Talks, Spring 2003
1) Nitin Sawhney, Cooperative Innovation in the Commons

1/30 Nitin Sawhney, Cooperative Innovation in the Commons

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HCI/CS background, but worked in other fields -
Georgia Tech: worked with Greg Abowd
Media Lab: speech and audio; doing some machine perception
then collaborative systems, then sustainable design and development
his team ThinkCycle wanted to go beyond research and publishing to field implementation

open-source (90's) vs. free software (Stallman, 80's)
commons and public domain

cooperation, community, intellectual property - social inquiry to find interesting issues

- Amartya Sen - "expansion of human capabilities and freedoms"
GDP doesn't predict literacy levels - economic growth shouldn't focus only on GDP, but all sorts of factors and "basic human rights"
- Appropriate Technology movement - Schumacher's "Small is Beautiful" - decentralized, cooperative ownership, small-scale localized projects, "economics from the heart not the bottom-line"
Papanek's "Design for the Real World" - social and moral responsibilities, unethical to protect socially-valuable ideas (e.g. patents), etc.
Appropriate Tech. wasn't very influencial - no path from design to market, communities didn't analyze their design process, no idea of property rights that give incentives (see how open-source plays into this later)
- Vannevar Bush's "As We May Think" - memex

90's - three important trends: distributing computing/online communities, global dialogue on "digital divide" and "sustainable development", intellectual property in public domain (free software foundation, open-source software, MIT open courseware, public knowledge creative commons)

ThinkCycle - grad students from many backgrounds at MIT: basic vision was to have a platform for problem-solving. Taught a design studio course that solved problems with real organizations; designs were archived online. also, conference held every year (DyD - development by design)

challenges in dissertation work: what sort of architecture (both technical and social) is needed for collaborative work? how to support communities? how to rethink intellectual property?

Raymond's "cathedral and the bazaar" - "microsoft vs. open-source"
what are the economic and social incentives behind open-source? not so much altruism, or it'd happen everywhere. solving personal needs is one; also reputation and visibility and potential for commercial payoffs (which can switch voluntary incentives)
limitations of open-source:
Krishnamurthy's "Empirical Study on Open-Source" - often more of a closely-knit, closed group of developers; much directed to other techies. closed "expert pools" that develop with some open-source projects - the developers come to have a trust in each other, and are reluctant to let others start developing.
Bezoukov's "Challenging Raymond's Cathedral and Bazaar" - useful to compare open-source to the norms of a scientific community

collaborative tools: distributed computing (SETI), online collaboration, open-knowledge communities (slashdot), etc. site: topics, thinkspaces, and open digital library
projects developed are listed along bottom
no formal filtering
post concepts and design rationale, all design iterations
only solved part of problem - doesn't give design tools like flow charts that capture design and rationale (saul [greenberg?] had one idea - demo)

Gruber and Russell - it's hard to capture design rationale
Whittaker, Ackerman - importance of unplanned informal collaboration
Mellotti, Michelis - interactions between physically co-located groups

for some groups who started using thinkcycle, they ended up just sending e-mails to each other - too time-consuming to post everything online. however, 81% of users said it was a useful tool.

taught studio courses on sustainable design

Intellectual property - some projects were protective, some were open
Background: Merges - Property Rights in Scientific Research - science isn't public: there are informal and implicit property rights
projects had four options for public vs. private access: open-source (completely open or public patent) vs. closed-source (trade secrets or proprietary patent), patented or not.
most projects started out open-source, but some moved
hand-powered generator, bio-sand filters, and portable reading device stayed OS; three others filed patents, passive incubator for premature infants kept design a trade secret (again to control manufacturing, since it was a life-and-death system)
one that filed patents was about cholera treatment devices: they wanted to file patents before others did, because the others might keep it proprietary (even though they had stuff online beforehand and could claim prior art); also wanted to have control over manufacturing since it was a life-and-death system.

some projects that stayed in open-source category were "sub-patentable" - team members thought of their project as an academic experiment - however, it was these non-patented projects that won design awards and such

low-cost eyewear team had commercial incentive to patent AND keep information secret.

smart-cane for visually-impaired - ended up being developed only by one student, who patented it so he could have a patent on his resume as an undergrad (that's one of the big incentives behind patents - what could equate the prestige that a patent gives, but keep the information open?)

passive incubator - they don't want to patent, but want to keep their project private - wanted people to go through them to get information so they'd build it right, and wanted technical validity before releasing the information publicly

each of these projects had very different incentives - can't have a static policy for IP
there needs to be institutional support for different IP models, not just patents, as most universities push for.
the ones that didn't patent won awards that gave them legitimacy, provided some funding, and established prior art (a site like thinkcycle gives a digital paper trail of contributions - easy to resolve IP issues that way)
there should be a global registry for sub-patentable innovations - USPTO gets many patent applications that shouldn't be patents. these ideas should get out there.

summary - work involved building a system for distributed cooperation, supporting communities of practice (design courses, conference), understanding IP rights

in the future - expand website, provide flexible IP licensing, ongoing conferences and maybe a design journal, inter-university classes in design, intellectual leadership

how much does this really touch real people? he's not sure - the conference, which was held in India last year and will be in Brasil next, really tries to recruit grassroots innovators.

people want their "own design space" - how to get that in thinkcycle? maybe smaller groups can exchange information with the larger organization. and what about different languages - even languages that can't be represented in ASCII? Brasil collaborators are pressing for a Portugese thinkcycle system. we'll see.

Why is open design/development better for developing sustainable technogies? it can greatly facilitate peer review and dissemination.