[ECAR 2007 Summer Symposium] Yochai Benkler


Benkler is moving from Yale Law to Harvard Law

– Networked information economy and society
– The university and the rise of social production
– three design challenges: permeability; control vs. creativity; social applications

A story – attempts to improve vote counting by bringing in machinery, first tried in Georgia. Mainstream media didn’t report any problems, but one activist got hold of source code and harnessed a new model of social production. She put the code on her site, which was replicated on a site in New Zealand – we’ve got hold of a source of data and here it is – read for yourself. Put together resources on the web, and asked for finding to be reported. Avi Rubin at Johns Hopkins found issues, put them on his web site, and others responded. Then Diebold felt that they had to respond. The conversation led to State of Maryland asking for a review of the technology.

The next time around Diebold filed a DMCA complaint against ISP that the activist used, and against Swarthmore which had a replica. End of story? No – because its been replicated all over the web. The network resists the supression of information. The students go to district court and the court grants them the case and Diebold has to pay.

Radical decentralization
– research & analysis
– archiving, storage, retrieval
– accreditation through self-selected peer reivew, critiqaue
– radically decentralized
– done by individuals, for individuals
– alone and in ad hoc networks of diverse longevity
– dynamic problem solving and adaptation
– not impervious, but resistant

What makes this possible?
– in 1835 it cost the equivalent of around $10k to launch a mass circulation newspaper. Changes in the environment made it 2.5 million 15 years later. For the latter you need a business model. Bifurcation around passive audiences and professional commercial producers. f
– The alternative image is SETI@home becomes a huge supercomputer.

Networked information economy –
– radically decentralized capitalization
– computation, storage, communications capacity
– all in the hands of individuals

– the most important inputs, into the core economic activities, of the most advanced economies, are widely distributed in the population.
– Behaviors once on the periphery: social motivations, cooperation, etc. are core

Commons-based production – production without exclusion from inputs or outputs. Authority to act where capacity to act resides – at the edges.

Peer production & sharing – a lot of what we value on the web is done by individuals, without price signals or managerial commans. Sharing material resources – distributed computing, wireless mesh networks, distributed storage.

Four transactional frameworks

Market vs. Non-market; centralized vs. decentralized

new competitors and new opportunities – including platforms for self-expression and collaboration. Surfers – stuff will flow out of connected human beings – inputs into production. Example of IBM’s linux-based services earning far more revenue than licensing its patents.

Social production –

A real fact not a fad – the ctiical long term shift caused by the internet
– in some context more efficient than markets or firms
– sustainable and growing fast
– but a threat to incumbent businesses
at level of infrastructure and content we’re seeing a battle – law has largely allowed enclosure. What’s pushing back is largely market adoption as well as the development of social practices of sharing and cooperation embedded in political engagement. We continue to see tightening of IP, but only through judges, who are largely looking at the past.

The University as Subsystem

A society’s knowledge production system includes multipe subsystems – mass media markets, government, gossip/superstition, religion

The university has characteristics: relatively high autonomy, distinctiveness, remove, and self-reference
– high intensity communication
– narrative of commitment to a set of values of inquiry conversation critique and peer review
– perhaps not perfect, but still exerts a direct force on the knowledge production system as a whole.

Spatial and institutional remove – the campus plays a role in structure conversation and exchange as distinctly removed. A distinct kind of conversation in which there are certain ways to behave. Should we continue to retain this coherence? How do we do it when spatial remove is impossible. He doesn’t tell his student not to do email while he’s talking – he assumes they do it.

Opportunities and challenges of networked environment
– greater efficacy of nonmarket action – the cost of being effective has declined. as organizations universities can do more; touch more people. By individuals within the university,, with relatively more time than average.

Use fund raising capabilities, talent, and organizational form to provide knowledge tools and platforms for society at large. ibiblio, MIT open courseware, etc as examples. Universities also a center for connectivity.

University / individuals – number of participants in open software who are students or faculty in universities is very large.

Pper production and education – learning objects; textbooks (primitive at present); learning by doing in the world – students can engage – can we bridge the outside with the inside; collaborative authorship; identity formation (MySpace?); immersive learning environments. Some research (Charlie Nesson) finds some find it easier to speak up in second life; peer production and research – large scale collaboration across organizational boundaries (e.g. HapMap); open scientific publication – self-archiving; filtering and search; institutional repositories; distributed computing – folding@home, fightAIDs@home, etc.

Permeability – A system with sufficient coherence and “inness” to be a system; and a sufficiently permeable boundary to be part of the network as a whole. Sufficient openness to enable participation: cross-institutional research and education, access to data, resources, platforms across institutions; non-institutional efforts – volunteering as practice-based education

Creativity and control – creativity in the networked environment comes from locating capacity and authority to act at the edges – this is in the process of being a generalized understanding in high tech industries. That’s where the observation and solution of issues can be undestood. The more you try to control (separate authority to act from capacity to act) the more you lose the ability to learn in the system.

Parallel claims in favor of end-to-end design principal, with loose, late-binding design. Freedom, looseness, creativity leads to uncertainty and risk. When you send creativity to the edges you increase the number of possible actions, and increase complexity.

Resist urges and pressures to control – experimentation with data, video, music. The urge to control is overwhelming.

The two major security threats – the nincompoops and the bad actors. Important to constrain the nincompoops at the edges, not to constrain the masses in the process. Misbehavior should not be solved by technology, but by disciplinary systems. Misbehavior is a n educational opportunity; people exist in multiple overlapping systems; no single system need solve all problems; technical systems lack transparency of the disciplinary choice andover-regulate users

Designing for cooperation – significant literature in organizational sociology, experimental economics, field studies in political science, etc. Designed to challenge selfish rational actor model; can provide a basis for synthesizing design levers for cooperation. Working on designing for cooperation. What people want to do depends on their relationships – communication is central in how people work. Metastudy of game theory – shows that if you allow people to communicate in any way before, cooperation rises by 50%. Humanization is important. Trust construction – not the output of a system, but as an input – I trust this person to act in ways that are cooperative with me. Norm creation, transparency, monitoring, fairness is important in terms of outcomes and processes, as an input to make system work.

Anonymity is not good for cooperation.

If you impose discipline you crowd out trust.

Wrap up -= the networked information economy creates new opportunities for the university; the university can find new ways to be more effective internally as an educational and research institute.

There was some good discussion during the follow-on panel. I couldn’t blog it because I was a panel participant, but I’ve got some notes that I’ll post later, along with the comments I made.

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