Open the Future: Making the Visible Invisible

Open the Future: Making the Visible Invisible | Beyond the Beyond from

By Bruce Sterling August 13, 2008 | 9:51:26 AM

The "maker society" argument that has so swept up many in the free/open source world is a positive manifestation of the notion that you don't have to be limited to what the manufacturer says are the uses of a given product. A philosophy that "you only own something if you can open it up" pervades this world. There's certainly much that appeals about this philosophy, and it's clear that hackability can serve as a catalyst for innovation. You're probably a bit more familiar with a basic example of the negative manifestation: spam and malware. (...)

The Internet, email, the web, and the various digital delights we've brought into our lives were not designed with advertising or viruses in mind. It turned out, however, that the digital infrastructure was a lush environment for such developments.

Moreover, the most effective steps we could take to put a lid on spam and malware would also undermine the freedom and innovative potential of the Internet. The more top-down control there is in the digital world, the less of a chance spam and malware have to proliferate, but the less of a chance there is to do disruptive, creative things with the technology. The Apple iPhone application store offers a clear example of this: the vetting and remote-disable process Apple uses may make harmful applications less likely to appear, but also eliminates the availability of applications that do things outside of what the iPhone designers intended. (Fortunately, the iPhone isn't the only interesting digital tool around.)

It seems likely to me that an augmented reality world that really takes off will out of necessity be one that offers freedom of use closer to that of the Internet than of the iPhone. Top-down control technologies will certainly make a play for the space, but simply won't be the kind of global catalyst for innovation that an open augmented reality web would be. An AR world dominated by closed, controlled systems will be safe, but have a limited impact.

This means, therefore, that we should expect to see spam and malware finding its way into the AR world soon after it emerges. Of the two, malware is more of a danger, but also more likely to be controllable by good system design (just as modern operating systems are more resistant to malware than the OSes of a decade ago). Spam, conversely, is unlikely to be stopped at its source; instead, we'll probably use the same reasonably-functional solution we use now: Filtering. Recipient-side filtering has become quite good, and users with well-trained spam filters see just a tiny fraction of their incoming junk email. Spam is by no means a solved problem, but it's become something akin to a chronic, controllable disease....


  1. Spam is a problem largely because SMTP was designed to trust everyone, no questions asked. I hope when we come up with an open AR communications system, it'll be designed with security and identity in mind.


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