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Re: <nettime> VW
t byfield on Fri, 2 Oct 2015 18:37:06 +0200 (CEST)


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Re: <nettime> VW


Jaromil, I agree with much of what you say, so I'll try to find a focused place where a response might actually get somewhere.

On 2 Oct 2015, at 10:31, Jaromil wrote:

Relying on open-source metaphor-mantras ('Would you buy a car with the
hood welded shut?') to analyze peculiar dynamics of the car industry

this is NOT a peculiar dynamic of the car industry. This is how the current necrotizing capitalist regime of patents works in every sector of industrial production, thriving wherever no open source business model is embraced, let alone the free software ethic. There are different degrees of responsibility
 <...>

This 'curatorial' approach to quoting turned what I said into its opposite, the better to rail against. Here's what I actually wrote:

Jaromil, I think it's a bit premature to counter claims that this is 'just about Volkswagen,' because no one said anything like that. Obviously there are many ways in which this is symptomatic of broader structures. But Lehman Brothers and Fukushima were symptomatic as well, and would you really argue that 'there was nothing to be learned there' either? *And* hold hold up Android's OEMs cheating on benchmarks as a more illuminating example? I don't think so. Relying on open-source metaphor-mantras ('Would you buy a car with the hood welded shut?') to analyze peculiar dynamics of the car industry is like relying on Godwin's Law to understand neo-nazis. :^)

My point isn't that VW -- or Fukushima or Lehman Brothers (or Hackingteam or Greece) -- is sui generis, and that we should flit from one spectacle to another without connecting the dots. On the contrary, they're all *symptomatic* of structural problems; and they're also (not 'but...instead of') edge cases that we, and various publics, can learn from. Unless you're hoping for some apocalyptic total transformation from the 'necrotizing capitalist regime of patents works in every sector of industrial production' to a garden of open-source delights, progress will be happenstance and incremental. As you yourself point out:

wake up to these news: there is an actual dark market for software like the one VW used to counterfeit their autos http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/volkswagen-wasnt-the-only-company-rigging-emission-levels-says-expert-a6668611.html

If the VW fiasco (which, like 'Greece,' is far from over) ends up shedding more light on the complicity at the heart of environmental regulatory regimes, so much the better. But my first mail on the subject was aimed at pointing out the *many* ways in which the fiasco might unfold. If you think that waving aside the knock-on effects in every context except for IP fights is the best strategy, then do that. I don't think it is. And while I can't speak for Florian, I think he was pointing out different ways in which VW and the issues *as reported* (not as they 'are' according to a reductive and universalizing ideological conflict) are embedded in larger social and political orders -- which move at different speeds. VW's place in the particular postwar order of Saxony unfolds according to one logic, and the ways in which trade secrecy obfuscate systemic problems unfold according to another. Their coincidence -- when a break in the smooth functioning of trade secrecy invites us to think about political orders at different scales -- is akin to what Mako called 'revealing errors.' Thinking about them isn't opposed to what you're advocating.

 <...>
for software, sure, and there could be various degrees of attention on
different parts of software, as Florian mentions, sure, but then with open access at least we'd have infinite possibilities for researchers to choose their independent code analysis MA project, etc. etc. instead of isolated scandals popping up here and there. We need to switch to such a condition as tech is becoming more pervasive and entrenched with life-critical functions, there is no way out of this and I hope we can thrive in the open system picture that John gives us with a numerous enough population, rather than after a total
desaster.

Again, I agree with much of what you say, but it's also pretty much the same message that we hear when crypto advocates tell us to 'trust the math' and hobble along on antiquated proposals that everyone should review the source code themselves. I don't 'trust the math' because the math has to be implemented in concrete contexts -- and there are countless ways in which those implementations can introduce subtle biases and weaknesses. The power to do that, to analyze it, and to the review the source code, may be here but it's unevenly distributed. People with a disproportionate share of those power can wear whatever color hat they want -- black, white, gray, transparent, whatever. But as the Hackingteam fiasco you mention shows, the shared 'interests' of the people wearing those hats draws many of them together; and their more or less adversarial relations take the form of markets.

As you yourself argue, the VW fiasco just recaps that same logic. So let's say, by some unlikely chain of events again, that the 'hood that's welded shut' gets pried open and the software in every 'life-critical function' is open-sourced. What we'd be facing are endlessly ramified landscapes in which subtle biases would proliferate, some quickly, some slowly -- not so different from what we face now, just implemented in software.

Cheers,
T


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