Open source may well be the most important invention of modern times. It’s supporting invention is the Internet. It replaces distribution hierarchies which have been installed throughout history to piggyback graft and systems of corruption onto the practical logistics of organization. History will not be kind to it’s many opponents.
Open Source is social structure, supported by a legal structure and a near real time technical organizational system. The social structure creates the fast technical organizational system using computer code, and uses the Internet to share is at near real time speeds. The social structure requires near perfect adherence to core scientific principles. Core principles being, ubiquitous opportunity peer review, experimental repeatability, and a working copy of the reference model and it’s complete plans. It uses contracts and their supporting legal structure to prevent corruption.
Open source has been mistaken for a business model but it’s actually a social governance model, a utilitarian technocracy for the scientific method. It uses competition and a legal restrictions on potentially arbitrary use restrictions. In this it keeps the rules equally lax for all participants in the competition, a cooperative behaviour. This lack of use restrictions allows for fluid and voluntary participation with any society, or the ability to form a new society should it become inefficient or ineffective, better known as forking. Forking is critical at it’s core because any restriction on competition can become non-cooperative and form a basis for non-cooperation. This allows for the orderly, rapid abandonment of a hierarchy should a psychopath obtain a prominent position within it. Please see my paper on type one civilization for more details on the importance of avoiding rigid hierarchies.
At first Open Source was best known for it’s original success Linux. Creating a computer science reference model for well understood problems, many if not most uses of computers can happen efficiently and effectively when running Linux. Initially support for Linux, the GPL and open source was largely practical. Solving the scaling problems of computer code originated and owned by historically large computer software corporations.
While not nearly as popular as Linux, RepRap has an order of magnitude more potential impact. It is an open source 3d printer technology, laying lines of plastic extruded at a high temperature on a 2 dimensional descending platform. The plastic components of the machine, the computer aided design, and the resulting plan files for actual objects are all open source and highly resistant to corruption and forking. In addition to the scope of objects and devices that can be devised of plastic, scrap material recycling equipment, circuit boards, and other types of material like metal printing are all in various stages of planning and production.
Cryptocurrencies, specifically the reference model Bitcoin is opensource’s most important creation to date. It enforces honesty and the retention of purchasing power of unspent currency. While transactions are anonymous by default (with some careful planning) it uses a peer to peer system to distribute a ledger of all transactions ever performed to every Bitcoin wallet, commonly known as the block chain. Despite some misconceptions, wallets can be traced back to people with a reasonable amount of ease, should a legal response be warranted. New coins or ‘very hard to guess’ numbers are awarded to ‘miners’ who on average exert the most computational work to obtain them. Unlike all currencies and equities today, new Bitcoins are allowed to be found by any miner by consensus, not issued to ‘special’ parties by decree or fiat. All transactions are performed independently of any central authorities, forcing security services like banks to compete strictly on the quality of their service and price efficiency.
The broader open source communities dual will and action to avoid hierarchy has paid off. Wildly successful without the usual hierarchical graft despite not having direct corollary of financial reward to cooperative effort contributed. Economy of scale, uncorrupted, is humanities civilizing force. It seems as if the scale of humans has been reached where the benefits of cooperation exceed the wealth extracting hard power of master/slave hierarchies. Vast concentration of wealth and power is not necessary to promote economic growth, just the peer to peer information sharing power of the Internet, and the tools to use it when we personally need it.