Kaj Arnö

Open Source for Open Good

TBOP2017 ⋅ 20:22 ⋅ Filmed May 12, 2017

What do Immanuel Kant, Western Values and intellectual property have to do with open source technology? Find out in the surprising and provocative keynote.

Hailing from Finland, Kaj Arnö, Chief Evangelist of MariaDB Corporation discusses the triad of IT, business and freedom — and why open source is more a matter of philosophy than mere accessibility. MariaDB, he says, is the successor of MySQL and with funding from the European Investment Bank it will be open source.

Though of course technology has innumerable advantages, in some ways, it has created its own hassles and issues. Kaj talks about how when technology is not open source, we are limited and restricted at practically every turn. We become dependent on individual vendors, and the pace of innovation slows.

Discussing the ethics and morality of open source technology, Kaj makes his argument using a few examples of innovators and tech gurus who are by anyone’s definition successful — but who also haven’t compromised their values.

Further Reading


The Commonalities Between Finland & Canada

There are so many similarities between Canada and Finland. First thing, it's cold. That's a common denominator.

[00:10] We don't get the usual things that you would get in your neighbouring countries, so neighbours is the second common denominator we have. We have a very big neighbour to the east, yours is to the South, and ours is even scarier than yours.

[00:31] Another commonality is that we actually celebrate this year. So in Finland we celebrate 100 years of independence. You're 50% more when it comes to celebration but that's a very big common denominator.

[00:49] Something less known, actually, which I think Dups alluded to, is that we have several languages in both countries. Not everybody from Canada speaks English, some speak French. Not everybody from Finland speaks Finnish, some of us (including me) speak Swedish. And so does Linus Torvalds, the founder of the Linux operating system.

[01:13] More importantly, for this purpose and for the speech I have here, is a commonality in values. I think the countries are built on fairly similar values of Egalitarianism (and words hard to pronounce), of valuing people regardless of their background and wealth and stuff. And actually brings us to the value of Open Source.

[01:46] So ‘Open Source for Open Good’, that's the theme that I'm talking about and I'll take that a bit deeper. I will look at IT and Business and Freedom as a triad of things to try to combine and to serve with open source.

[02:09] When it comes to employers and working and some of my major focal point these days, it is a company called MariaDB. Dups mentioned our joint background in MySQL Database and the successor of MySQL is MariaDB. We just got funding from the European Investment Bank and those of you that know the website called El Reg, The Register, they alluded to a Monty Python film or song when announcing this recent investment, funding of open source. Finland, Finland, Finland, a place to build open DBs. So that's the background in Finland. Moving on!

Information Technology

[03:12] The place that I hail from, that I start from, is Finland. The spot in Finland that is dearest to my heart is in a place called Nagu. We have 1,500 inhabitants and we have 3,000 islands. So Kingston, yes. You talk about The 1,000 Islands, this is part of the Archipelago Sea and Nagu has 3,000 of them.

In this place, I put all my old IT stuff and all my old information. You can see my granddad's typewriter from the 1950s here in my home office. The starting part of this is, the perspective of technology on human life. Whether simplifies our lives, whether it actually solves our issues, or whether it creates more issues by itself. I think that the answer will be, a bit of both.

[04:17] I think there is progress. You can see here my own typewriter, not my granddad's, and it's from 1978 and it's an IBM one. It had a delete key. That's as high tech as it was because there was a white stripe that if you press the delete key it was actually so automated that you didn't have to use any — I don't know what these things are called in English — white paper that you put in front of the arms of the typewriter. You could use delete with it. So OK, that's the starting point and of course, we are fair anyway from that right now. All the areas, and this is the point, all the areas where we see progress, we see something catching up to us. Something eating up the progress.

[05:01] So the first area where there's lot of progress, is Memory. This, so called diskette had, I think, 300K on it. Roughly 5 and a 1/4 inch. So of course, any phone these days has a multiple of it. But file sizes have eaten it up. Sloppiness when it comes to discipline about zipping things and keeping things small have eaten up the progress in this area. Sadly, there's a pattern here.

