A couple of weeks ago I was invited to Academia Sinica in Taipei to address an audience of the Culturemondo forum on Smart Cultures, held alongside TELDAP and convened by Ilya Li. Ilya had asked me to prepare some remarks about open hardware culture, particularly as it relates to recent developments in Taiwan and China.
The Fabricatorz are often asked about “free and open” hardware. Jon shared his views on open hardware manufacturing during a talk he gave in Miami last December. It is not an idle topic for us, as we believe that investing in our own hardware platforms is just as important to the future of our business as is the software we create.
Can Hardware be Free?
The term ‘open’ hardware is used by way of analogy to free and open source software. The freedoms of ‘free’ software comprise the right to use, study, duplicate and improve that software. These freedoms as they relate to hardware apply not to the physical device itself, but rather to its design; for it is only the hardware design that can be truly studied, duplicated, and, most important, improved.
However, a process which begins with a free hardware design and ends with a finished product requires a non-trivial provision of capital, resources, skill, and time. This plain fact leads the founder of the free software movment, Richard Stallman, to conclude that “freedom to copy hardware is not as important, because copying hardware is hard to do.”
I think the logic of that assessment is backward. The difficulty that hardware presents to our freedoms makes the issue more important, not less. It is the reason that we at Fabricatorz are investing time, money and talent to find solutions to the hardware dilemma. Recall the famous words of Alan Kay: “People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware.”
Is Richard Stallman serious about software? I know we are.
Credits (images remixed by me on an M1):