This is going to be a bit of a long post. There are many ideas and responses to recent comments that I would like to clear up as well as some suggestions that would be good to get comments on.
Is the world changing?
Well it would seem so, the collapse of the financial system that now seems to depend on rapid changes to the value of currencies around the planet. The overthrowing of governments. The exposing and subsequent disgust at the financial sector bonuses, government corruption of both politicians and lobbyist groups. The collapse of housing markets. The wars that seem to just never go away and even less so, seem justified. The growing gap between dying people and others who languish in wealth beyond counting. Yes the world is changing and no wonder!
An option for the future
MaidSafe has been a journey of a lifetime. I say that as I believe you could not do it twice. The focus, attention and complete tenacity of all of us involved has been pretty tough to say the least. It’s not about working hard, many do that, it’s not about sacrifice, many die for a country or cause and none of us died. It’s the sheer effort of introducing something that’s hard to understand and harder to implement. That is a task that I for one underestimated. Anyway would I do it again? definitely!
The technology MaidSafe has created is extraordinary in many ways. No less than the fully distributed nature of the network, which I believe is a worlds first, only if you ignore almost every single species that has existed over the years. In terms of technology and invention of humankind then I think it is right at the edge of the level of change we can accept. I think many reading this blog will know enough about MaidSafe to have an understanding of the overview. The detail is absolutely fascinating though and I wish everyone could see it. I think it represents something truly revolutionary and of such benefit to us all that it’s just a privilege to have seen it, never mind be a small part of its creation.
So we can establish the MaidSafe technology is at the very least, innovative, novel and commercially applicable. If that sounds like patent talk, it is and I will come back to that later.
Strong technology fails without a strong business model
The best technology in the world will fail or delay for many decades without a cohesive and thought out business model. Even fully Open Source projects will agree, the need to engage the world as it is, must be done with careful thought. In many ways the business model has to be innovative and novel to introduce a new paradigm successfully. Here in the UK and maybe further afield there has been a shift in the economic climate towards financial sector modelling. This has lead to businesses being run by ‘professionals’ not versed in the very art that created the business. This piece assumes no such nonsense and instead realises innovators who invent complex advances are probably able to count and when absolutely necessary read a spreadsheet.
So a strong business model is required. I would go further and say an innovative business model is required. This should be something an innovator does, it will require deep thought, investigation, measuring and an execution plan. This will have to take into account existing models in order to make the changes necessary in society for a step change.
Patents are not the root of all evil
OK lets get controversial! Patents were set up to allow inventors to be able to profit from inventions, not to be used as a weapon of mass destruction and killing innovation as they do today. There are many opinions on patents and their value. In software particularly they are a double edged sword. In any case if you are innovating and get attacked by a patent troll then you may be finished.
So instead of bringing a knife to a gunfight, get ‘tooled up’ and get yourself protected. MaidSafe has a pretty large patent portfolio which cost a fortune. Many people attack when they hear this, oh no you are bad, evil and many more insults. In any case, we have patents and I am delighted. We are going to turn up to a gunfight with much more than a knife for sure.
As MaidSafe is extremely innovative, it allows certain advantages. To be awarded a patent you have to show how you can implement the claim. This means your application should have enough information that anyone versed in the art could reproduce your claims. So as nobody has created an autonomous network with self authentication and a PKI system that’s implemented in maths alone, we have a great advantage over others. We can make broad claims, very broad.
This means that we have a patent portfolio that covers a wide area and this area is central to a distributed Internet to exist.
Whoa! that sounds very dangerous!
It is and we are not afraid of the risks. That and to also protect us and the technology while we ironed out all of the kinks. I would hate to think what would have happened if a large incumbent had got this technology and extended and locked it into their own network. A network that allowed no competition and could enhance vendor lock-in, we have all seen that previously, it’s bad for innovation.
Don’t try and take over the world, be part of a new world
So what do you do when you have technology that could disrupt nearly every other company out there? I mean every company, no matter how large or powerful. Well the first thing to do is find friends, like minded people to share the initial costs of getting started. These are your seed investors. We were very successful there. Then build your product and think the whole time how this technology could change the world. Stay excited and focussed.
As the technology is ready, then it’s time to launch your attack on the status quo. Do not run in front of a speeding car or a machine gun nest. Others may not want you to succeed, initially the jealous then later the dangerous. It’s time to find more friends. These, like your investors should be great friends. These people take you to the next stage. For us these friends are all the projects, people and companies who will help build the decentralised Internet.
One of the things you must do for your friends is to include them at the final steps of launch. When all the wrinkles are flattened and the bugs under control and you have a working system, get some friends involved. These new friends, the users of your invention, your customers, are going to have to be amongst the best friends you get. They do not need risks involved with getting your product ready, they have their own battles to fight and you need to supply the ammo.
