[SATLUG] From Fortune

Alan Lesmerises alesmerises at satx.rr.com
Sat Jan 3 10:16:15 CST 2009

Ernest, I think you (and Mr. Lucky) are mixing three disparate areas of 
knowledge here.  First, there's the fundamental scientific concepts upon 
which technology is based, then there's the specific implementation of 
those concepts.  Finally, once the technology is actually built and 
marketed to the world (be it for individuals or large corporations), 
there is the knowledge needed to utilize that technology to it's maximum 

The first area is the kind of stuff that's taught in schools -- basic 
principles and general approaches to certain types of problems.  I think 
these concepts _ARE_ the kind of knowledge that should not be kept from 
the world at large for the reasons you mention below, unless of course 
they are inherently dangerous (think nuclear weapons, although even that 
genie has been let out of its bottle now).  Something like "Transactions 
on Information Theory" falls squarely into this category.  Even if it 
weren't, the fact that it would have to be taught in U.S. universities 
in order to get our own kids up-to-speed on those topics, and that 
foreign students attend those same universities, that information 
wouldn't be kept 'secret' for long.

The second area of knowledge is the stuff that would be covered by 
patents and copyrights, simply kept confidential as a "trade secret" -- 
computer code, the recipes for specific composite materials or special 
metal alloys, IC chip and circuit board designs, manufacturing 
techniques, etc.  The companies that developed those designs or 
technologies spent a lot of hard-earned money in R&D and they deserve to 
recoup their investments.

The third area of knowledge is the kind of thing that the manufacturers 
would WANT to be disseminated because it facilitates their customers in 
actually using their products, and encourages others to buy their 
products, because people will know what they can potentially DO with 
those products, even if it wasn't something that was originally 
intended.  I think even Apple likes the idea that people come up with 
hacks to the iPhone for new ways to use them because it tells other 
people "here's something else you can do with it ...".

The mainstream consumer computer/technology magazines usually focus on 
the third type of information, and the technical journals for 
professionals (i.e., scientists, engineers, et. al.) concentrate on the 
first category, and sometimes topics in the second (for patents that 
have expired or methods/processes that have made their way into the 
public domain).  Publishing either of these kinds of information does 
not constitute giving away the store or undermine the practice of 
engineering (whatever the discipline) because the proof of the state of 
engineering in the U.S. is in the products we produce.  If we don't 
maintain our standards and lead in the marketplace, THAT will be our 
undoing -- think of Toyota's reputation for quality vs. the troubles 
being faced by GM, Chrysler, & (to a lesser extent, because their 
quality is perceived to be better) Ford.

That's just my 10¢.

Al Lesmerises

Ernest De Leon wrote:
> There are several ways to look at this. I will give my view point only and
> others are free to chime in as fit. I believe that information should be
> free (as in beer and freedom.) I understand that for purposes of national
> security, competitive advantage, trade secrets, etc., a lot of information
> is kept secret or not released to the public at large (and I mean globally.)
> Some things should be kept secret because the release of that information to
> certain parties could cause great harm to many people, but at the same time,
> withholding information for the sake protectionism is wrong as well. This is
> especially prevalent in the technology field as a whole. Rather than
> continuously innovate, many companies turn to copyright, patent and other
> forms of legal protectionism to extract as much money as possible from a
> given idea. This is fundamentally wrong on so many levels, but our
> government values 'intellectual property,' thus ends that debate. As far as
> general information goes, like the magazines in your quote, no one should be
> barred from attaining that information. This is very different from
> attaining certain information like plans to construct a nuclear bomb. Those
> would obviously benefit no one who is trying to do good for society, and in
> the hands of the wrong group, well, you know. The main reason that people or
> groups withhold information from the general public is to have an advantage
> over others. The phrase 'knowledge is power' has some merit. Whether the
> advantage be competitiveness in the market or superiority of other sorts,
> withholding information from others assures the informed party of success
> over the ignorant party. I freely share all of the information that I know
> with anyone who wants to know. I don't believe that withholding something
> for the sake of creating a dependency on me or my services is right. I look
> at it this way...lets assume that we try and hide everything we have done
> thus far to advance our society. As other societies become more literate and
> stable, they will eventually figure it all out and surpass us at some point.
> How will we feel when we are then on the other side of the informational
> divide? It is better to foster a sense of cooperation and learning between
> all of us now so that we can evolve as a species rather than in subsets. I
> think that we are one or two generations away from dropping most if not all
> of the ignorance and prejudices that have plagued our species for several
> millenia, and it is in no small part due to the overall rise in world
> literacy, reasoning and critical thinking skills. Let's not let personal
> fears or greed get in the way of global education.
> On Fri, Jan 2, 2009 at 9:17 AM, Geoff/W5OMR <w5omr at att.net> wrote:
>> I found this rather poignant...
>> from fortune:
>> Rattling around the back of my head is a disturbing image of something
>> I saw at the airport ... Now I'm remembering, those giant piles of
>> computer magazines right next to "People" and "Time" in the airport
>> store.  Does it bother anyone else that half the world is being told
>> all of our hard-won secrets of computer technology?  Remember how all
>> the lawyers cried foul when "How to Avoid Probate" was published?  Are
>> they taking no-fault insurance lying down?  No way!  But at the current
>> rate it won't be long before there are stacks of the "Transactions on
>> Information Theory" at the A&P checkout counters.  Who's going to be
>> impressed with us electrical engineers then?  Are we, as the saying
>> goes, giving away the store?
>>               -- Robert W. Lucky, IEEE President
>> --
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