Software Governance and Automobiles - Closing Remarks

Closing Remarks, by Eben Moglen

EBEN MOGLEN: So I had some great long speech to give, which I am not going to bother with, partly because ranting has been done for the day by Nicolas and it would be inappropriate for me to start another one and partly because we’ve got it all said.

The only thing I want to say is, one more time, that the automobile was a freedom machine for the human race. It was a way that people understood personal liberation and the ability to live an independent life. It changed the sex life of the human race. Not a small amount. It did all those things because cars were the servants of human beings and because human beings tinkering with automobiles both in the technological and in the social sense made life what it was.

Having spent my teenage years in American suburbia, I may be a little unhappy about what the automobile did to American residence patterns, but it is surely obvious that everything around us is the result of that interaction between the human being and the car to the benefit of the human being.

21st century cars are going to be very different, and if the way in which they are different is that they are inaccessible technology to human beings, that’s a freedom machine that became an un-freedom machine. That brings me right back to the beginning of the Free Software movement as far as I’m concerned. The question of who is in control here? The question of who gets to decide, the question of who gets to learn?

For that reason, this meeting at least from my point of view as the inviter, because we are passing very rapidly through a series of technological changes which will have a significant qualitative effect on how we understand human freedom. And there are two parts to what we ought to do about that. One is we ought to think, and the other is we ought to build.

I am very grateful to Mark Shuttleworth for both creating the reason for me to start thinking about this in a focused way over the last several months, and therefore inspiring me to hold this meeting, and I am grateful to Mark for the actual invention, which I hope everybody will pay close attention to.

Maybe we’re not going to do it all with Ubuntu core and SNAP’s, I don’t know, but we’re going to do it at least that well, or we’re going to have a real problem. Everybody understands that without autonomous driving, without any of those additional complexities, a chaotic nightmare of software in highly software-dependent automobiles, is not the industry that we want. It’s not the way we want to organize technology of transport. We’re going to have to get control over the bits in all these things that move.

And in order to do that we have to be concerned about some pretty low-level engineering questions. How do we package and distribute software so that we can actually know what’s in complicated devices sitting way out at the edge of the network that everybody wants to update and everybody wants to change and everybody wants to secure if nobody knows what the damn bits are in there or how long they’ve been sitting there or what’s been done to them.

Governance at that fundamental level is absolutely necessary. What Mark and I have been working on may be not the final answer in that story, but I do hope everybody understands that there has to be a draft.

What we’re trying to talk about is a thing which may have to be done some other way, but it has to be done. And if in the process of doing it we can make tinkering possible again, if we can find a way to make an arrangement with people who build things, that they have to be able to build economically and they have to be able to distribute safely and they have to be able to talk to the regulators about, in which we can preserve the human autonomy to experiment and change, that will be an enormous win.

I recognize that it comes out of sawdust. It’s just this grotty stuff about how we package and distribute software and how do you get a ellipses in there and what do you do when the compiler changes? But that actually, I believe, is going to turn out to be a terribly important building block towards whatever it is that we’re going to do about these extraordinary objects on which we are all so dependent as they become connected computers full of software we need to understand, we need to be able to modify, share, and improve.

That’s the bottom line of the why for me about all this. I am in awe of all the different skills represented in the room. It isn’t true that every last expert on this subject in the human race was here today, but almost every kind of expertise in the human race about these subjects was here today, and what you have heard is, I think, immensely represented, fairly representative of the immense importance, diversity and complexity of this subject, which most of the rest of the world is still just slightly bouncing off, glancing, it’s at the edge of their understandings. Ten years from now everybody’s going to care about that the way they’re learning to care about how centralized social networking works right now.

So to everybody who contributed to the growth of these ideas in me and in everybody else, my first and most important thanks.

Then there is the material matter of being able to hold a meeting like this. I am grateful to Canonical Ltd. for its support of our being here today, and I am grateful to the people in my life who make this possible. To Michael Weholt for organizing and controlling and dealing with all the logistics of everything. And to Daniel Gnoutcheff, who as always has… Well, you’ll see, the video will be OK and the sound will be fine and all that stuff that must be done by somebody which he now does with expertise.

It’s wonderful to me and to Mishi, I think also, that one of the things that we can do in our practice is to say, OK, we’re going to put on a conference. We’re going to invite some people, and then it’s all going to turn up and it’s all going to work. Michael and Daniel and the crowd of interns and assistants and Tanisha who isn’t here today are all doing this work while we are also busy moving out of 1995 Broadway where we have all lived for 13 years. We are putting on a conference, and it just works at a time when everything is in boxes in bits all over the floor, and we’re hacking our way out of all that stuff we accumulated before moving house.

I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to discover that even at a time like that we can do this. So to Michael and to Daniel and to Daniel and to all the others who helped to make this possible, thank you, just from my heart.

It was great to have you. It’s Friday afternoon and there’s still time for you to do something exciting and fun for the rest of Friday. But thank you for coming here and sacrificing your time to this. Life as a teacher is a life spent learning. I regret every single moment I was talking and no single moment I was listening. For those of you who got to do more listening and who didn’t feel compelled to do quite as much talking, you got the better end of the deal.

Thank you. See also soon. Bye bye.

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