MaidSafe supplies its customers with an amazingly powerful armament. That is technology that dramatically improves customer experiences and helps people to live with privacy, security and the freedom to communicate, share and store information of all types. This is done with no infrastructure costs or any start up worries related to registering interest etc. No API keys and no limit on what can be achieved. That’s all great, but we also do something that adds significant benefit. We use the very broad patents to protect the sphere these customers will be operating in. That’s right, when our friends are drawn into a gunfight, we bring in the heavy artillery.
Together we present a larger and more powerful force to enable us to make the changes to this world and improve it for everyone. As opponents try and continue to enforce rules, regulations and oppressive regimes on people, we free them.
What about the projects that develop, do they patent?
In my opinion, if there are terrific innovations, I would prefer they did get defensibly patented. These days, whether it is right or wrong, it is the current landscape. It’s better to be protected and fight against innovation stifling businesses, rather than be closed down by a judge somewhere. This is a symptom of the world we live in today. No point in creating a brilliant application with phenomenal ideas and somebody patents around you, stifling your ability to grow that application. It will happen.
I hope the MaidSafe network can create a container for all the associated projects to place patents in. These would be used by everyone to help everyone else and protect this new culture from the ravages that plagued the old ways.
What about this dual license thing?
A quandary for many and it’s a shame the licensing system is so complex and seems to have become a war-ground with opposing forces completely at odds with each other.
The GPL license issue
This works very well for us. I met a chap who is well known in the GNU community who told me, you will hate the GPL and want to kill it eventually. For your company to succeed you will have to tell everyone how evil the GPL is!
Oh how I laughed (internally), this is where people miss the point. GPL is not bad in our case. It allows the code to be protected by a fantastic community. That community need fear nothing from us as the network owners, because in GPL world we do not own the network or the code, great! A problem solved. If the MaidSafe network is to be the underpinning of the decentralised Internet, how can it be owned. So it’s not owned any more.
The Non GPL license issue
This is the license the GNU person thought was our goal. Yes this is where we will make our revenue, sometimes, but a goal? To me it’s like a fisherman wishing the only bit of water was surrounding the fish he wanted to catch at that moment, insane!
We need everyone to create decentralised applications, that means, schoolkids, enthusiasts, tinkerers, open source projects, free projects, community projects, commercial projects etc. Yes we want an ecosystem that encompasses all walks of life. We want all the water to still be in the sea and other fish for later on for everyone.
So if anyone wanted to link our code into their application, for instance, they can, in any way they want. They can statically compile our code and we don’t care, we just hope they succeed in whatever their goal is. Simple!
They can build applications, sell them, give them away, raffle them or bin them, all comers welcomed and more importantly able. No hindrance, no registration and no hassle.
How does MaidSafe make money then?
Aha, that good business model issue, yes I agree this is an important point. It’s so important in fact that we have thought about it long and hard and only at the end of the journey have we unveiled our plans. Yes we got to the line first, checked the landscape, confirmed our thoughts and put our plan in place. We have two immediate options here and we think they are both very fair. Our mantra has always been, profit follows value. i.e. profit is not something to be forced from people and yes you should leave something on the table. Greed fails, it always has and always will.
Option 1, license fee
As a project, open source (except GPL) or commercial brings in revenue from a MaidSafe enabled project then our license kicks in. That is there is a 1% payment to be made to MaidSafe. This is a small amount and known in advance. It’s super simple to allow projects to factor in as a cost of goods sold item on their business plan. It’s also at a level to not cause grief and should provide significantly more in return through continued advancements in our technology.
What I like about this, especially, is that if a project builds a product and it does not work out for them, i.e. little or no sales, then their investment in terms of MaidSafe is extremely small if not zero. That’s fantastic for innovation.
Option 2, Token based system
There is a fantastic paper here that outlines a phenomenally exciting proposition. This is a proposition based on utilising systems of crypto backed tokens (or currency if you like). There are many options available here and they all need investigated. Essentially a project like MaidSafe supplies tokens to another project who builds on top of the platform. These other companies then increase the value of their token as they become successful in the marketplace. This in turn increases the tokens that MaidSafe has. So a mechanism to increase wealth, yes, but so much more.
Every company with such a token now sees their value increase as others increase the value of their own business. Now it gets interesting, wealth starts flowing through the system and nothing moves, no bankers or third parties got involved, it was just some calculations. This means the wealth increases and is free of the professional services burdens and fees associated with wealth movements today.
This is at an early stage and many questions need to be worked out, such as do you pre-create tokens (called pre-mining in many areas), or create them as projects are created, is there a finite amount, do they convert to other currencies and token systems etc. These are all mechanical questions, but in a decentralised world this is all possible. That’s what is exciting, the possibilities are immense and these are paths no human has walked on before. We are charting new territory here and there is no need to be scared, we know we will not fall off the end of the world. It’s what growth this value will bring for everyone that is exciting.
What if somebody just steals the code and does not pay or take a token?
Well my first thought is, I am glad they stole our code. My second is they possibly could not afford to pay and maybe the project failed in some way. Those are probably quite good reasons and easy to understand.
If, however, a project was generating substantial revenue and not paying or increasing the value of tokens then they are a threat to the community. In this case they have broken the law with respect to a license agreement, bad enough and I would not like to be in that position. That is very hard to defend. But it’s not over yet.
