Copyleft of Things
By Peter Hoddie

The Internet of Things is broken. IoT devices have a digital brain and communications. That’s great potential. But, we can’t trust them in our homes. Regulation can’t fix that. Copyleft can. Endowing IoT devices with Copyleft software brings trust and the freedom to change devices to meet individual needs, as Makers have shown. This talk sketches a future IoT powered by Copyleft.

Monday 10:30 a.m.–11 a.m.

The Internet of Things is broken.

Today, installing an IoT product in your home is an act of faith. That goes much deeper than optimism the product will deliver on the promises in its marketing materials. It goes beyond expecting timely security patches and ongoing feature enhancements. You must believe the manufacturer will respect your privacy. You must trust that they won't permanently disable the product you bought when they go out of business. You have to hope they won't sue when you try to repair the product.

Despite its failings, the Internet of Things holds great potential to improve the lives of individuals and their communities. As more devices in our daily lives are endowed with a digital brain and the ability to communicate, they become better able to provide more useful behaviors to more diverse users. Unfortunately, today it is almost always the manufacturer that decides the behaviors of the product and which groups of users to put first.

Copyleft can bring a much needed course correction to the Internet of Things.

What will change when an Internet of Things product is power by Copyleft software? The Maker Community has shown that when individuals take control of a product's software, they make the product do what they want and need in ways the manufacturer never imagined.

In very direct ways, Copyleft addresses many weakness of IoT. Don’t trust the cloud service of the manufacturer to maintain safeguard your information? Change to another cloud service. Or disable cloud connectivity entirely. Not sure what information the software might collecting? Check the code. Worried that the product will be orphaned? With Copyleft, anyone can build and maintain the software. Want to fix a bug in the software, add a feature, patch a security flaw, or disable an unwanted feature? Go for it. No lawyer required.

Still, one challenge with Copyleft has traditionally been the high technical hurdles. Copyleft gives the potential to change software, but the means to do so remain out of reach for many individuals with great ideas and real needs. Here Copyleft has a solution too. Enhancing Internet of Things products with a scripting language (under a Copyleft license, of course!) makes changing the behavior of a lightbulb, thermostat, or washing machine no more difficult than creating a web page. This brings the freedoms guaranteed by Copyleft within reach of orders of magnitude more people.

This talk considers a future where the Internet of Things is powered by Copyleft software. It shows how that benefits the users of those products as well as the creators of those products. It highlights software work being done to help make this future a reality.

Peter Hoddie

Peter Hoddie is an engineer and entrepreneur focused on client software. He is recognized for crafting compact and efficient code that pushes the boundaries of user experience on consumer hardware. The software he and his teams have built has powered mass-market consumer products from companies including Apple, Palm, Sling, HP, and Sony. Peter recognizes that the first users of any product are the developers creating it, and that those developers cannot build compelling consumer products on a foundation that’s unstable, complex, or confusing. He therefore champions investments in great tools and a simple runtime architecture.

Peter has founded several companies, including Kinoma, which merged into Marvell Semiconductor. He led QuickTime development at Apple during the 1990s as a Distinguished Engineer. He contributed to the development of the QuickTime file format and its adoption by ISO into the MPEG-4 standard. He is currently a member of the JavaScript language standards committee (ECMA TC39) and chair of ECMA TC53 for "ECMAScript Modules for Embedded Systems". Peter is particularly proud of his work putting both the KinomaJS framework and Darwin Streaming Server into open source. He continues to come to terms with the 10 patents that bear his name.


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