TED Conversations

Sonaar Luthra

CEO / Co-Founder Water Canary Inc., Water Canary


This conversation is closed.

If you could open-source one piece of technology, what would you choose and why?

*This Live Conversation will take place on January 18, 2012 at 3PM EST / 12PM PST

Perhaps you'd choose a feature on your favorite video game system, perhaps you'd choose a life-saving medicine, a means of transportation, a fabrication method or a communications protocol... This is an invitation to think big about what would happen if you could take things that already exist and open them up to the world.


Closing Statement from Sonaar Luthra

Thank you everyone for sharing your ideas - this was an excellent conversation.

What I find most striking as I look through the comments is how many scenarios we came up with where open sourcing existing ideas, technologies and systems could promote both efficiency and a better quality of life/social welfare, instead of requiring any compromise between them.

The benefits of open source scientific research can both eliminate waste in bringing more resources to bear on solving problems and developing cures to diseases, while simultaneously making the benefits of those solutions more accessible for everyone. Open agriculture won't just lead to better, sustainable ways to grow food, but systems that allow more people to get out of poverty. And opening up educational resources - like the "dyslexie" font that Kristine O'Connor-delgado mentioned - can both improve the way we teach and learn as well as dramatically increase how many people receive an education.

I'm particularly excited to see where the projects we discussed go from here - please keep us all posted. Thank you for participating!

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  • Jan 18 2012: Quite difficult for me to choose one but I would like medicines and medicinal related activities to be open-source.

    Living a healthy life should not depend on a persons financial status.
    • Jan 18 2012: The only problem is that, it would remove the capital incentive behind further medical research. We need to find a better way to push for further research which required funds, while at the same time making it cheap enough to make generics for the world market.
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        Jan 18 2012: Why should medical research be privately funded or capital driven?
        Shouldn't tax-based contribution to the benefit of the society that allows giant corporations and individuals to become insanely wealthy be just par for the course? If medical research and care & prevention provisions were seen as vital a public service as the military or police force are (and I would argue that the health of the populace is MORE important than either), then the government (that is, the government of and by The People) should be in charge of providing it at equal investiture.

        AND that the corporations who become wealthy beyond imagining at the expense of The People should at the very least contribute to the care and protection of those same people.
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          Jan 18 2012: Great points Joshua and Warren - I think this cuts to the core of the dilemma we face when we consider the benefits and drawbacks of open source. We can certainly point to plenty of inventions (especially in the medical world) that have been fueled by a proprietary model of development, and it isn't easy to wish that system away when it :does: find ways to solve difficult problems. But perhaps we can consider ways that Open Source doesn't simply mean giving things away for free and getting rid of markets: maybe we can create systems of value that go beyond intellectual property. Maybe in the process of making things open source we can create even :more: value than is possible in closed systems.
        • Jan 19 2012: The problem with a purely government funding for the medical field is the international co-operation that would be required to keep it useful to people across the world. Many of the debates and struggles going on at the WTO meetings make me think that it's going to be a long way before this can be practical. All inventions and discoveries that can benefit mankind as a whole must be made the ownership of the UN and purchased from the inventor/patent holder. Anybody who is against it should be declared a non-citizen of this world and sent to live in the Sahara.

          On second thought, those selfish thugs would probably destroy the Sahara as well.
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          Jan 20 2012: Well Joshua, there you already point out yourself that the meetings and conferences of the WTO aren't quite successful, but on the other end you tell us that we should give more power to the United Nations. In my humble opinion it means that maybe we should try something else, instead of giving the organisations who fail at doing their jobs more power. I also don't feel great about giving a certain organisation the power over all the patents, all over the world. What I think we should do is decentralize the power over patents and discoveries, as we've already seen that centralizing the ownership over these (big corporations) hasn't exactly worked in the past for that matter.
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          Jan 20 2012: But if that makes me a selfish thug, than I'll move to the Sahara so you can bomb me with these:

