Faculty Presentation 9/11/08

On the Premises

Imagine a world in which, in the early 1980s, a small group of technically sophisticated and politically aware people in the United States decides to change the future of human society.

They share an insight: that humanity will come to construct all social activity and institutions through the evolving digital infrastructure—an infrastructure which, circa 1980, only a few thousand people in the world even begin to understand. But these few dozen eccentric superbrights—mostly in their 20s and early 30s, all intellectually hyperdeveloped in both of C.P. Snow’s “two cultures”—pursue a similar vision of the networked society of the future, built around sharing rather than excluding. Each perceives that the future digital nervous system of humanity must either be designed at its technical levels to support freedom of thought and action through sharing, or it will become the most powerful force for the control of the individual by the environment that has ever existed.

Each of those who resolves to confront this problem the only way it can be peacefully confronted—by prevention—comes in time to coalesce around or collaborate with a single technical and philosophic visionary—a thinker gifted with extraordinary clarity of focus. Collectively and individually, thinking in a non-hierarchical collaborative framework enabled by the technologies (Internet, personal workstations, networked email, the World Wide Web, GNU/Linux, Wikis) that each of them played some significant role in creating, they evolve detailed plans for technical and social initiatives built on time horizons far longer than those of business enterprises and even those of most national governments.


Within fifteen years, hundreds of thousands of volunteers around the world are actively participating in the movement’s technical efforts, which are taking advantage of the “counter-intuitive” principles of zero marginal cost economics to create immense capital equipment inventories with no significant capital investments. The free capital equipment is of much higher quality than the product of the dominant monopoly supplier, costs nothing, and quickly becomes de facto standard in many places. While the monopoly spends much money to inhibit the visibility of this phenomenon, the nature of capitalism itself determines that uptake of the conspiritors’ beneficial virus (a terrorist fist bump if ever there were one) must eventually be absolute.

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