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Lessons from Software for Synthetic Biology

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In my November 4, 2015 keynote at the SynBioBeta conference, I talk about lessons from open source software and the internet that should shape our thinking about the bio revolution. Licenses are only part of the open source story. The architecture of interoperability may matter even more.

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Lessons from Software for Synthetic Biology

  1. The Architecture of Participation: Lessons from software for the biohacking community Tim O’Reilly SynbioBeta November 3, 2015
  2. @timoreilly #SynBioBeta@timoreilly #SynBioBeta “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme.” Mark Twain 2
  3. @timoreilly #SynBioBeta@timoreilly #SynBioBeta It Begins With Generosity 3 John von Neumann Don Estridge Tim Berners-Lee
  4. @timoreilly #SynBioBeta@timoreilly #SynBioBeta The Same Is True in Bio 4 Jim KentCraig Venter Drew EndyTom Knight
  5. @timoreilly #SynBioBeta@timoreilly #SynBioBeta A lot of people think freedom is a matter of license 5
  6. @timoreilly #SynBioBeta@timoreilly #SynBioBeta Despite having a proprietary license, and being owned by one company, Unix was developed collaboratively by small teams of independent developers. 6
  7. @timoreilly #SynBioBeta@timoreilly #SynBioBeta What do these things have in common? Unix/Linux The internet The world wide web Wikipedia 7
  8. @timoreilly #SynBioBeta@timoreilly #SynBioBeta Small Pieces Loosely Joined Enabled by: • Common, well-understood data formats • A communications protocol • A variety of tools for accessing and representing the data 8
  9. @timoreilly #SynBioBeta@timoreilly #SynBioBeta I think it has more to do with architecture “The book is perhaps most valuable for its exposition of the Unix philosophy of small cooperating tools with standardized inputs and outputs, a philosophy that also shaped the end-to-end philosophy of the Internet. It is this philosophy, and the architecture based on it, that has allowed open source projects to be assembled into larger systems such as Linux, without explicit coordination between developers.” 9
  10. @timoreilly #SynBioBeta@timoreilly #SynBioBeta “I couldn’t have built a new kernel for Windows even if I had access to the source code. The architecture just didn’t support it.” 10 Linus Torvalds
  11. @timoreilly #SynBioBeta@timoreilly #SynBioBeta The Robustness Principle “Be conservative in what you send, be liberal in what you accept from others.” RFC 761 Jon Postel
  12. @timoreilly #SynBioBeta@timoreilly #SynBioBeta But that began to change Google didn’t change the architecture of the web, but it did change the architecture of how it was controlled. 12
  13. @timoreilly #SynBioBeta@timoreilly #SynBioBeta What I learned from Nutch: Even if you have the source code for a Google-like search engine, you don’t have Google. The game had changed! 13
  14. @timoreilly #SynBioBeta@timoreilly #SynBioBeta Don Estridge “Freed” the PC 14 Don Estridge
  15. @timoreilly #SynBioBeta@timoreilly #SynBioBeta What happened? In a world of commodity hardware, control over software APIs gave proprietary advantage. The hacker became the despot. 15 Bill Gates
  16. (Control by API) Desktop Application Stack Proprietary Software Hardware Lock In By a Single-Source Supplier System Assembled from Standardized Commodity Components
  17. Free and Open Source Software Cheap Commodity PCs Intel Inside
  18. Proprietary Software As a Service Subsystem-Level Lock In Integration of Commodity Components Internet Application Stack Apache
  19. "The Law of Conservation of Attractive Profits" "When attractive profits disappear at one stage in the value chain because a product becomes modular and commoditized, the opportunity to earn attractive profits with proprietary products will usually emerge at an adjacent stage." -- Clayton Christensen Author of The Innovator's Solution In Harvard Business Review, February 2004
  20. @timoreilly #SynBioBeta@timoreilly #SynBioBeta More open licenses are necessary, but they are rarely sufficient. We must fight restrictive licenses and other forms of IP, but replacing them with open licenses isn’t the answer. 22
  21. @timoreilly #SynBioBeta@timoreilly #SynBioBeta 24
  22. @timoreilly #SynBioBeta@timoreilly #SynBioBeta “Everyone applauds when Google goes after Microsoft’s Office monopoly, seeing it simply as “turnabout’s fair play,” (and a distant underdog to boot), but when they start to go after web non-profits like Wikipedia, you see where the ineluctable logic leads. As Google’s growth slows, as inevitably it will, it will need to consume more and more of the web ecosystem, trading against its former suppliers, rather than distributing attention to them. We already take for granted that common searches, such as for weather or stock prices, are satisfied directly on the search screen. Where does that process stop? “Ultimately, I think we see this pattern in the economic development of every innovation. When a new technology is introduced, there’s a lot of green-field opportunity, and so much value is being created that there’s no need to capture it all. But as the technology matures, the winners need to capture more of the total value being created. They gradually crowd out suppliers as well as competitors.” 25
  23. @timoreilly #SynBioBeta@timoreilly #SynBioBeta Losing the way of life, men rely on goodness; Losing goodness, they rely on laws. - Lao Tzu 26
  24. @timoreilly #SynBioBeta@timoreilly #SynBioBeta The way of life = The architecture of the system Goodness = “Don’t be evil” Laws = “We need a free gene license” 27
  25. @timoreilly #SynBioBeta@timoreilly #SynBioBeta Small Pieces Loosely Joined Enabled by: • Common, well-understood data formats • A communications protocol • A variety of tools for accessing and representing the data 29
  26. @timoreilly #SynBioBeta@timoreilly #SynBioBeta Who sets the gauge rules the world Sixty per cent of the world's railways use 4 ft 8 1⁄2 inch standard gauge, developed by George Stephenson in 1822. 30 http://www.warwickshirerailways.com/lms/lnwrns305.htm
  27. @timoreilly #SynBioBeta You standardize railroads by building tracks “The strategy is delivery!” 31 @timoreilly #SynBioBeta UK GDS Director Mike Bracken

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