A new way of thinking, called “radical openness,” is making waves in the tech industry and sparking debate over the concept of using digital sharing tools to collectively brainstorm and solve problems.
At a time when there is increasing advocacy for protecting data and ensuring privacy, this movement seeks to upend those tendencies and promises by giving more away, we will ultimately get more in return. Still, many wonder if radical openness is something that works better in theory than practice.
What Is It?
Radical openness is a mindset that views imaginative problem solving in collaboration with others through the borderless Internet as a way to advance human evolution. Conversely, the philosophy suggests hoarding ideas and data for short-term gain jeopardizes our future as a planet.
The theory, publicized at the TEDGlobal 2012 conference last week, asserts the exponential growth of mobile and online technology requires people collaborate as much as possible, according to TED’s European director Bruno Giussani.
“It’s clear to everybody that not only are we living in a globalized world but also a complexifying world. It’s one in which traditional boundaries are breaking down, one after the other,” he said. Guissani went on to say that one response to these previously inconceivable opportunities the Internet presents is to recoil, regroup and limit the interaction because it is perceived as being dangerous.
“You have protectionism, and borders and tariffs and national preference,” Guissani says, but recommends taking a path that is “open and facilitate additional changes.”
What Does It Look Like?
The TED conferences themselves have successfully embraced radical openness since 2009 and since then, the thriving company’s worldwide popularity suggests this is a viable business model, despite critics’ misgivings.
“We started by giving away our content,” Giussani recalled. “But for the last three years, we’ve been giving away our brand, our methods and our formats.”
At a time when the company could have moved toward safeguarding their knowledge and information, it instead decided to open up the process, believing the more the company involve other people with the right framework in place, the bigger the return. It has worked: since embracing radical openness, TED has gone from two conferences to 4,500.
TED’s initiative and track record may eventually encourage other companies and governments to follow suit and some are already implementing some of the principles.
Many technology companies like Facebook and Google already use and share open-source code, which allows software developers to easily create apps and programs for search and social platforms.Under pressure from the open-source community, Microsoft recently opened its Kinect system to engineers so they can use it to create medical, gaming and scientific breakthroughs.
And collaborative mobile apps like Open Garden are striving to strengthen Wi-Fi signals by helping people share their connections instead of hoarding them.
The success of these corporate attempts at radical openness is influencing some government agencies, too. Earlier this month, the Health Data Initiative, a public-private collaboration funded by the Institute of Medicine and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, hosted its third annual Datapalooza to showcase the latest mHealth innovations forged with open health data.
At the yearly Health Datapalooza, the entrepreneurs discuss their best products and services. The innovators team up and compete on the stage, presenting mHealth innovations mined from the Health Data Initiative’s public release of data sets.
And, nearly three decades ago, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration decided to release its data to the public, and the move resulted in a flurry of innovations, like mobile apps, websites and forecasting research tools, which transformed weather into a booming industry.
Such developments promote widespread innovation by helping even those without expensive licenses or equipment to share their inventions and ideas with the world.
What Are Some Potential Problems?
Despite these success stories, not everyone is excited about promoting the unfettered exchange of information.
Authoritarian governments like Saudi Arabia, Syria and Thailand are working to restrict rather than simplify Internet and mobile access. For example, Thailand’s lese majeste law jails citizens who use the Internet to insult the royal family, while Syria and Saudi Arabia go even further in punishing political dissenters and atheists who speak their minds online.
In the U.S., the government is taking steps to analyze private social media data for crime prevention purposes, a measure that may restrict free speech online. For example, Officials are monitoring Twitter for signs of trouble as well as exercising their right to demand IP addresses from Google and other Internet companies, which may discourage people from exchanging potentially revolutionary thoughts in the digital sphere.
How Far is Too Far?
And employers and educational institutions are beginning to demand Facebook passwords from applicants, abusing the concept of radical sharing for their own gain, underscoring how the movement faces the challenge of establishing boundaries.
Despite these difficulties, however, TED presenter Jason Sliva believes radical openness will eventually push humans to do great things.
“In the world of ideas, (including the Internet and cities), we need to foster an environment of radical openness where ideas can flow freely, mutate, evolve, etc., as a way of instigating idea evolution,” he explained.
“Some thinkers have referred to ideas as ‘the new replicators’, born from the primordial soup of human culture.” In this school of thought, Sliva explains, “even though ideas are not made of DNA specifically, they still evolve, mutate, have sex with other ideas and have achieved more change in the world (and at an exponentially faster rate) than genes in many ways.”
In other words, Sliva says, humans must embrace radical openness to evolve. And since our DNA drives us to preserve ourselves and our species, it may be inevitable that worldwide collaboration drives future technological and communication development.