumble, too.


19 Responses to “Open source ecology explained”

  1. bobcorrigan says:

    I was really enjoying this until 1:55 when I was gripped with fear that this “new ecology” was baby-powered, a la A Modest Proposal.

  2. TombKing says:

    So yeah they are going to then eventually make their own laptops? LCD monitors? Cast engine blocks after refining their own metal? Make their own fuel to keep warm in the winter, and power the engines they made themselves?
    There gets to be a point where having large scale production of some things just works better. Not that building your own multi use tractor can be cheaper, better, etc. But there so so so so much that goes into all the tiny components of just the tractor itself that you are going to have eventually rely on some kind of industrial/factory process in the larger outside world.

    • Steve Olsen says:

      You’re right, they should stop!

      • TombKing says:

        No. But to claim they can ‘do it all on their own’ is well bothersome. Modern society and the things that go along with it laptops, combustion engines, etc are complicated, intricate and messy things.
        Sure if you want to go back to candles, oxen, etc, but this just comes across to me as too much back to nature hippie stuff.
        I am saying they can’t be truly self sufficient and have tractors, computers, electric lights, etc.

    • Gulliver says:

      So your argument is that if someone can’t be completely self-sufficient, they should be totally reliant on institutions they have little input and no control over? Even if that weren’t a ridiculous dichotomy, it’s patently false. Everyone operates somewhere on the spectrum between self-sufficiency and external reliance. Some people work to move toward greater self-reliance, and to bring as many of their externalities as they can closer to their sphere of influence. If done effectively, this can result in a more technically literate and skilled populace which also raises self-confidence and ultimately standard of living with less reliance on material charity.

      This is why nation building, economic aid and microfinance are most effective when the focus is on training industrializing nations to develop their own skilled labor force rather than being passive consumers of the developed world’s no-bid contracts.

      As the developed world becomes increasingly technically sophisticated, it becomes all the more important for us to learn this lesson at home so we don’t become helpless cogs with near-zero say in determining our own fates. Corporations will still have their place coordinating the engineering of complex problems, but they’ll have to bring their A game to appeal to a client base that knows what’s what and wants to participate in the problem solving instead of just being captive to industries that tacitly agree not to compete too strongly lest the individual corporations have to give the customer what the customer wants. A hybrid economy of cooperation and competition can leverage the advantages of both while inoculating itself against the weaknesses of either, and they do both have weaknesses.

    • Alexander Borsi says:

      Apples and Oranges my friend. You are talking about end products that have taken decades to get where they are, and they are making blocks out of dirt and stone.

      Yes, rely on a big factory to make the big things that would be hard to make in a smaller scale. Metal sheets and bolts and screws and the like. But if you want to make a house out of bricks–why pay all the extra money to have bricks made from clay 100 miles away, from the clay that was mined 50 miles away from the brick factory… when a machine that costs less than the load of bricks could make as many bricks to make several dozen houses from local materials?

  3. rob_cornelius says:

    I took a good look at some of the vehicles and machinery that these guys produce. Lets just say I don’t think that many of them would pass a rigorous government safety test. Their LifeTrac tractor doesn’t have any proper brakes for a start only the hydraulic brakes as that are the steering as well.

    Certainly here in the uk you have to have 2 independent braking systems on any vehicle that travels on the road. Then again with tracks made from rebar I don’t think its going on a road in a hurry anyway.

  4. Apostolis Xekoukoulotakis says:

    The emphasis is, in my opinion, on making things simpler, modular and open source. Using local materials is in a way a method to protect the community from the destructive consequences of the financial/industrial system. An open source economy will eventually have to be global.

  5. austinhamman says:

    when he said natural resources were unlimited was where i knew this guy should have taken an ecology class. but he probably would of dropped out like his chemistry and physics class.
    he maintains this kind of myth that natural resources are unlimited but are made artificially scarce by big bad corporations. his idea might work for a small commune, at long as a very small portion of humanity is doing it, it’s fine. but i think one need only look at what happened to the forests in Britain during WW2 when the people switched to wood gas powered cars to get an idea of what would happen in his system.
    his system also excludes the use of resources not locally available. sure you can have wood, but if you want mahogany and mahogany doesnt grow where you live, well you will have to deal with the wood you have where you live (if indeed you live some place where trees grow)

    for some numbers, there is 148,300,000 km^2 of land on earth, there are 7,000,000,000 humans on earth. ignoring the fact that a lot of that land isn’t habitable (north and south poles, deserts, etc) that leaves about 0.021 km^2 of land per human on earth.  giving everyone on earth about 5 acres (now that might be 5 acres in Antarctica or 5 acres in the Sahara desert, or 5 acres on the top of a mountain) estimates for how much land a person needs is roughly 24 acres and that is of habitable land. there isnt enough land to support how many PEOPLE we have. so we either have to reduce the number of people, or expand into space.

