I still want the personal computing future where we communicate with our own private, personal, physically localised digital assistant using languages and not apps. Or at least apps that we could compose just as easily as we compose symbols in equations or words in sentences.

It's 2021, and we tolerate a frankly *terrifying* level of both app-silo-ing and man-in-the-middle-ing of increasingly intimate and irreplaceable personal and business memory.

This path is not going to end well.


We freed the core protocols of networking and the source code of a large chunk of operating systems and applications over 20 years ago. Yet we failed to break free from the gravity of the app, and now we're back on a worst-of-1980s-cyberpunk-future freefall back into the event horizon of permanent neofeudal corporate systems lock-in.

Something went wrong in our calculations about what "freedom" is and how to get there.

We gotta break away somehow before it all collapses into Actual Fascism 2.0

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A dangerous thought is that maybe the freer our software systems become, the more open to abuse from powerful economic actors they become. Something similar seemed to happen to "free markets", after all. Maybe an irreversible ratchet of increasingly strict controls over valuable cybernetic systems (with freedom only for the parts of the machine that have no social agency) is the only outcome.

But I still refuse to believe this. I still believe there's hope for an alternative to the Cloud.

@natecull I think part of this comes down to whether you define 'free' as simply 'the lack of de jure restrictions' or more substantively.

A 'lack of jure restrictions' free market can tend pretty strongly toward inequality where most people don't have an /effective/ demand due to having so little money relative to the moneyed.

I think something similar might have happened in software. Where, even if we stick to copyleft, the GPL and LGPL, had very strict interface boundaries that enabled the current situation where there's a 'free' commons almost entirely comprising infrastructural components and the actual end-user interaction is proprietary walled gardens full of silos.

The AGPL is nice but not really sufficient. I don't really see a solution that doesn't involve regulatory oversight designed to bust open silos demand interoperability, transparency, portability, and similar.

@Azure @natecull Had more open source software been done with AGPL(v3), I think that would definitely have reduced significantly the exploitation of the commons by corporations.

Might the main reason why (A)GPL isn't used much at all be that very many open source software creators still want to get rich fast, i.e. create a startup which grows into a silo, and there MIT is so much nicer?

Honestly, computer nerds have a lot of blame here. You seem to expect the general public to program their own shit in your ideal world, which is the failure mode of computer idealists. The average person hates the idea of spending that much time sitting in front of a computer doing unpleasant work. They'll do it for money, but they'll sell their souls to the megacorps to be free from having to do it at all.

A lot of the current dystopia was built in that gap between the idealism of the nerds and the actual wants of the average person. Y'all made powerful tools that require immense sacrifice to use when you don't enjoy the process for it's own sake. And the predators played the arbitrage game. Instead of years of unpleasant study and work in computer science, just sign away your data.


"You seem to expect the general public to program their own shit in your ideal world, which is the failure mode of computer idealists."

This is very true, yes. Us computer nerds always underestimate just how much complexity and pain any kind of computer stuff is, even our own tooling. And I particularly have this illusion. There's a lot to be said for a plug-and-play let-someone-else-worry-about it solution.

But I still keep hoping for a better interface than a black box.


Or at least I keep feeling that the current choice of sealed software black boxes never really "gets" what I want to do, or even gives me a language to talk about what I want to other humans, so I'm motivated by that constant pain.

I certainly don't want to have to cut raw C++ / Objective-C / Java / Kotlin code just to get a quickie visual interface to come up on a smartphone though. But some language a bit closer to the problem domain would be nice.

You're using one right now.

To me, the decentralised nature of the fediverse, the use of open standards resulting in the ability to start your own instance with almost no barriers to entry is a good as it gets.
Does something comparable exist for cloud computing?

@natecull as long as they don't fill the air with broad-spectrum interference it will always be possible to maintain a free global communication network.

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