Saturday, October 23, 2004

Is knowledge creation unsustainable?

I don't often take exception to some of the opinions people have. Well, I guess I often take exception but I am rarely moved to write about it.

However, I read an article by on by Richard Epstein "Why open source is unsustainable" that essentially equates working on open source to a workers commune that produces some tangible goods.

I work on the free software Etherboot project and the code that I write or borrow from other GPL developers cannot be equated to a sack of potatoes.

Computer programming is essentially the creation of knowledge. Whether it is the knowledge of how to interact with a network card or how to download a file via tftp, it is documented in the source.

When I write an Etherboot driver for a network card I sometimes have access to the often flawed technical specifications from a vendor. However, I have written drivers with no technical reference other than the knowledge contained in a Linux driver. The difference is that while the knowledge contained in the driver C code may differ from the technical specifications, I know that the Linux driver works.

People outside the computer industry have been adding to the sum total of human knowledge for eons and I am doing my small part to help that. The fact that the knowledge can be "compiled" into an application that is useful to thousands of people is somewhat immaterial. The knowledge, unlike a sack of potatoes, lasts far past supper.

The creation of knowledge may be unsustainable but I suspect we have not yet reached that limit.