Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 30 Aug 11 10:47
As a special Inkwell treat, we've asked John Robb of the Global Guerillas blog (http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/) to join us for a discussion of his work. The tagline for his blog describes his focus: "networked tribes, systems disruption, and the emerging bazaar of violence. Resilient Communities, decentralized platforms, and self-organizing futures." An author, an entrepreneur, and a former USAF pilot in special operations, John wrote the 2007 book _Brave New War_, wherein he describes "open source warfare" (http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/15/opinion/15robb.html), a new kind of warfare/terrorism that's emerging in the 21st century. He was named one of the 2007 "best and brightest" by Esquire (http://www.esquire.com/features/best-brightest-2007/robb1207). John is currently working on a book about economic collapse and the emergence of a new economy - resilient communities that produce what they need locally and and open source global economy that connects them. Leading the discussion is Christian De Leon-Horton, who made his pocket money growing vegetables for a farmer's market in high school. He went on to study horticulture at Cornell University before joining the US Army, eventually becoming an intelligence officer. After tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, he is completely convinced that the future of security lies in reorganizing communities along sustainable ecological principles. He is currently the co-host of the WELL's conference on Sustainability, Energy, and Ecology. A warm welcome to John and Christian - this will be a fascinating discussion.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 31 Aug 11 12:40
Thanks for taking time for this conversation, John. Wikipedia identifies you as a "military theorist (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Robb_(military_theorist)," and I'm wondering if that's how you see yourself? You seem as much focused on the future of peace as the future of war.
John Robb (johnmrobb) Wed 31 Aug 11 12:59
Thanks Jon and it's my pleasure. I'm both. I began in operations (Tier 1 spec ops) and and then became a technology analyst (I was Forrester's first Internet analyst in '95). After that I started/ran a bunch of companies in everything from professional printing to finance to blogging. So, as you can see, I was all over the place. So, it stands to reason my current efforts would have a similar level of diversity. I first spent some time figuring out how warfare would evolve over the next decades. That resulted in my work on open source warfare (which has become popular with guerrillas around the world and ended up in a scientific study that was on the cover of Nature magazine), violent superempowerment, systems disruption. After I got a handle on that topic, I started to use the same approach to work on ways of configuring society/economics to weather future disruption/failures. Essentially, strategies of peace. Hope that makes sense.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 31 Aug 11 14:01
How do you define "open source" warfare, and what are a couple of examples?
John Robb (johnmrobb) Wed 31 Aug 11 18:16
Open source warfare is a form of warfare seen in a world without compelling ideologies. A world where lots of small groups, each with their own motivations for fighting (from criminal to religious to nationalist to ethnic), can join together to take on a much larger enemy (usually, a nation-state). In many cases, the groups involved don't even know what they are doing when they engage in it. They just do it naturally, out of weakness. Open source warfare is a form of warfare where any group that wants to fight can participate. Every group can innovate. They can try out new methods of attack. New targets. If the technique works, every other group copies it (as in, release early and often). Groups share info between each other freely since the other groups are co-developers of the war. The list goes on.. It's very similar to open source development, but with lots of twists and some new rules. I suggest reading a more detailed explanation in my book, Brave New War or on my blog: global guerrillas. Here's a short compilation I put up: http://tinyurl.com/ybs4tkm Some examples? In a violent conflict: Iraq and Mexico. Semi-violent with lots of system disruption: Nigeria. Non-violent (at least early on): Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Barhain, Syria, etc. (wrote lots about this, and its amazing that it played out as anticipated).
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 1 Sep 11 05:21
This suggests coalitions of small groups with potentially different goals for conflict. How stable are these coalitions? How do they build and sustain momentum? (Or do they?)
John Robb (johnmrobb) Thu 1 Sep 11 06:49
That's the point that confuses many people. These groups are held together through a simple goal, a plausible promise. In Egypt's case that was the removal of Mubarak. More and more people and groups, join the effort and innovate, until the goal is achieved. After the plausible promise is fulfilled, the open source insurgency/protest dissolves. This has interesting side effects. The open source protest/insurgency has leaders. But those leaders are restricted to people that advance the effort to the goal. When these leaders try to take control or redirect the insurgency onto other goals (political, economic), they are usually ignored and in some cases become the object of attack by all the other groups.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 1 Sep 11 07:02
This sounds entrepreneurial. The entrepreneur who is effective in building a company usually isn't the best choice to run it, once it's in growth mode. Is that an apt analogy - not just "open source," but also entrepreneurial? Also, a question about the open source characterization - this usually suggests transparency about how something works - i.e. an open source project builds software the source code for which is shared and visible. Do these groups tend to build something with that kind of transparency? (I don't think this necessarily suggests that the group is politically transparent, but has an "open" deliverable.)
