Open Systems And Open Source

In systems theory, an open system is a system that continuously interacts with its environment or surrounding systems. The interactions can involve a flow or exchange of information, energy or materials with its surrounding systems. On the other hand, isolated or closed systems do not involve any such exchange with the surrounding systems. Generally, natural systems are open and many of the systems created by humans are closed (or isolated). Examples of open systems in nature are obvious and all around us. Examples of human made systems that are isolated include almost every non-biodegradable thing that has ever been manufactured.

Most commercial organizations develop products within a closed system where they own all of the intellectual property and do not allow third parties to use it. In production and development, open source is a development model that promotes universal access via free licenses to a product’s design or blueprint and the rights to universal redistribution of that design or blueprint including subsequent improvements to it by anyone. 

The use of Open source increased significantly with increased use of the Internet. The software development community recognized that the growth and stability of the Internet would require a seemingly infinite number of constant improvements and modifications (some of them tiny and some of them enormous) and one way to address them would be for software developers to work on them in self organized groups in their spare time. 

The open-source approach utilizes a more decentralized model of production compared to approaches utilized by commercial organizations. One of the key drivers behind the open-source movement in software was the restricted access to software developed by commercial organizations. Many people within the open-source movement believe that the greater good would be better served by making commercially developed software available to everybody to improve rather than restricting access and therefore inhibiting the pace of improvement. This view essentially embodies the view of people that prefer an open world. I am also proposing that it is the model that best reflects natural systems and, therefore, will result in MPI for the individual project and, more generally, the world where ever it can be implemented.

The open-source movement is now expanding into many fields beyond software development. There is even Open-source hardware. The initial specifications of a product are published and made available to the public so anybody can copy, modify or redistribute the hardware and source code without paying any royalties or fees. Examples of open-source hardware projects:

In 2002, the beer company Brewtopia in Australia started an open-source brewery and invited the general population to be involved in the development and ownership of the brewery, and to vote on the development of every aspect of its beer. In return for their feedback and input, individuals received shares in the company (now publicly traded on a stock exchange in Australia). The 

Teaching – this involves providing instruction using a shared web space as a platform to improve upon learning, organizational, and management challenges. Examples include the Java Education & Development Initiative (JEDI), Khan Academy and wikiversity

According to Don Tapscott, author of “Wikinomics“, there are “Four Principles of an Open World”. They are derived from the fact that the Internet is causing a profound change in the way our society’s work and, now, people want a more open and transparent world. Tapscott believes that established institutions must adapt to this new “open world” or fail. Tapscott’s four principles include:

1. Collaboration. Technology allows us to share ideas regardless of distance. The ideas that arise from collaboration are better as a result of the increased brainpower and talent that contributed to the ideas. Succeeding in this environment involves acknowledging good ideas from anybody because everybody involved wants to reach the goal is efficiently as possible.

2. Transparency. The boundaries of organizations are becoming more transparent and more permeable. This increased level of access results in these institutions becoming “naked” and this is the best thing for us all according to Tapscott. “Institutions need to have good value, and they need to have good values. Integrity needs to be part of the bones of an organization, or you won’t be able to build trust which is vital in this new world”.

3. Sharing. People and companies must be willing to give up some of their assets for the greater good. Tapscott encourages us to begin thinking differently about how we use and disseminate our intellectual property. He provides the pharmaceutical industry as an example where the industry restrained access to their patented information and this has resulted in restricted access to intelligent and valuable input. His corporations need to share clinical trial data among themselves and with scientists in order to trigger a collaboration that will accelerate progress toward the discovery of new or better drugs.

4. Empowerment. Sharing knowledge and intelligence is power. As knowledge is distributed and decentralized net result in more freedom for individuals who can then form their own influential groups. Tapscott cites the Arab Spring is an example of how social media helped crowdsource a revolution.

Next article in this series: “Our Planet”

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