[05:32] There are other areas as well. Yes, this is one of my first phones that actually could take pictures and they were lousy but again, the pixels that you get out of the resolution will represent a cost when it comes to processing them and showing them. So, you have cameras everywhere and that's fine. It's really great to remember flying here in Kingston and seeing these 1,000 islands. By the way, we have 3,000...and yet that will also impose a cost in the form of time. So we now spend our time looking through our phones and deleting the bad pictures and probably not even using these pictures because of the huge cost in time that they represent.

[06:29] This is the same kind of thing representing here now, Networking. The network speed is, of course, highly growing and we have an easier time because of network speed being high. But guess what? Things are not under our own control. If you look at the bit speed that is needed to transfer what is needed to transfer, it's not very much that you would need out of the network. But because the devices have a [mind] of their own and decide they want to update just after you landed in a country where you pay an exorbitant amount for roaming, it means that you can use stuff that you really wanted to use.

[07:18] And this automated background task, eats up also speed. I remember the first true micro-processor or desktop computer, PC, that I bought. It was in 1980. I booted in 0.2 seconds. Now, that's hard to beat these days. Of course, it just said, A...B...C....80 and there was a prompt and you could write the basic commands. You really couldn't do much after that but it's still booted in 0.2 seconds.

[07:53] GPS is a much better way to know where you are and it's really easy. I could help the taxi driver who drove me from Montreal to Kingston by entering the name of the hotel into a GPS. He had used a paper device like the one I have on the right hand side. Not of Finland though that would not have brought him [anywhere]. Given all these advantages of the GPS, they are also not all under our control. That is too bad because there would be so many things you could do if you had control over your past tracks. Where have you been with your car? Where have you gone paddling amongst The 1,000 Islands? Where have you been running? Skiing? With your boat and so on? These things are you under our control, they are under control of a couple of players who give us what they please and what is in their interest to give us. We have a lot of condescending apps.

New Hassles

[09:04] I think, then on top of this, all this new technology has created a new hassle for us. We have batteries that we have to charge, so many things.


[09:13] We have licenses, not all licenses are GPL. Not all licenses are open source, which are friendly licenses which give lots of values for the end user and give them the freedom hand over the software to others. The freedom to use it. The freedom to extend it, which is the core of open source. There are licenses that limit your use. And there are a number licenses that you have to agree to and read before you start using an application. Well, nobody reads them. Very few read them. That of course, again, gives power to somebody else [other] than the user.


[09:55] There are passwords for your own protection. This is just in your own interest, you need these passwords. Yes, right. Passwords are a big, big issue when is comes to usability and they are asked at the wrong moment in the wrong way.


[10:12] Upgrades. Yes, do you want to upgrade now or later? Sell, guess what I would not want to upgrade at all, I would want it to work from the beginning. That's what upgrades should be like and they should be as invisible as possible and not happen when I'm in a tight bandwidth or tight schedule. We have come to a point where it's easier to use pen and page because it doesn't require us to reboot things. When I bring my pen and paper, it doesn't ask me whether I also want to...and then something else.


[10:47] Data loss. Yup, the more reliant we are on technology, the easier it is to lose data.


[10:54] And last, and a really big one, privacy. So to get into this country and I had fill in quite a lot of information. I don't mind the likes of Justin Trudeau knowing those things but you never know when you get your own variety of a person managing this country that you wouldn't want this information in that person's hands. When it comes to privacy, people appeal to us and say, 'but you don't have anything to hide. You're not doing anything illegal, you're not doing anything improper. Of course you that's not an issue, we're being implied to think, but I'm not so sure. What about your future plans? Do you want them to be open to everybody? If you change a career do you want your current employer to know about your change of plans. Or if you move to a different place or there are changes in your relationship? Those are things I'd call 'private trade secrets'.

