Share, and We All Grow Richer
Free and open-source scientific hardware has the potential to liberate collective intelligence and cut costs
Joshua M. Pearce |
“The miracle is this: the more we share, the more we have.” Star Trek’s Leonard Nimoy summarizes beautifully here a concept that is already well known by real scientists. We are all accustomed to benefiting from the literature, where our past and present colleagues openly share both their genius and more modest good ideas. Academic scientists, who as researchers and teachers dedicate their lives to information sharing, even have a well-established gift culture solidified in the tenure process. You get tenure based on how much you have given away (the more valuable the better), not how much you hoard. This scientific sharing, until very recently, tended to be focused on what could be published in academic articles; that is to say, ideas. No more. The process of development that has succeeded with ideas (and software) is now being applied to hardware, providing an unprecedented opportunity to radically reduce the cost of analytical science.
Free and open-source software (FOSS), first widely demonstrated with the incredible success of Linux, is becoming the dominant method of software development simply because it is superior. It is superior because you have more people working and collaborating to solve problems. Collectively, we are all smarter than any individual. But, why stop at software? The open and collaborative principles of FOSS are easily transferred to scientific hardware designs with digital manufacturing (1). Thus, free and open-source hardware (FOSH) is hardware whose design is made publicly available for anyone to study, modify, distribute, make, and even sell the design or hardware based on that design.
"We are all accustomed to benefiting from the literature, where colleagues openly share both their genius and more modest good ideas."
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