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Open Source Science

Interviews: Ask a Question To Christine Peterson, the Nanotech Expert Who Coined the Term 'Open Source' 246

Christine Peterson is a long-time futurist who co-founded the nanotech advocacy group the Foresight Institute in 1986. One of her favorite tasks has been contacting the winners of the institute's annual Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology, but she also coined the term "Open Source software" for that famous promotion strategy meeting in 1998. Now Christine's agreed to answer questions from Slashdot readers. We'll pick the very best questions and forward them along for answers.

Interestingly, Christine was also on the Editorial Advisory Board of NASA's Nanotech Briefs, and on the state of California's nanotechnology task force. Her tech talks at conferences include "Life Extension for Geeks" at Gnomedex and "Preparing for Bizarreness: Open Source Physical Security" at the 2007 Singularity Summit. Another talk argues that the nanotech revolution will be like the information revolution, except that "Instead of with bits, we should do it with atoms," allowing molecule-sized machines that can kill cancer and repair DNA. Her most recent publication is "Cyber, Nano, and AGI RIsks: Decentralized Approaches to Reducing Risks." Christine graduated from MIT with a bachelors in chemistry.

So leave your best questions in the comments. (Ask as many questions as you'd like, but please, one per comment.) We'll pick the very best questions and forward them along for answers.
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Interviews: Ask a Question To Christine Peterson, the Nanotech Expert Who Coined the Term 'Open Source'

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  • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <mojo@world3.nBLUEet minus berry> on Monday April 02, 2018 @06:57AM (#56365629) Homepage Journal

    How can we more open source medical software? Given that medical devices are so heavily regulated it seems like it will be hard to get, say, an open source pacemaker system that users can hack, or at least audit.

    Radio software seems to be in a similar state - cellular modems, wifi chipsets etc. are all heavily regulated and closed source, with signed code required for updates.

    • Cut back the max term lengths to something sane like 5 years.

    • We just need an organization with money to backup the product from all the lawsuits that will go against it.
      Most medical software is closed source, because they need to collect every cent to keep the organization strong enough, to survive, a mountain of legal battles.

      A person is very sick and they die. Their family sues the doctor for not spotting the problems, the doctor sues the medical device software for not showing them the problem (or having an error that day). The software company pays the doctor, t

  • I heard a myth a few decades ago, that top-secret work in most fields is at least 50 years ahead of the current published state of the art. I can't begin to imagine what that would look like here.

    What would that look like here? What sorts of things do you think are solidly plausible within the next 50 years of work in the field of nano-technology, and how would we detect them "in the field" today, if we were to look for them? How and where might we start to look for them, if we wanted to be likely to fin

    • Some of your questions are good, but it's very unlikely that they would get asked because you didn't adhere to the "one per comment" rule. You might want to pick the ones you're most interested in and post them separately.

    • Re:50 years ahead (Score:5, Insightful)

      by 110010001000 ( 697113 ) on Monday April 02, 2018 @09:22AM (#56366003) Homepage Journal
      There is no "top secret" work that is 50 years ahead. If there were, those people would quit and make billions in industry. You live in a fantasy world.
      • The concept is not that someone is 50 years ahead of their peers in science. The concept is that science is 50 years ahead of industry. That's actually pretty true, and this is a pretty common discussion in science.

        Generally, you lose money when bringing cutting edge research to industry. I wish it were as easy as you make it seem.

        I am an industrial scientist specialized in nanotechnology. I've seen the good and bad of how this works. If you have a single scientist working for a year to produce a groundbr

    • Not really. In a lot of cases the public sector moves much faster. There's more money and people working on it. This wouldn't necessarily be the case in a place like the Soviet Union though. But there are cases where technology even regresses, like supersonic transport, or super-heavy space lift, so it's perfectly possible some "secret tech" is 50 years ahead or whatever.

  • No need to ask any questions, the answers will be worthless anyways.

  • Recently big gains have been made in physical security. Many phones are encrypted by default and relatively difficult for unauthorized persons to unlock. Encrypted storage is increasingly common for computers too, although open source support for technologies like OPALv2 seems to be lagging behind closed source systems. In 2017 AMD introduced encrypted RAM.

    All of these rely on special hardware to protect encryption keys and perform encryption functions at speeds fast enough to avoid any significant performa

  • Tell us about your experience transitioning from male to female. When did you decide to transition?
  • How concerned should we be about nanotechnology equivalents of the software threats we see today?