[12:26] Ongoing transactions? No, I have things to hide there and I'm not thinking anything of unethical, I'm just thinking that shouldn't reach everybody's ears immediately. The more we give information to technology, the easier we will be getting caught by these things.

Dependence on Individual Vendors

[12:27] What also falls on this is a dependence on individual vendors for price, for quality, for innovation. I think innovation happens when there is an underdog that is powerful. An underdog that is creative and knows how things should be done. We’ve seen that with a number of companies. There was a point where my country Finland was quite innovative in telephony and IT with Nokia. We've seen Apple go through such a phase. Once there is an established power relation, the innovation doesn't continue at the same pace. So we see here, during different decades in the past, there have been individual vendors that there have been dependence on and the balance of price, quality and innovation has suffered when the incumbents get too big.

Technology is Neutral

[13:35] Another topic of mine has nothing to do in principle with technology, but with society as a whole where technology serves society and politics. You would say that technology is neutral or for the good when it comes to human society progressing. Well, I'm not so sure that it is for the good. At most, technology is neutral. It can be put at the service of any kind of ethical values and I would like those ethical values to be based on how western society was built and not any random and particularly religious values that don't represent the good humanity as such.

[14:36] So my proposal when it comes to looking at technology, is return to the core western values. Here are two of my favorite guys, Immanuel Kant with a categorical imperative about 'do unto others as you would want them to do unto you' but phrased in a morel shall we say, abstract manner. Behave is such a way that the maxim guiding your behaviour could be uplifted to a general law. And then, Montesquieu by separating the different powers. I think technology cannot be oblivious, cannot be blind to what kind of society is serves.


[15:21] Today we see oversimplification. Here are two things that I somehow got during my youth. On the left we have a bust of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin that I bought as a prop the first time I visited the Soviet Union. To the right, I think you know who that guy is. We're sort of pretending to have to choose between one of these two and I think that is a blatant oversimplification. There are good things represented by each of those symbols and they both have been misused by gravely.

Combining Business & Freedom

[16:04] Using open source, I truly believe when using technology you can combine business and freedom. It is not an impossible equation but you have to be conscious of these things. You have to be conscious of the moral obligations as a technologist that you have.

[16:33] Rounding up on [the] ethical side, the dimension of open source in its wider sense. I have a couple of people that I think we should be very grateful towards that I've listed here. So the first ethics IT edition slide here on freedom is about intellectual property. We have Lawrence Lessing and Eben Moglen. The guy to the left is the father of how to apply copyright to situations where you do not want to limit but to enable the users of your intellectual property. The copyleft where creative commons is enabling the further use of your materials much in the way that humanity has used it all the time. The Grimm Brothers actually didn't write all their stories themselves, they collected what had been common knowledge, they packaged it and they made it consumable for a large group of people. Now, Disney took what the Grimm Brothers had done and didn't pay the Grimm Brothers (or those who are the inheritors of Grimm Brothers) anything. I think that’s just fine but the same should apply now. We should now have a situation where we can build upon those you came before us when it come to IP. Evan Bognell is the lawyer behind general public license, the most known open source license, a great mind when it comes to enforcing freedom of software.

[18:26] Looking specifically then at open source, the guy on the right, Linus Torvalds. A fellow Fin, is known to all of you, the creator of Linux, the operating system. The guy on the left, Rick Falkvinge might not be known to you, is very known in most of Europe, the creator of the first pirate party, which on their agenda have issues related from IP and freedom from copyright on the top. And they actually, in some European countries, specifically Iceland, have been very very successful.

[19:12] And then, the last slide here actually contains a picture of a very good friend of mine, [Michael Widenius] whom [I met] already when we went to school together, so that's the guy behind the MySQL database and nowadays behind the MariaDB database. The creator of a database which also provides the world with lots of freedom, and I think we can grow business based on that. You can see that from the track record of MySQL. That is sort of a commonality of these people, you can create something good for humanity but still lead a few good life yourself. You can have open source for open good. Thank you.

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