Open source wants to eat the Internet

With the help of Derek Robertson

The revolution will not be copyrighted.

Everyone from billionaire tycoons to anonymous programmers working in the digital equivalent of their parents’ garage are betting on a future where most of the computer code that runs the world is free and open-source.

Open source software is nothing new. But with coding know-how and tools for collaborative software development more abundant than ever before, more code is being distributed for free, for a mix of altruistic and strategic reasons. The trend is shaping recent developments in fields such as artificial intelligence, social media and private communications.

However, an online landscape increasingly running on open source code presents its own set of regulatory challenges. Open source tools have the potential to evolve faster than code hosted in private companies because anyone is free to take the code and develop it. The added layer of transparency allows users to ensure that a piece of software does not contain secret encryption backdoors that are sometimes used for government surveillance. And open source code is also harder to ban since new instances can appear if regulators try to shut down a website or tool that uses it.

Combined with other decentralization features, these open source projects have the potential to disrupt not only the business model of Silicon Valley, but also the governance models of Washington and Brussels.

In some cases, open source code could achieve regulators’ goals for them, such as disrupting software monopolies by offering free alternatives. In other cases, open source tools are making it more difficult for law enforcement to monitor private communications and could hinder efforts to limit the uses of artificial intelligence.

THE this last question reared its head earlier this month when a memo was leaked by Google reportedly complained the success of open source large language models in keeping pace with the privately owned AIs of technology companies.

Open source and decentralized social networks are also catching on following censorship controversy on Twitter and the chaotic takeover of Elon Musks last fall as alternatives to those owned by the tech giants.

On Thursday, MeWe, a social network with 20 million users, announced it was starting to provide new users with a universal handle as part of its migration to a Web3 setup that uses Frequency, a blockchain, and DSNP, an open source protocol for social networks. According to MeWe, the universal handle is used to create people’s social identity and give them control over their data.

Both Frequency and DSNP are products of real estate developer Frank McCourt, former owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

McCourt says his open-source protocol, developed by his nonprofit Project Liberty, is more compatible with American values ​​than the social media giants’ existing business models, because it gives individual users more control over their data and identity. online. Amplica Labs, a part of the McCourt family business, McCourt Global, helped develop Frequency and DSNP.

You can’t have democracy with autocratic technology, he told DFD at a meeting last week.

Other decentralized and open source social media projects have seen user growth in recent months in the wake of Twitter controversy and discontent with other social media giants.

They include NOSTR, an open source protocol created by a pseudonymous developer, favored by Jack Dorsey and popular with Bitcoiners, as well as Mastodon, popular with academics and journalists.

Following its launch for Android users last month, BlueSky’s invite-only beta has caused a stir online as celebrities test the platform. The decentralized social media project was started by Dorsey while still on Twitter.

These alternatives remain tiny, but the success in recent years of disruptive open source projects like Bitcoin, Ethereum, and the popular encrypted messaging app Signal have inspired big ambitions.

While Google famously adopted an unofficial motto of Don’t Be Evil, moguls today are incorporating open source ideas into more elaborate philosophical statements, like Dorseys Web5 concept.

In December, cryptocurrency exchange Bitfinex, a subsidiary of stablecoin issuer Tether, released its Freedom Manifestowhich promotes the development of distributed open source software to further the libertarian ideas of Austrian School economists and cypherpunks, the philosophical forerunners of Bitcoin.

To that end, Tether and Bitfinex funded the development of HolePunch, an encrypted peer-to-peer communications platform that made its code open source in December.

This technology is actually the Bitcoin of communications, Paolo Aordino, chief technology officer of Bitfinex and Tether based in Lugano, Switzerland, told DFD.

Open-source code can make software tools freely available and open to auditbut it’s not a silver bullet to improve the internet.

Open source allows for a modicum of transparency, Meredith Whittaker, president of the Signal Foundation, which oversees the messaging app, told DFD. This can be good. It’s not an end in itself.

Whittaker said there are limits to the transformative potential of freely available code, such as the need for servers to host the code/infrastructure and the fact that the tech ecosystem is dominated by massive private companies.

It’s really important not to confuse open source with outside the tech industry, Whittaker said.

Indeed, while open source projects tend to employ lofty rhetoric, their designers often seek to build for-profit companies on top of them. While this fact deals a blow to dreamers, it can also offer an entry point for regulators concerned about how they will manage an open source world.

A new competitor has entered the current race between open-source and closed AI models.

BLOOMChat, a tool similar to ChatGPT from AI company SambaNova, which launched late last week with some impressive features, namely a relatively sophisticated multilingual chat trained on 176 billion parameters. SambaNova’s announcement claims that BLOOMChat was preferred 66% of the time over traditional open source chat LLMs in 6 languages ​​in a study of human preferences, and even performs competitively with OpenAI’s GPT-4.

This particular tool might not be the one to topple ChatGPT from its throne. But his power under the hood and apparent ability to compete with the most popular technology in a blind test reflect how quickly the Davids of the AI ​​world are leveraging technological advances to catch up with the Goliaths. Derek Robertson

After the flurry of AI stocks on the hill over the last few weeks, a top Silicon Valley lawmaker used today’s Morning Tech newsletter to get a broad view of the regulatory landscape surrounding artificial intelligence.

Speaking with POLITICO’s Brendan Bordelon, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) covered everything from compensation for content creators whose labor is used to train AI, to the second-order question of where to start even when it comes to regulating AI: This moves like a freight train, Lofgren said. How we proceed effectively is not yet known to us. And I don’t think it’s known to technologists either. Altman can’t make it up.

Meanwhile, he’s apparently doing his best to use his role in Washington to coordinate behind the scenes between AI and the music industry. Lofgren described to Brendan his efforts to convene the OpenAI Sam Altman and architects 2018 Music Modernization Actwho rewrote copyright law for the streaming age, to see if regulators and industry can collaborate more proactively in the streaming age Music generated by artificial intelligence of what they did in that. Derek Robertson