    • anarres says:

      He might have skipped chemistry class but probably not physics, given that his (Marcin Jabukowski’s) Ph.D is in nuclear / plasma physics.

    • Tristan Copley Smith says:

      1: he didn’t say ‘unlimited’ resources, he said abundant. perhaps you should take a linguistics class?

      2: he’s a graduated fusion physicist.

      3: there was never a mention that EVERYONE ON THE PLANET should do this, though its sort of funny you have to take this idea to a silly extreme in order to find fault in it.

    • Apostolis Xekoukoulotakis says:

      I have a link that refutes your calculations.

      From my personal experience, in the isle of Crete(Greece), only a small percentage of our arable land is cultivated. The reason for that is that the price of agricultural products is very low together with the fact that productivity is low(cost of machinery,unemployment).

      Both reasons are due to economic factors, not technical ones.

      Thus, saying that resources are abundant doesnt seem to me as an overstatement.  

  6. rmch says:

     the 19th century called – they want Thomas Malthus back please…

  7. J says:

    I’ve seen the future and it works…

  8. It is sad to see so many trolls on this forum, obviously a few John Deer employees are feeling a little bit insecure with the thought that there business will fail or be forced to contribute to the global community of open source designers and engineers.
    Open source has proven to be and always will be the best approach for solving the worlds problems, working together on collaborative projects  as opposed to proprietary (for the sole motif of limitation and control) will produce the best and most accessible hardware known to humanity.

    • Gulliver says:

      Prefacing your argument by calling the people you disagree with trolls and plants is a seriously lousy way to get them to listen, and may even alienate people otherwise predisposed to listen to what you have to say because it makes you look as if you’re sufficiently insecure in the strength of your argument, even if you’re not, that you resort to ad hominem mud slinging at pseudonymous interlocutors whose employment status you cannot possibly know. People know what a troll is, and they know that a troll is not someone with a serious argument or even someone who’s merely irreverent enough to crack a joke. Generally the only person who appreciates the misuse of the term troll is the person misusing it, and then generally only when they’re the one misusing it. Taking cheap shots at your opponents may feel cathartic, but that high will cost you credibility.

  9. Eric Hunting says:

    The essential premise of Post-Industrial theory is the idea that the core paradigms of the Industrial Age are being systematically torn down by the evolution of the tools of production upon which they are based. There is a fundamental long-term trend in industrial technology of a progressive shrinking of physical scale and smartening of systems leading to progressive ‘de-massification’ of production by virtue of the shrinking necessary scales of facilities and labor, hence the minimum necessary production volumes, and ultimately the necessary scale of finance capital needed to enable production. And that trend is a world-changing one. A fundamental shift in the nature of how civilization works, which today is largely capital-driven and tomorrow, maybe, something very different. 

    Already, the traditional factory is all-but obsolete for many types of industry. In the year 2000 the world reached a key milestone in that, for the first time, the volume of consumer goods produced in ‘job shops’–light reconfigurable contract production facilities mostly in Asia where western nations first built them to exploit cheap labor–exceeded the production of traditional factories. A steadily increasing number of brand name products are no longer produced in facilities owned by their parent corporations. Long Tail phenomenon are now emergent in most categories of consumer products, compelling companies to explore new technology to enable more diversity in product lines if not means to actual on-demand bespoke production. Already some companies are toying with the possibility of having end-assembly of cars done at the dealership (an idea that goes back, at least, to the venerable Lotus 7–the car made famous by The Prisoner series) so that by shipping them as more densely packed modular parts they can reduce fuel, carbon, and handling overhead in shipping while enabling more distributed (computer-like) production and many more customer options. In the 1990s there was an interesting wave of new high-tech entrepreneurship emerging as engineers begane to realize how much the value of the companies they worked for relied on their own output and how poorly they were generally compensated–and treated–for that. Numerous engineers abandoned companies to form ‘garage shop’ ventures of their own to compete directly with their former employers, leveraging low-overhead and low capital. As such things progress, we can anticipate a progressive localization of general production leading to a favoring of commodities over manufactured goods in the spectrum of global trade. This is a game-changer for global economics as commodities are very ‘transparent’ to quantitative analysis, which is itself advancing steadily with the advance in information technology. Bit by bit the core ideas of the Industrial Age–centralized mass production and the need for large capital to realize it–are being whittled away and much of the economic strife we see in the world today, along with the increasingly compulsive attempts of corporations to control and manipulate the market, government, and the consumer rather than actually compete, relates strongly to a kind of future shock in the corporate sub-culture. Control of trumped-up IP may soon be the only way large companies have left to cling. desperately, to their disintegrating market share, collapsing business models, and their very existence.

