[Discuss] network centeric warfare and open source development

Aaron Harper adhatarc at gmail.com
Fri Mar 28 18:38:01 UTC 2014

I have a sneaking suspicion that you are correct in your assessment of the
parallels between NCW and open source project management philosophies.  As
you might expect, the different philosophies of openness and sharing within
the open source community are related, but entirely separate in that their
differences are mutually exclusive.  That is, on cannot have centralized
control like Local Motors and have the agility that forking would provide
when it comes to meeting a shifting market's demands.  For example, if the
market demanded a redesign of the Local Motors Rally Fighter to be a
completely different critter, this design would have to come from Local
Motors, and thus the adaptation to the market would come at the speed at
which the organization can move and free up resources to commit to the
redesign.  Were it completely open and decentralized, the organization
could maintain loose oversight while the adaptation would come from those
who had "an itch to scratch" and these would effect the change at a 100%
commitment.  The adaptation would occur much faster at the cost of control.

That is not to say the philosophies cannot work together.  One of the most
successful efforts of the US government in open source happened in a
tightly controlled environment and was released into a fully open source
ecosystem.  I am talking about NSA Information Assurance research efforts
resulting in Security Enhanced Linux (SELinux), originally released in
2000, which is now part of the Linux kernel since version 2.6, committed at
some point in 2003.  The site which does a fairly poor job of covering the
development paradigm is at http://www.nsa.gov/research/selinux/  It is
worth the look, but you will have to read between the lines to see the way
the two interfaced.  The modern project page is at
http://selinuxproject.org/page/Main_Page and IBM does a pretty good job of
giving a 10,000 foot view here
https://www.ibm.com/developerworks/library/l-selinux/  For the purposes of
this discussion, it would be interesting to see how the dialogue evolved
between members of both development teams and how they solved the
inevitable culture clash... but I have not been able to find any such
information on short notice.

As far as the accumulation of wealth goes, there are two different models
which I will call altruism (even though it is not) and greed (ditto), and
these do not always track the centralized / decentralized control model.
 NSA did not develop SELinux as a moneymaker, but their culture demanded
absolute control of the development process while in house.  Local motors
controls aspects of their IP, making it more convenient to use them as a
resource.  This gives them control and the ability to bill for components
and labor, which was arguably at least part of their design goal.  A purely
open paradigm is developed altruistically to "scratch an itch", then
shared.  The monies made by the developer(s) is incidental and based upon
the experience and expertise they make available to others. I see the
relationship you mention with the accumulation of wealth litmus test, but
there are other factors afoot as well which may muddy the waters.  Looking
back to NCW, I would suspect that we'd never see a truly open model anyway,
so the distinction may be purely academic. :)

On Fri, Mar 28, 2014 at 11:07 AM, Matt Maier <blueback09 at gmail.com> wrote:

> I think I see an unexpected connection and I was wondering if it held up
> to scrutiny.
> Information Age Transformations, David S. Alberts
> http://www.dodccrp.org/files/Alberts_IAT.pdf
> Network-centric warfare, which is the high-falutin' paradigm the US
> military is using to organize its move into the information age, has four
> tenets:
>    - A robust networked force improves information sharing
>    - information sharing and collaboration enhances the quality of
>    information and shared situational awareness
>    - shared situational awareness enables self-synchronization
>    - these, in turn, dramatically increase mission effectiveness
> What I see is a strong conceptual parallel to the open source philosophy.
> If you think of a technical problem, or a particular capability, as "the
> enemy" and solving or achieving it as "fighting" then the domain-specific
> ideas in network-centric warfare suddenly describe open source development.
> The core idea is that if everyone knows what the goal is, and everyone has
> access to the same information, then conversations can flow peer-to-peer,
> which is far more efficient.
> It seems like the only important difference between these two theories are
> where they're coming from. Open source has emerged bottom-up, so it only
> grafts on a "head" when absolutely necessary. Network-centric warfare has
> emerged top-down, so the "head' isn't interested in actually giving up any
> significant power. The former wants to know how everyone at the edge
> (because there is no center) can benefit from knowing what each other
> knows. The latter wants to know how the center can benefit from having
> better tools to give to the people at the edge.
> NCW reminds me a bit of Quirky or Local Motors. They absolutely love
> talking about openness and collaboration, but they are actually strongly
> centrally controlled. However, they are also relatively successful.
> So, how much of the benefit of open source network effects is it possible
> to obtain without giving up the benefits of central control? A military,
> and arguably a (public?) business, can't even consider the possibility of
> "forking." They have to give up whatever benefits come with maximum freedom
> of association, but still want to capture whatever benefits are left over.
> The intersection could be studied by asking the corporate/military people
> how & why they introduced some aspects of openness into their organizations
> and by asking the libre-open crowd how & why they introduced some aspects
> of central authority into their collective.
> My guess at the moment is that it will hinge on whether or not there is an
> accumulation of wealth that doesn't rightfully belong to any one person. I
> suspect when that exists an artificial entity has to be created to be the
> "person" to which the wealth belongs. But that's mostly an intuitive guess.
> -Matt
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