John Robb (johnmrobb) Thu 1 Sep 11 07:17
To be effective in an open source environment, you need to be entrepreneurial. YOu need to innovate. Try things out. Question: open source implies transparency for how things works. In this case, the source code is the tactics/methods. The sharing is done through demonstration. Media coverage. Network interaction. For example: IED recipes were shared between groups in Iraq.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 1 Sep 11 07:21
Note to those of you who are not members of the WELL: if you have a comment or question, send to inkwell at well.com, and the hosts of this discussion will post it here.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 1 Sep 11 07:26
Back to the discussion: the Internet is thought to be resilient because your can route around damage to the network. Are the networks you're talking about similarly resilient? They seem to be headless, how is leadership distributed so that they stay on point?
John Robb (johnmrobb) Thu 1 Sep 11 08:04
Definitely. People that attempt to control the movement are seen as damage. They are ignored (or in al Qaeda's case in Iraq, destroyed). Leadership is defined by an ability to advance the movement towards the goal. A new protest. An innovative tactic (new IED design or weakly defended target). Etc. Innovation is rewarded with attention and copycats.
John Robb (johnmrobb) Thu 1 Sep 11 08:24
By the way. Just as a reference. Here's my connect info: My blog: http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/ Twitter: //www.twitter.com/@johnrobb" class="hft-urls">http://www.twitter.com/@johnrobb Google +: https://plus.google.com/114328322682441788310/
Rip Van Winkle (keta) Thu 1 Sep 11 09:03
Interesting discussion - I'm looking forward to following. So, on the side of peace, what would be (or are?) some examples of the simple goal, the plausible promise?
J. Eric Townsend (jet) Thu 1 Sep 11 09:20
John, thanks for doing this. I've been a big fan of your blog and book and shove them at anyone I can. My background in open source goes back to before we really knew what we were doing and what effects it would have; my current interest is in open source digital fabrication. One of the things I'm finding interesting now is how money is starting to seriously change the open source movement. I'm thinking of MakerBot and Arduino, the former getting serious venture capital the latter having trademarked logos and such; both being for-profit operations with a great influence on the market. MakerBot can potentially "drive" the 3d printer community based on the decisions it makes on what technology to support and what software to release or what projects to sponsor in terms of competitions. At the same time, MakerBot and Arduino both rely upon proprietary hardware -- Atmel CPUs -- for their open source hardware. I was wondering what your thoughts are on how money and ownership of tools relates to opensource warfare and resilient communities. Is there a "core CPU" to these groups that might still be under the control of governments or corporations, say mobile phone services or fuel production? The shutdown of mobile phone networks was tried by a couple of governments, did it really make a difference in the end? For that matter, what is the "global guerilla's" version of the Maker Faire? Or do they just go to Maker Faire like the rest of us? Is there an "X Prize" for IED development, peer-to-peer mobile phone networks that bypass cell towers, or secure packet-switched networking over RF?
John Robb (johnmrobb) Thu 1 Sep 11 10:06
We saw it recently in the Arab spring uprisings. From Tunisia to Egypt to Syria to Libya. It looks like most of them will succeed. In each case, the simple goal was to remove the dictator. My personal goal is to build a plausible promise around new local/virtual economic systems. I still have found the right way to do it yet, but I'm working on it.
John Robb (johnmrobb) Thu 1 Sep 11 10:21
Eric, my pleasure. Are there ways to shut down open source movements? The biggest vulnerability is always communication networks. Of course, doing that is self destructive. If you shut them down, you foster the development of alternatives, and you harm your own economic/social system (increasing the level of dissent). There's evidence that even if you did that, it wouldn't last for long. The protest movement might quickly morph into an insurgency, for example. Is there a way around the corporate takeover of the maker revolution? Working on strategies for this.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 1 Sep 11 11:10
Can you discuss those strategies now?
John Robb (johnmrobb) Thu 1 Sep 11 12:23
One of things I've been working on is a way to organize ventures/businesses on an open source basis. Nearly all of the "open source" businesses today are based on the same hierarchical dictatorship model prevalent since we first created companies at the end of the middle ages. This new model is called an open source venture. I've worked on the theory behind it and done some practical experimentation. I'll try to explain it as best I can (there's a video out there with me talking about this): An OSV is a very narrowly defined business. The rules are published up front (as to how it allocates reward and what it does). Very little variation is allowed (by charter) on how these formulas work. IF a new business opportunity is found, a new OSV is formed. There isn't any classic ownership. The ownership is held in trust once it is set up. It can't be sold. Open source ventures have a founding team. This team shares a percentage of the revenue based on months of contribution (full or part time). If the OSV uses crowdsource labor, it shares income with these participants with very specific formulas. Feedback, etc. and other methods are used to prevent people "gaming" this. The use of crowdsourcing has the potential to allow millions of participants (think people that add to an OSV wikipedia) based on simple rules and roles. External financing doesn't confer ownership, nor is it debt (traditional approaches are focused on gaining ownership control). Instead, financing is provided a percentage of the gross revenue. This persists for a set number of years or until a set return (5x or 10x the investment) is achieved, whichever is sooner or later (depending on your agreement. It's also possible to combine this with crowdsource financing. My experience with this model (to date) is that it's tough to generate financing using traditional channels. Most capitalist financing is focused on gaining control of the venture. Crowdsource financing using this model is problematic because the laws prevent it (they are geared towards traditional participants/methods and thereby preclude innovation). I've also found that the project does need a small funded team of people to run it during the early phases. Write the b-plan and do the initial work. A big team, early on, devolves into endless discussions of what to do and how to share the spoils without getting any actual work done. This model is workable and can provide a way for open source projects to actually pay the participants. Someone is going to get one of these up and then it's off to the races.
