It was Marc Andreessen who famously claimed that software is eating the world.
He was referring to the fact that computer technology is transforming more and more industries, the inevitable end result being a completely connected world.
It certainly looks to be true: software technology is revolutionizing everything, from the way we shop to the way the things we buy are made. The computers and apps we use every day are the most visible component, but behind the scenes, new software tools are helping all sorts of companies build better products more cheaply.
Most new technologies tend to spread fast, but there's a big secret behind the blistering speed of technological progress in recent years. It's something called Open Source, and it's part of what powers everything from your cell phone to some satellites in space.
Since the birth of the patent, engineers and producers have tried hard to prevent others from getting rich off their ideas. It makes intuitive sense - if you spent the time and effort to develop a new invention, why should other people reap the benefits?
But over the last century, a rebellion has been brewing. Rather than locking discoveries away, companies and individuals are choosing to share their technology with others. And not necessarily out of a sense of altruism or charity. Starting with the major US auto manufacturers, companies have begun to realize that by sharing the costs of research they could achieve far greater things.
The concept called Open Source began in the software world. A lot of early programmers were from academia, where collaboration and sharing is a part of everyday life. They brought this approach to their new endeavors, sharing the source code of their programs to help one another build more sophisticated software. Source code is just letters and numbers, so it's easy to share and change.
From humble beginnings in research labs, the idea of collaborative sharing has spread to power a huge part of the technology we use today. Most of the websites you use are made from Open Source tools, built incrementally by thousands of people across the world. Rather than a single company being responsible for designing the tools and fixing their faults, the burden is spread over many contributors, some working within large companies while others work as individuals.
By harnessing the power of collaboration, Open Source software is able to adapt and grow at a rate that far outstrips its "closed" equivalents. This is part of the reason why software can "eat the world" - there are millions of programmers writing billions of programs, and they're all helping one another improve.
At Tiny Farms, we've recently announced Open Bug Farm. It's a project to design a home scale insect farming kit that will allow anyone to start producing edible bugs. We've chosen to make it Open Source from the beginning. Farms are physical, not just software - so as well as source code for any software components, we will also be sharing the plans and blueprints needed to build the farm, as well as the processes required to produce bugs.
By releasing the plans as Open Source, we guarantee that anyone in the world will be able to build a kit from raw materials, whether or not they can buy one from us. We open the doors to development and evolution from people outside of our company, meaning the farm's technology will improve at the speed of thought and adapt to any situation. And not least, we allow ordinary people to contribute to the development of entomophagy - the use of insects for food - by directly applying their skills.
Open Source is just another example of our trend towards a more distributed world. Instead of being locked up within monolithic corporations, important work - whether research or production - is being spread across entire communities. Software is just the beginning.
Imagine a world in which food and products are produced in smaller facilities, closer to where they are consumed, using advanced technology that's available for free. With our modern tools, we can transform industries to use distributed production whilst maintaining the quality and homogeneity consumers expect. By removing the fragility inherent in a centralized model, we reduce the impact of things like food contamination and price manipulation, whilst democratizing production and promoting better understanding of its impact on our lives.
While companies like Monsanto are working to lock down the technology behind food production, using scarcity and hunger as a tool to make money, a new wave of innovators is fighting back. By applying the principles that helped software eat the world, we can empower our farmers to feed it.
Co-founder, Tiny Farms