The thieves have not only broken a license agreement, they are acting outside the community. They threaten our friends and network. They are outside another important thing, they are outside the protection of our patent umbrella, they have also broken patent law, so they have a license issue but they also have a trading issue now. This is looking serious for enemies of the community.
As I said, do not bring a knife to a gunfight; if large companies steal from the community we bring in the hounds of hell.
Where do we go from here: Chaos or community?
OK, you may have noticed the Martin Luther King Jr rip off in this section’s title. You get the book here, I feel it’s the least I can do.
It’s just a perfect question for MaidSafe. Many think immediately, change equals chaos, whilst others see it as bringing a better sense of community. Take the case in point, we had to change slavery, we had to change child labour laws, we had to stop killing indigenous people etc. Change can be very good and nature requires us to keep probing the unknown. So let’s investigate some of that unknown now!
Options for the consumer Internet
This is a particularly easy issue for the decentralised community. The easy wins here are:
- Private data sharing (e.g. DropBox, Box.net etc.)
- Video provisioning (youtube, vimeo etc.)
- Social networking (FaceBook, Twitter etc.)
- Email and messaging
There is a plethora of ‘low hanging fruit’ that would benefit immensely from decentralisation. Ask any of the businesses mentioned if they would like their infrastructure to be secure, reliable and free. I think the answer is obvious. Now ask their users if they would prefer to not have their identity taken and used in advertisements or have their activity tracked to advertise to. We know the answer to that one too, I think.
Well how do they profit?
Good question, maybe some don’t. Others will come up with ingenious mechanisms I cannot foresee. They should be innovators, right?
There are in fact many ways to profit. advertising is still possible. Build advertising into the app, select adverts from a network location that’s sorted on some categories, geographies etc. and serve these to the user. Significantly though there is no need to take user data, store it and mine it. All the matching for advertisements can be done in your application. Simple, cheap and in no way a harm to privacy of users. It’s still possible to measure advertising impressions etc. It just reverses the proposition, where advertisers get what they want, users get what they want at no cost to their privacy and security, now that’s great.
There will be a ton of opportunities to commercialise applications on the market.
Options for AI/robotics
I spoke with the RoboEarth project a while back on this very issue. One of my goals is Autonomous Distributed Intelligence. This is ONLY possible when there is a secure network that is not owned by anyone and takes decisions based on sound logic (math based). The RoboEarth people really liked the idea of not storing AI data on the public web, under the control of server admins and maybe corporations.
Imagine being able to have our machines all communicate on a network with the ability to securely share data that can be ranked on validity and shared. Add in some inference techniques and you have the culmination of intelligence recalculating continuously.
What could that achieve?
An experiment I am currently looking at is with robotics. I have 3d printed parts of 2 robots now and need to reconfigure a couple of beagleboards as brains. These already compile and build all the MaidSafe code (small ARM devices). They will join the MaidSafe network when it’s up an running.
I will then locate these robots at opposite ends of the house and have face recondition software on them. When people come in the front of the house and introduce themselves to Alebert1 he will upload the image and tags etc. to the share. When the person goes to the back of the house Albert2 will be able to greet them by name.
In a similar manner, teach Albert1 French and Albert2 knows French at the same time (almost).
Now start dreaming of the possibilities. I do and they are endless. The system will as I said earlier allow for inference to alter existing data as new variables are known.
Options for medicine
A decentralised Internet holds exciting medical advances. Imagine you had access to your records. Only when you give a doctor access can the doctor see them. In case of illness then you have nominated others who can also do this (using n+p data dispersal techniques). Now you are in charge of your data.
Another aspect could be that all machines taking scans report as the robots do. The results of all scans are shared between all medical machines and they can use inference again to build up patterns and check results. If these machines could access medical records in an anonymous fashion, amazing things would happen. You go for an MRI scan of your hip, the machine, unlike a human can process all the scan details and compare with others. The machine notes you have some growth or similar where the doctor was looking. In this case the machine notes you have a very small imperfection in an organ, apparently unrelated and not even considered by the human doctor. The machine notes that every time these two events happened a single dose of pill X cures it all. Meanwhile the human doctor is booking surgery to cut parts out of you, unnecessarily.
Not to get rid of doctors, but to provide this amount of information and cross referencing would be a dramatic help for us all. That is only the start, now think of genetics and proteomics, the advances could be astounding.
What about longevity, it is really exciting and I do not think this glance even touches on the possibilities.
Options for trade
Bitcoin has been pretty remarkable for MaidSafe as it shows that even a system that is not fully decentralised makes so much sense. If we take bitcoin and merge it with a fully decentralised system we can achieve massive improvements. Secure wallets (simple), decentralise the blockchain (privacy returns) and add in transaction accountability via scripting (aka Ethereum project) and things start to look bewildering.
I have not even started on the possibilities here, worldwide voting systems, autonomous corporations etc. the list is incredible and the future will make all of our heads spin and life will be significantly better.