Open Source Warfare

Some pretty crazy stuff comparing Open Source software and warfare appeared in The New York Times two days ago (I found out about it here, via Wired). It was written by John Robb, the operator of the Global Guerrillas blog (“Networked tribes, infrastructure disruption, and the emerging bazaar of violence. An open notebook on the first epochal war of the 21st Century”).

Robb has a blog entry from September 2004 showing the parallels between open source software development and guerrilla warfare. He bases *his* ideas on Eric S. Raymond (of nanotechnology fame)'s The Cathedral and the Bazaar. Still with me? Anyway, a Cathedral is a centralized powerhouse, like Microsoft or the U.S. Army. A Bazaar is a loose network of confederates with one common goal, like Linux or a guerrilla army. Some choice quotes from Robb's essay:


“Release early and often. Try new forms of attacks against different types of targets early and often. Don’t wait for a perfect plan.”

“Your co-developers (beta-testers) are your most valuable resource. The other guerrilla networks in the bazaar are your most valuable allies. They will innovate on your plans, swarm on weaknesses you identify, and protect you by creating system noise.”

“Swarms vs. single group activity. The bazaar offers the potential of many smaller attacks that can in aggregate have an impact equal to several large attacks. Many hands make light work.”

“Rapid innovation. The bazaar's demonstrated ability to provide rapid innovatation makes defense much extremely difficult.”

My thoughts: decentralization is increasingly being recognized as a superior way to utilize resources and achieve goals. Steven Johnson's Emergence is a great introduction to how this all works, but the short answer is that lots of little pieces working in tandem according to a few rules can often produce results far greater than the sum of the parts. A classic example is an ant farm, which is much more complex than the “ingredients” – ants. Another classic example is the brain, made up of relatively simple neurons working together.

That this extends to warfare (and software) should not be surprising. What is surprising is that so many people haven't figured this out yet.

–YY

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