    I would hate to have my circulatory system held hostage for bitcoin.

    • Not concerned at all. Nanotechnology is the 1980s equivalent of what "AI" is today. It isn't anything at all, just hype and very limited use cases.
  • by grub ( 11606 ) <slashdot@grub.net> on Monday April 02, 2018 @10:04AM (#56366221) Homepage Journal

    What do you think Tyrell Corporation should do with its current batch of Nexus 6 replicants? Obviously the 4 year life span has its own problems and wasn't the cure-all Dr. Tyrell expected.

    With enough eyeballs going over their source code, could open sourcing their programming find the cause of their tendency to rebel?
  • Is physical security a political problem?
    At the tail end of it, there are countries acquiring anti-aircraft missile batteries, ballistic missiles or both, to guarantee their physical security. Or hypersonic anti-ship missiles or warheads. Should NATO be disbanded, and should more countries become able to sink aircraft carriers and warships full of Tomahawk missiles at will?

    Should we see "national intranets" as a good thing and try to build them?
    Getting closer to the subject of possible "nanobot" attacks, or

  • by lhowaf ( 3348065 ) on Monday April 02, 2018 @10:44AM (#56366533)
    Nano-materials, in general, seem to be becoming a significant source of hard-to-cleanup pollution. Do you see nano-tech heading in the same direction?
  • by Jim Hall ( 2985 ) on Monday April 02, 2018 @11:47AM (#56366933) Homepage

    In my view, Stallman created Free software as an ethical point. He didn't like that companies were selling software without source code. (To be clear, Stallman doesn't mind selling software, because the GPL allows that. Stallman doesn't like software without source code.)

    And the term open source software was invented to communicate a way of working together on something. Out of the chaos of the bazaar comes something good.

    Do you agree with that?

    • by Jim Hall ( 2985 )

      Also:

      Some people prefer one term over the other. I'm curious: all these years later, do you still prefer the term open source software or are you more aligned to Free software?

    • It isn't just ethical, it is practical as well. Without the source code, how do you know what the software is doing? How can you modify it to do what YOU want? We have created an industry that spies on its users because no one knows what is going on.
  • As someone who worked closely with Eric Raymond (and had interactions with Jon "maddog" Hall), what were they like in 1998? I'm curious what the whole "mood" of the development community was like in 1998 at that historic meeting. Maybe you could also talk about how things changed -- what they were like before the Open Source movement revved into high gear, and what they were like after.

    And how does it all compare to when you first joined the tech scene in the 1980s?
  • Integrated circuits, solar panels, and GMOs are some pretty big results in nanotech these days. What are some future benefits we can look forward to that help justify further research to non-techies?
  • The ultimate dream in nanotechnology is a molecular assembler (atomic 3D printer) on every desktop, with a widespread community of hardware designers/developers analogous to open source software today. You'll be able to, say, download files to build a new car from GitHub. Hackaday has a good writeup (https://hackaday.com/2018/02/27/can-open-source-hardware-be-like-open-source-software/). Suppose that someone finally figures out how to build such a molecular assembler. Chances are it'll be patent-encumbered
  • What's the current outlook for nanotechnology? Technically speaking, do we get Star Trek replicators soon, or is that still a 25+ year thing (https://www.xkcd.com/678/)? Politically, how do regulations, industry, and patents look? Socially, is it generally viewed as positive or negative these days?
  • I am a nanotechnologist. I've done great academic research, worked for the government, managed a few grants, and started a few companies.

    It's very easy to hype the potential of nanotechnology.

    On the other hand, it's very hard to get attention put on results from serious commercial efforts.

    Granting agencies and our community are not good at supporting companies that do what we all tell each other needs to get done (i.e. NanoIntegris). We are great at supporting academic research groups that have a patina of

  • I.e. how important is it for researchers and manufacturers to observe objects at the nano level, how often and how easily? What kinds of improvements in methods like atomic force microscopy would be most relevant for researchers, and what other methods/breakthroughs would be key in your opinion? (Disclosure, I work for an AMF manufacturer, just started.)

    Also when will we have self-assembling nanorobots like in Michael Crichton's Prey? (J/k, that falls under "hype" from previous question. :-)

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