Re: Webmind

From: Samantha Atkins (
Date: Sun Oct 29 2000 - 00:48:23 MDT


Thank you for your response. You are obviously an ethical and quite
reasonable person.

> Obviously, I don't share your "huge problem" with the practice of patenting
> AI stuff.
> My problem with your problem is this.
> Implementing my design for AI is a big project. In order to get it done, I
> needed to
> raise money from major investors. By taking this money, I undertake a
> fiduciary
> responsibility to the investors, to get them a good return on their
> investment.
> In the quest to guarantee these investors a return on their investment,
> patents are
> a valuable tool.

There are ways to get a good return without patenting the actual
software techniques involved and thus forbidding other development using
those techniques except as permitted by your company or its designates.
As I am sure you are aware there are quite valid concerns about locking
up algorithms in this way and reasonable arguments that doing so hurts
software evolution more than hit spurs new software development.

> It seems to me that a hell of a lot of great technological developments have
> been
> accomplished in the commercial domain. So I don't see why doing AI
> commercially
> is likely to hold back progress. And patenting is part and parcel of the
> current
> US capitalist system.

Actually I find that much of the software environment is largely
stagnant. Many of the tools used have not evolved much at all in the
two decades I have been involved. Some of the best developments never
struck market gold and are put aside for technically less powerful and
useful tools. At some latter time some subset is brought forward as the
lastest hot new thing. I have seen this cycle too many times to not
suspect that something is wrong with the way we have tied software to
the market.

Patenting is not "part and parcel" of capitalism except in what used to
be very delimited areas and for delimited reasons. Patents are in
no-wise essential to having a capitalist system. Software patents are
relatively new on the scene. There are patents on the books today for
things I and others I know were inventing and using 10 years or more
before they were filed. But we would not stand a prayer of pulling
together the cash and evidence enough (actually high priced legal
loophole detection ) to challenge many of these. There are patents
enough on the books that if I looked hard at anything I've done in the
last decade I could find at least one patent it arguably infringed. And
there are thousands of software patents that are still pending. Please
tell me how a system that will stop me and others from innovating on our
own an will expose us to absolutely ruinous costs, legal dangers and
detours around patent landmines is for anyone's good. Patenting
software slgorithms and concepts is no better to me than patenting a
mathematical proof. Copyright it sure. Even keep it proprietary if
you have to to make your bread. But patents are much more ruinous.

> Personally, I'm not in love with the current socioeconomic framework in
> which I live.
> I don't think it's particularly horrible either. Anyway, instead of trying
> to change it,
> I'm working within it to the best of my abilities to achieve my scientific
> and
> engineering goals. I could not easily be doing what I'm doing now in
> academia, or in an open-source
> project. The degree of focus and tight coordination and careful testing
> that the project is much
> more easily attained in a commercial setting. The best alternative would be
> a well-funded government
> research lab, but the government never offered me money to build a thinking
> machine, private investors
> did.

Understood, and of course I don't at all blame you in any way, shape or
form. I get my daily bread persuading commercial proprietary companies
that they need some part of what I want to build. If anything I am
envious because you are being getting paid to build something so
interesting to me. At the same time though I have seen great things,
some of them designed and built by me, end up as shelf-ware or dumbed
down to inanity because the "owners" didn't know what to do with it or
decided it was more profitable to leak it out a little at a time or to
twist it into the computer fashion of the month. I've spend a lot of
years rewriting the same code because some company "owned" the last
umpteen versions I and others wrote and even if we paid them for it we
would not have the source to seamlessly plug into what we were doing.

I don't know how to fix it. I think the Open Source or Free Software
movement has extremely valid moral and engineering points. I think a
freer flowing of all information and especially of software is essential
to our getting to the breakthrough points much less the Singularity.
But I don't honestly know yet how to make my living, being a pure
designer and developer, and have all of the source available to
everyone. I think it is the right direction to go in though.

- samantha

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