Look up permission in the dictionary and you’ll find that it comes from the Latin word ‘permissio’. It means granting someone the liberty to do something. In other words, someone has agreed that you can act as you wish. That might be a boss, a leader, a ruler — whatever. But how is permission relevant when it comes to the Internet?
The Web today is very different
The early days of the Internet were permissionless. When Tim Berners-Lee began building the World Wide Web, he didn’t ask permission. He just did it. And the doors of the Internet remained wide open — unless you chose to hide behind the walled gardens of AOL or Compuserve. By simply writing the code that would make your ideas tangible, there were no limits to innovation. Anyone, anywhere around the world, could throw up a website based simply on an idea.
But today, it’s far from straightforward. As the years passed, many avoided the hard work of learning to code by simply signing up for ‘free’ services created by others. For example, Gmail was launched over 15 years ago. But is the world now changing?
How many people would have moved to Gmail if they’d been fully aware that in doing so they permitting a large company to access their emails to improve their commercial advertising model?
Coding brings superpowers….and responsibilities
Software is a superpower. The advent of coding brought very different characteristics to the standard products that came before the computer age. Code scales immensely quickly and for very little cost. That brings with it implications. First, it’s essential that the more foundational the software is to others, the more important it is that such code is ‘locked open’ and freely accessible. Partly to allow simpler maintenance and auditing. But also to minimise the inequalities that are inevitable if a small group of individuals gain control of the floor upon which everyone else builds.
And second, people need freedom to build on top of base levels because the world is a vast and diverse place. The belief that technology that will service every niche of global society can be designed and implemented by one particular company, social class or even geographic background who all share a specific world view is not only arrogant, but dangerous.
Society advances by experimentation
Freedom is a broad concept. It means many things to different people. But one thing that’s very clear (albeit slightly counterintuitive) is because with freedom, people make mistakes. Building a world in which people are scared to fail is dangerous — because successful innovation is as much about the many failed attempts as the few that are successful. Society advances by experimentation. So whilst the permissionless landscape may appear at times to be wild and chaotic, with many failures, the general direction of travel is clear: defend the freedom to innovate, the likely range of beneficial outcomes grows significantly.
Yet where are we today?
Over the past decade or so, we’ve all watched the companies that own the ramps that lead on and off networks accrue unheard-of wealth and power. And with the growth in importance of such platforms, these gatekeepers set the rules for everyone else. Rules that are often governed by commercial targets that conflict with most people’s visions of a fair and peaceful society. When dealing with vast quantities of users’ personal data in the digital world, you can pretty much guarantee that such rules will translate — at the very least — to an attack on your privacy.
We don’t think that this can ever be the way forward.
Permissionless innovation and software development is crucial
At MaidSafe, we’re building a permissionless network. So what does that mean?
We believe developers should be able to pick up their tools and build, and content developers should be able to publish their work, without asking permission of network gatekeepers.
We believe that the best innovation comes from allowing anyone to contribute.
And we don’t believe in the opportunities for progress being restricted only to a credentialled minority of the global population. Anyone should have the potential to build upon the discoveries of those who came before them in the pursuit of knowledge that may benefit others in the world.
So let’s remove the barriers. Let’s build networks that are open, as far as possible. Give people around the world the opportunity to build, to innovate — and yes, to fail — but also, crucially, to succeed. The principles of open source software are the building blocks for permissionless innovation. The SAFE Network is a permissionless infrastructure that lets anyone who believes in Privacy, Security and Freedom create a future in which these individual rights can no longer be ignored.
With SAFE, there are no gatekeepers. No permission that needs to be asked for — and none required. Because we believe that only by taking this approach do we as a society have a real chance of solving the many problems that we face. Together.
Open up the doors and you’ll be amazed where the answers come from.