John Robb (johnmrobb) Thu 1 Sep 11 13:22
I'll add one more thing. A kind of overview of what we are trying to do. In short, I believe that it is possible to build an economic system that works like the Internet. Very simple rules of interconnection. Based on these conversations about this, here's a protocol stack that Anthony developed: http://www.miiu.org/wiki/The_economic_stack Give it a read and think about it.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 1 Sep 11 13:37
Isn't the primary reason an investor seeks ownership control to ensure that the company stays on the path to profitability? In the model you propose, wouldn't potential investors want some leverage so that if the company veer of course, they would have the power to make a correction?
John Robb (johnmrobb) Thu 1 Sep 11 14:14
That's a legacy problem. It assumes the venture continued existence is primary -- that the venture is a living entity that is more important than the function it accomplishes. This assumption is due to the difficulties associated with forming a business (think Coase). I think that this assumption is false. Given current levels of venture automation, it's not that hard to form and or operate most ventures. They can be assembled quickly, even virtually. As a result, it's possible to form businesses that focus on a specific task and limit its activities to performing that task (with few degrees of freedom). Once you update that assumption, the idea of financing a venture with a limited function is not only plausible, but likely superior. It's just that the financial mindset hasn't caught up with reality.
Bryan Alexander (jonl) Thu 1 Sep 11 14:31
Questions emailed by Bryan Alexander: 1. Most of the social/cultural/technological discussion swirls around urban issues these days. "Urban" is sometimes a code word for "suburban", but it's not a bad focus, given the slim if growing majority of humans live in cities. But what about the countryside? What do you see as the special affordances we rural dwellers have in a world of increasing dysfunction? How does open source organization + resilience uniquely work in the country? 2. How can schools* best take advantage of new ways of organizing? Are we going to shift to primarily digital, distributed organizations? *I picked "schools" rather than learners, because it's easy to see that this is a learner's game.
Christian De Leon-Horton (echodog) Thu 1 Sep 11 14:56
Sorry I'm coming late to the game on this folks...I've had some unexpected connectivity issues today, which is kind of ironic considering the discussion at hand. In fact, as some of the initial concepts of OSW have been covered in this topic already, I'd like to start dwelling down on some specific examples. Communications are obviously key to the open source strategies of both war and peace that the Global Guerillas blog covers. As we've seen recently, one of the first moves in any dictatorship attempting to quell rebellion is shutting down the internet. Even here in the UK there have been recent discussions of locking down communications nets in the wake of the unexpected London riots. So how does a good global guerilla adapt attempts to kill communications? The blog has covered several adaptive efforts in the past (most recently the LifeNet ad-hoc network.) Are there any other good tools you see available now or just over the horizon?
Lena M. Diethelm (lendie) Thu 1 Sep 11 18:45
#18 - opensource venture - kickstarter.com is an approach to crowdsourced financing with no ownership for funding however, it's for a point in time rather than ongoing ventures
John Robb (johnmrobb) Fri 2 Sep 11 05:35
Christian, Yes, communications networks are very important to OSW. There are lots of ways to adapt to a comms shutdown: Use the fact that a comms shut down works both ways. If you remember, during most of the counter-insurgency in Iraq, the #1 complaint people had about the new government was: they can't keep the infrastructure working (nothing worked and economic activity slowed to a crawl as a result). People were so angry about this, that the legitimacy of the government was called into question. To utilize this fact, guerrillas should use the comms shutdown itself as the weapon. 1)increase the duration and breadth of the operations, in order to spread the pain of a comms shutdown to as much of the population as possible (particularly wealthy areas) 2) for as long as possible, 3) across as many different types of comms as possible. For governments monitoring comms channels (Facebook/twitter monitoring) use spam and misdirection. This was used pretty effectively in China's "Jasmine revolution". See: http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/globalguerrillas/2011/04/the-jasmine-revol ution.html Essentially, the group used common words used in business conversations (Jasmine is used for lots and lots of companies/products) to force the government to block and/or monitor the word. They also called for flash mobs/etc. to assemble in crowded areas (like shopping areas where kids hang out). This forced the government to rush there and arrest/accost people (can't have that pesky democracy breaking out!). NOTE: if you are going to do this, you need to be outside of the county and using a fake account. Finally, there are work arounds to the shut down of cell phones. Flags on top of buildings. Runners. However, the more likely alternative as governments seek to control standard wireless is P2P wireless. Mesh networking. P2P wireless changes the entire game. NOTE: For guerrillas, shutting them down usually is only done if part of a very specific effort. For example, Naxalite (Indian Neo-Maoists) use communications shutdowns as part of a Bandh against cities/towns. A Bandh shuts down all connections between the city/town and the outside world for ~3 days.
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