Defining the technical characteristics of human emancipation

One of the key ways to promote peer to peer social dynamics is simply the ‘distribution of everything’, i.e. slicing up the resources needed for human life and production so that they are under the control of the individual, who can then freely act and engage with others.

Today, despite the emergence and spreading of p2p-inspired technologies, this is at most partially the case, and many aspects of our technical infrastructure, have centralized or decentralized elements that can be potentially controlled by private interests. In each case, we have to judge if these elements of centralization are actually an aid to participation, neutral to it, or hindering it.

This is what I mean with the task of defining the technical characteristics of human emancipation. We would need some kind of dashboard, showing the steps made towards distribution, the obstacles to it, and suggestions as how to overcome it.

For example, many of the larger collaborative platforms, need, because of their success, a large technical resource base, which, despite the so-called marginal reproduction cost of immaterial resources, actually cost a lot of money. This is why we have proprietary Web 2.0 platforms, or why Wikipedia has to rely on donations to survive its success. Donations which make it in turn dependent on those willing to provide the money, which can be governments, corporations, foundations, etc… all with their own agenda.

One possible solution would be to distribute the resource base as well.

Here is a proposal that was sent to us by Gwendal Simon, which aims to study such requirements in detail.

CD² for Collaborative Distributed Content

Development, deals with large-scale digital libraries. Today, digital repositories capable of storing large amounts of contents, providing users continuous access to them and letting users interact with them, are facing a major challenge : the cost of their centralized architecture become tremendous.

The centralized model fails when we talk about scalability and continuous availability, because of the daunting costs of the infrastructure needed for implementing digital library services for millions of users. For the time being, this growing cost is financed by regular calls for donation, but it is probably not sustainable, or at least it may conduct to a growing control of Wikipedia by other main for-profit actors. For these reasons, a new combination of software and hardware infrastructure is needed to build sustainable massively collaborative digital libraries.

The main objective of the CD2 research project is to develop a new model of ICT infrastructure, conceived to support Collaborative Distributed Content Development systems, studying and improving the Wikipedia model and architecture to foster the collaborative creation of quality content by everybody. In this context, collaborative means CD2 will provide tools for building up contents on top of the contributions made by other users, and also for reaching consensus among users about those contents. On the other hand, distributed
reflects the idea of creating a decentralized digital library building upon peer-to-peer (P2P) protocols, without any central repository of contents, letting every peer of the network contribute to expand storage capacity and processing power, archiving some of the contents
and processing content and service access requests.

Besides the technical issues, a key point is to understand what is the social return that
people who participate in Wikipedia receive, and whether they would agree or not to share a part of their computer resources to help the system, instead of (or in addition to) giving time to provide/review contents and donating money. Collateral aspects of this project are related with this renewing non-monetary notion of donation.

This project involves Universidad Rey Juan Carlos (URJC – Spain), Maastricht Economic and Social Research and Training Centre on Innovation and Technology (UNU-MERIT, Netherland), Groupement des Ecoles en Telecommunications (GET/ENST-Bretagne-M@rsouin, France),
Connecta (Italy), XPertNet (XWIKI – France) and Wikimedia-CH (Switzerland). The project is leaded by the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos.

Background about the EU research programme here.

2 Comments Defining the technical characteristics of human emancipation

  1. AvatarPoor Richard

    Good project!

    The problem of asking people to share their computer resources for p2p applications might be best addressed, at least for many, by cheap, next-generation appliances such as the FreedomBox that typically would go between the personal computer and their home or office internet connection point. A variety of P2P applications could run there, encapsulated by the appliance’s other security programs. Such an appliance has its own cpu and storage capacity so it does not burden the users personal computer. Also the appliance tends to stay put on the home or office internet connection while the personal computer may be moving all over the place, in and out of internet contact.

    To make the p2p appliance concept most versatile in the age of mobility, we could have a “thin client” or browser plugin for mobile laptops and phones that would run with very little overhead in the mobile device. It would not actually be a p2p server or node, but would only establish connections with servers and nodes and provide a remote user interface.


  2. AvatarPoor Richard

    Michel, from your title to this post, I expected it to have more to do with what I wrote in a comment to one of your FB posts recently:

    “Is freedom simply “participation in power” (Marcus Tullius Cicero)? It might depend on the terms of participation, which might be too constraining. In society as in nature, one’s degrees of freedom depend on the balance between external constraints and innate or acquired capabilities such as weaponry, stealth, cunning, camouflage, strength, speed, agility, availability of resources, allies, extent of various dependencies, etc. Promoting and maintaining human emancipation would seem to be a very complex issue that has to be considered in micro and macro, as well as local, regional, and global context. History is ideally a database of specific past examples of the consequences of various behaviors under various conditions. Unfortunately, the recorded history is seldom complete and accurate!”

    I think it very germane to the p2p community to try to model “freedom” in a formal way. As I suggested above, I think this begins with some kind of matrix of vectors and “degrees of freedom”. At the top level would be things like freedom of association, freedom of movement, freedom of expression, etc. Subordinate to each category would be some list of capabilities, resources and constraints that had a bearing on a given type of freedom.

    As long as we try to talk about freedom as one monolithic thing, the way politicians often do, people can easily talk past each other.


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