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The Issue of Intellectual Property and The Free Culture

Motto: “From the earliest days at Apple, I realized that we thrived when we created intellectual property. If people copied or stole our software, we’d be out of business. If it weren’t protected, there’d be no incentive for us to make new software or product designs. If protection of intellectual property begins to disappear, creative companies will disappear or never get started. But there’s a simpler reason: It’s wrong to steal. It hurts other people. And it hurts your own character.” (Steve Jobs, as quoted in the biography by Walter Isaacson)
We are safe to assume that Bill Gates has the same philosophy when it comes to Intellectual Property for the simple fact that he made a fortune from IP. And many other Internet or media moguls do. The issue is not however as simple as Jobs described it for the simple fact that the Internet changed all the rules of the game when it comes to IP in some spaces.

Coca-Cola - original bottle patent

Coca-Cola - original bottle patent

Culture and Entertainment. In the cultural spaces, for example, the assumption from which most people start when they consume culture today is that culture should be free. Free open-air concerts, pirate websites and free content available on the Internet have created an idea in people’s minds that anything related to culture should be free. While in theory we can agree with this, there will always be the question of who’s paying the creators? Creating quality content takes time, talent, and dedication. The authors might have spent maybe years trying to create something valuable, but they are not able to cash. The solution is never free culture. It also can not come in the form of overpayment. How many of the movies you have seen lately were worth the price of admission? Regardless of the quality most of the DVDs cost almost the same. Let’s examine the case of the movies a little bit. I’ve just checked for some prices on the street and on-line and guess what I found? The last asian gore, a classic Dolph Lundgren feature, a simple chick flick and the last Tarantino costs the same. While this might be good news for somebody collecting movies in huge quantities regardless of the genre, in general it’s just a fact that helps the piracy even more, because some of the afore-mentioned movies might be of interest for purchasing just for the fans. Renting them on or offline is the usual solution, but it doesn’t solve the problem. The solution is deceptively simple: change the pricing and purchasing options. But how? Charging for quality is subjective (you never know how much somebody would pay for a certain movie) and also against the free culture mantra by all means, even tough it’s common practice (please check the pricing for the movies that won Oscars against those who haven’t, what do you notice?). This will remain an open problem, but purchasing options are definitely changing: from iTunes to Amazon and Hulu, entertainment and culture are available through all channels. We will not dive further into the pricing problem that is faced by the entertainment industry now. We will explore it with another occasion. One thing is clear: the desire for Free Culture and the mass adoption of piracy was not the public saying that they don’t want to pay for something, but rather the public saying that they are tired to eat crappy content and to search for years for certain albums or movies for the simple fact that the entertainment giant refuses to re-edit them. In certain countries where the payment was low and there was also a cultural gap (see former communist countries, for example) piracy flourished because publishing giants were ignorant when it came to their countries.
What happens to the software industry? Be warned that industry people and common people might understand different things through free software. As defined by Richard Stallman, Free Software is open software, software that comes with the code, but not really unpaid software. If you want you can have free software for which you pay. How does this sounds? Counterintuitive for sure. Free software is also software offered for free legally, software for which you don’t pay money. And of course, while we don’t like it, illegal software is also free, but nobody responds for it. Now here lies the true value: who responds for this software? Who responds if this software ruins my computer? If nobody does it, then you shouldn’t be using it because you don’t know if it’s safe to use it.
Intellectual Property at its strongest: Patents. Well this year was all about patents. Every major company had to fight at least a dozen process against patent trolls, but also against other major companies. It seems like nobody plays fair anymore. Without patents there will be no protection for new ideas, on one side, but also no source of income for inventors. And as we noticed already, it takes time and money to do something well. Patents are the real engine of the economy. They stimulate competition. Without them we will all be a bunch of copy/pasters, reduced to what the establishment already offers us, without any real capacity to bring disruptive ideas to the market. And yet even leading companies choose to eliminate it from their practices. We should all consider a patent as a recognition of his creator, an homage, as well as a guide to the invention.
Free Culture or Fear Culture? Free Culture is a recipient for disaster in any space. Can you image tourism thriving in a world of Free Culture? Not really. There is however a thriving fear culture that prospers in the shadow of Free Culture, a Fear Culture, a culture of people that are so scared by new ideas that they prefer to steal instead of experiment.

November 3, 2011 Permalink

Brain Movies

Since forever we are attracted to paradigms like Mind Over Matter. It’s not because of science fiction stories, but rather because of convenience. It’s so easy to sit on the couch and turn on the lights or the TV using only your toughts. We are not there yet (not according to the published articles), but new developments show that science fiction can sometimes become reality. This time is not Mind Over Matter, but an answer to the old question: How do we see? How does our brain constructs the world we see?
According to the current issue from the journal Current Biology, Professor Jack Galant and his team reported that they created the first video clips that reconstruct the visions of the brain. This is a historical experiment that proves that the signals from our brain can be used to recreate what we see. Basically what they did is show different movies to different subjects and record their blood flow through the brain using fMRI techniques (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging systems). They have used these signals to recreate what the brain paints by using voxels (volumetric pixels). This is similar to what a painter does. In fact their results are quite similar to some paintings for the moments, but in time they will improve. If we have a large enough database we will get images that are closer to reality. It is practically the first step toward recreating the movies produced by our brain.

The images are like a Van Gogh picture

The images are like a Van Gogh picture

It is a known thing that we can only perceive what our brain allows us. While the system is just a prototype, the results were impressive. Imagine what can be done when this system will be improved: a killer will not be able to lie, we will share our experience with our partner (in a couple, for example), kids will be able to see how the lives of their parents or grandparents were, and so on. Such a discovery should have been on front row everywhere, but it was reported mostly through tech blogs. Makes you wonder what happened to the media these days. We do live interesting times, don’t we?