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        Jan 18 2012: I agree with you. But I believe that capital incentive has no place in health care. It is a conflicting interest with the true goal of health care, which is health care. Many nations have figured this out already.
      • Jan 18 2012: As I understand it, all the expensive research and development for important medications is paid for by governments anyways. Industry only pays for the development of drugs with established markets so they can continue their patent monopoly, sometimes by pushing new drugs that are more dangerous than the generics. We're probably much better off without medical patents overall, some university researcher will still develop the medications, some company will still produce them, maybe you'll need more public funding for clinical trials, but that won't cost much, way less than the drug companies spend on advertising. See : http://falkvinge.net/2011/06/21/ten-myths-about-patents/
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        Jan 18 2012: There is a paradox in the 'capital incentive' behind health care which is that it is more profitable to fund research on treatments than it is to find cures. If the number of cases of cancer doubled in the USA, GDP would go up. Mo problems, mo money.
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          Jan 18 2012: What I find troubling in healthcare right now is that we're investing billions in treatments that are extremely high-tech and profitable, but that relatively few people need. It's beyond me to decide which diseases and conditions should get the highest priority, but what we keep forgetting is how many more lives could be saved if we put more money into basic care and treatments that already work, and are already in the public domain.
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          Jan 18 2012: This is a deeply infuriating fact of medicine, regardless where you are (I'm not American).

          1. Insurance model: if we fund prevention, then everyone will require it, whereas only a certain segment of the population will get sick and that costs less (not really, unless you deny reimbursement to a goodly chunk of those).

          2. Research - I run naturalhealthcare.ca. I cannot tell you how many times I hear the argument that there hasn't been research proving the health benefits of [x]. Let's pick pomegranates (because I just looked at another study on those). If it weren't for the California Pomegranate Growers, who the hell do you think would fund research into their benefits? Pfizer? Astra Zeneca?

          Then, of course, you have the issue of "is this research unbiased?" -- and good luck with that answer because we've developed a culture of suppressing results that don't say what we want them to say. (Had to look this up to refresh my memory: "fewer than half of a sample of trials primarily or partially funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) were published within 30 months of completing the clinical trial.")

          The entire system is screwed up.
        • Jan 19 2012: There is afterall a conspiracy theory that most ailments have been cured and that they medical industry is keeping them away only to ensure that their markets remain. I somehow believe it, to an extent.
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      Jan 18 2012: I mulled over making all research open source.

      Stop having competing teams with redundant efforts especially in the area of understanding disease.
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        Jan 18 2012: That's the interesting part to me about closed systems: they can be so inefficient when they create competing efforts that could get so much farther, so much faster if they encouraged more collaboration.
        • Jan 18 2012: I think in today's world the closed system seems to be inefficient and the open system seems to be efficient because of the ICT facilities we have. 50 years ago, it probably would be the other way round for big projects.
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          Jan 19 2012: Yes. The common interests we share, such as the finding of cures, or feeding the starving, or even governing ourselves, seem a natural fit for open collaboration.
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        Jan 18 2012: Redundant efforts are not /necessarily/ bad (within reason), since multiplicities of ideas, viewpoints, and experiences do actually improve the system - part of exactly why open sourceing is so important so that people working in similar veins can learn from each other and flow those experiences to each other faster and freer.
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          Jan 18 2012: Oh, I don't think that everything is redundant - definitely there are different approaches and different techniques.

          And I don't mean to imply that there shouldn't be checks and balances (for instance the study of a couple of weeks ago that found that the practice of assuming that benefits/detriments were scalable when looking at effects of a product on an organic being leads to inaccurate results in testing, casting an entire field under a light of suspicion).

          But when you have huge amounts of money (often from donations) being poured into a goal where there are high value patents at stake, leading to many, many research teams doing the same steps rather than building on the information that others are generating -- that is obscene to me.

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