    Many see these trends expressed strongly in the new entrepreneurship of the Maker movement. Here are the first-adopters of the cutting-edge of digitally-controlled small scale machine tools that are undermining the Industrial Age, financing new businesses more-or-less out of pocket to do things that once required gigantic capital amortized over decades. Paraphrasing Marx, economist Louis Kelso once noted that the key to freedom is _ownership_ of the means of production and now what was once the province of wealthy capitalists or government bureaucracies (two ways to do the same thing; collectivize a margin on society’s productivity to enable mass finance for mass production) is increasingly within the means of lower to upper middle class people with any, even amateur, engineering knowledge. This has led to the emergence of a key meme running as an undercurrent in this new digital industrial sub-culture; the notion of ‘unplugging’. This idea gets to the heart of the ‘meaning’ of the Open Source Ecology project. 

    Though perhaps originating with the theories of anonymous Swiss activist writer P.M., the term ‘unplugging’ originates with Hexayurt inventor Vinay Gupta and his futurist short story The Unplugged. The basic goal of working people across the 20th century has been to ‘get off at the top’; to accumulate enough wealth that it’s own ability to self-perpetuate by interest on investments could pay for a largely work-free lifestyle. But toward the end of the 20th century this notion was proving increasingly unattainable/unrealistic in the increasingly indentured middle-class lifestyle of the age. Among the emerging Technical/Creative Class in particular, it was no longer sufficient for people to spend a life working toward the cabin on a lake in the last couple of decades of life. They saw creative work as part of their quality of life and wanted a better lifestyle in the present–began bargaining and shopping for it. This led to the idea that, maybe, the expanding flexibility and power of these new increasingly personally-attainable industrial tools could lead to new means of ‘getting off in the middle’. And this is what Gupta’s short story was about. It described a near-future community of middle-class people who drop out of the salary system ahead of schedule by exchanging their mid-life savings not for the cabin on a lake but rather for high-tech ‘pod’ homes equipped with their own micro-industrial and micro-farming technology which, grouped in small co-supporting communities, provide a large margin of independent subsistance. At first the subsistance margin is modest–realistically, it can only be–but the Unplugged, being members of the technical/creative class and having originally developed this technology for their own use–leverage that margin on their personal time to pursue the continual advance of that very technology, increasing both its margin and accessibility.

    This is the essential idea of Open Source Ecology; to develop a working toolkit for unplugging. But Marcin Jakubowski (who along with Gupta has been a participant in the Open Manufacturing and Fab Folk communities) has adopted an even greater challenge with this. He wants people to be able to ‘get off at the bottom’, his tool kit being developed more from the bottom-up. Thus we get a Global Village Toolkit intended as much for the developing world societies as the western middle-class. This is indeed a very challenging, yet certainly worthy, thing to pursue with the technology at hand and must–at first–come with a certain trade-off in standard of living for the margin on personal time he hopes to win. In Gupta’s model of The Unplugged we see a more top-down strategy, the traditional industrial infrastructure leveraged against its own short-circuiting. The Unplugged’s pod housing is prefabricated and manufactured at a discount in developing world countries until its potential to self-replicate is realized. In P.M.s famous book Bolo’Bolo, a Post-Industrial culture is realized more as a social than technological revolution, his suggestion being that, at least, an early 20th century standard of living is attainable with at-hand technology at planned community populations of about 500 people and arguing that many of the modern conveniences we seem to need are so much consumer junk stealing from our quality of life more than their supposed value in standard of living and, most importantly, net time out of our lives. Many people seem to share that view today. I don’t seen any of these approaches as wrong–and there are many more. (such as the classic mid-century Total Automation model of Jacque Fresco and my own concepts of global open reciprocal production networks facilitated by the Internet of Things and repurposing of Community Investment Corporations as regional economic firewalls) As long as one is pragmatic about this–not promising some turnkey total solution when we are obviously in a era of experimentation–we can see that this is all part of Post-Industrial futurism’s search for the likely new, and as yet far from clearly defined, paradigms to emerge in the Industrial Age’s wake. 

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