September 25, 2011 Permalink

Beyond PCs – The Legacy

We know we told you PC is dead. We maintain our opinion. We do live in a Post PC age, but of course, that does not means that PCs are dead. One of the major news that signals this was the fact that some fans succeeded into breaking the 8GHz World Record using an 8-core AMD machine. The other major news is that there are already all sorts of previews into next year’s Windows 8, which apparently will run on any kind of devices in less than 10 seconds by calling just the APIs it needs for that device, and features the new Metro interface (we know running on all devices means Post PC). There are also new gadgets like a mouse than can transform your workspace into a huge multimedia wall regardless of how many screens you use (also from Microsoft). We should not forget about the Android x86 initiative that is trying to port this operating system to the classic PCs. So the PC is dead, long live the PC! Not so fast. Didn’t you noticed? Half of what we wrote is about PC being just another device (Windows 8 and Android x86), and the other half means just expected incremental advances. What feels strange when you read the latest tech blogs is that even the popular image of the PC being the command center of the multimedia home has vanished. It shouldn’t be a surprise to us since we already know how interesting mobile wars will be (not that they aren’t extremely interesting now).



So if the mobile is replacing the PC, what happens to the PC then? It will remain useful just for researchers, graphic designers, animators or directors, the ones who most probably need huge screens, mouse, keyboard and all the accessories? Or it will evolve into something different? For the moment the only safe answer is that the PC will not vanish, but it also won’t be the most important business tool. We are not just talking about suppliers or cable guys (it should be clear that PCs are not and have never been an option for these categories), but about all business people. Now here is the challenge? How will a day in the office look like without a PC? What other gadget will occupy most of the office space and our whole day? The mobile? Well, busy persons do talk a lot on mobile. The tablet? Probably not for accountants. The whole office will be just an interface? It might be. There are already some hints that we are moving into that direction. Any version has its drawbacks, but it should be clear, that whatever happens, the PCs legacy (the operating system, the APIs, the graphical interfaces, and so on) will stay with us for a long time from now on. Truth be told, the PC is not dead. It’s just everywhere you look. It’s present on so many levels that we tend to forget it’s a PC. That’s why we are tricked into believing mobile phones, tablets or other gadgets are more than just interfaces.
Speaking of the operating system: the first to rule them all seems to be Windows, again. Google and Apple still need to merge their operating systems, while Microsoft has just done it…And we tought Redmond is still years behind. Microsoft’s Windows 8 is the first operating system to really work on all platforms. And having some iPad competitor running Adobe or Microsoft Office is what everybody wants. If it will only be cheaper. Unfortunately there are still 2 problems with Windows 8′s quest for world domination: it’s not open-source and it’s not free (free as free for download, not in the Richard Stallman way).

September 13, 2011 Permalink

Innovation = The Key to Success

Innovation is the key to success. It should be clear to anybody. But this is not really clear to the big corporations. Why do we have all the Apple clones? Why consumer electronics corporations prefer to copy Apple’s products instead of innovating? Why do Hollywood companies remake the same movies and reboot the same franchises instead of creating some fascinating new stories? Why do we always go back to the fashion of the ’20s or the ’60s instead of wearing new clothes? Because innovation is hard is the easy answer, but the truth is more complicated.
Light bulb
Patents and people seems to be today’s most important resources. Of course it also helps if you have the resources (time, money, people, patents, etc) to implement your ideas ASAP. Might be the fact that even corporations are afraid to fail these days? Failure is an important part of the process that leads to innovation. Being afraid to fail means you are afraid to innovate. Because this is what innovation is sometimes all about: trying different new things and improving them until they are fit for the market. Innovation is also about creating new things.
Today’s failure to innovate seems to come from the simple fact that today’s CEOs think that a property that generated large incomes will do so in the future. While this is true in some cases, we should not assume this is a rule of all markets in all times. It’s not at all true in our times.
Now what happens in the mobile market or even in the car market is strange because most of the companies don’t just copy ideas, designs, interfaces, but also add some small touches. Enough to say that the new products are not just copycats. Imitation is the proof of success, but only innovation is the key to success. This is the simple lesson most companies do not want to learn. The other lesson is: fear of failure destroys innovation. It’s the most destructive force in the life of a company.

August 28, 2011 Permalink

Artificial Life

Artificial Life is becoming reality. Only in the last days we had several news that point in this direction. We’re not yet in The Terminator, but there are clues that humanoid robots can become reality.

Playing robots

The first signal comes from IBM. Their SyNAPSE project aims to develop the first neurosynaptic computing chips. Every chip will have a programmable component and a learning component (more than 300 000 synapses). The idea behind this project is to create processors that are as close as possible to the human brain, and maybe even capable to deal with cognition, emotions, perceptions. It’s not a new idea, but it’s the first time anyone takes a change at it.
Another signal comes from the Leeds University, where researchers found a way to create something similar to a virtual touch. The tactile feedback technology will be mainly used in remote surgery in the next years, after they perfect it, but of course, it can as well be used for giving the gift of touch to future robots.
Another signal is the fact that Intel hires science fiction writers to dream up the future of technology. We don’t need to say who brought us robots in the first place, right? This is a clear signal that technology is getting closer to the sci-fi realm than ever before.
The last important signal is the different announcements regarding the synthesis of artificial life cells and even of artificial spinal column. All these in the last couple of days. For the moment we have the first steps towards artificial brains, touch, and the development of artificial bodies similar to ours. Movement and vision are possible for years already. So we already know that in the next years most of the components needed to make humanoid robots will exist. Of course, we won’t have a T-1000 so fast, but one has to wonder, why these news are not given the treatment they deserve on front page everywhere, so that the public can start a debate about artificial life.

August 20, 2011 Permalink

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