Guest post: celebrating Graphics and Compute Freedom Day

Featured image: Wesley Caribe | Unsplash (photo)

Hobbyists, activists, geeks, designers, engineers, etc have always tinkered with technologies for their own purposes (in early personal computing, for example). And social activists have long advocated the power of giving tools to people. An open hardware movement driven by these restless innovators is creating ingenious versions of all sorts of technologies, and freely sharing the know-how through the Internet and more recently through the social media. Open source software and more recently hardware is also encroaching upon centers of manufacturing and can empower serious business opportunities and projects.

The free software movement is cited as both an inspiration and a model for open hardware. Free software practices have transformed our culture by making it easier for people to become involved in producing things from magazines to music, movies to games, communities to services. With advances in digital fabrication making it easier to manipulate materials, some now anticipate an analogous opening up of manufacturing to mass participation.

It is important to keep sharp open hardware’s more transformational edges, on agendas such as dismantling intellectual property and releasing investment for alternative business models. Only through a mix of craft, politics, and the support of social movements, will open hardware fully realise its potential to democratise technology.

There are numerous organizations and initiatives voiced and supported by the Open Source Hardware Association and a vast thriving community of supporters and technological enthusiasts that are doing to advance this core value. The Open Source Hardware Association aims to be the voice of the open hardware community, ensuring that technological knowledge is accessible to everyone, and encouraging the collaborative development of technology that serves education, environmental sustainability, and human welfare.

Technology and culture ought to respect user freedom. A year ago, AMD made a giant leap towards a fully open source Linux graphics and compute stack driver stack. While still offering proprietary hardware running proprietary firmware, having the driver and the libraries as open source opens potential for modification and performance optimization. In addition, it gives other GPU manufacturers, including NVIDIA and Intel, a standard to aim for. Finally, it gives hope that there will be further openness in the future.

This is why we celebrate Graphics and Compute Freedom Day, GCFD. We want to take one day every year to remember all the open standards, open source software, and open hardware that have made it into the mainstream in the field of computer graphics and GPU computing. It has been exactly one year since AMD has unveiled GPUOpen on 15th December 2015; let’s celebrate GCFD and let’s hope that this year is just a start of many more successful years of graphics and compute freedom.

GCFD will be hosting a livestream starting at 14:30 in Central European Time. Join at www.gcfd.stream.

Ideological purge: Curtis Yarvin yesterday, Peter Thiel today, and you tomorrow

Featured image: Benjamin Child | Unsplash (photo)

Back in June 2015 a computer scientist named Curtis Yarvin got booted off Strange Loop, a technology conference. Reason: his political views. He is a part of and arguably one of the leaders in an essentially decentralized movement called the neoreaction, also known as NRx or the Dark Enlightenment. His ideas, presented at his blog Unqualified Reservations (archive), were deemed objectionable and concerning. Before I go any further, I should note that I have not studied his ideas in particular, but I have skimmed through the NRx.

I believe in the free speech, but also in the right of any private business to deny their service at will. Therefore him getting booted off within those rights. However, given that his talk at the conference was not related to his politics, and with full belief that he would respect the topic and not abuse the time slot to try to present his political ideas at the conference, I find it hard to understand the reason why he was removed from the program. Detailed analysis and reasoning of the situation, which I fully agree with, is presented at Popehat.

Fast forward to October 2016 and Peter Thiel‘s 1.25 million dollar donation to Donald Trump. One might expect that, since this is mainstream and everyday politics, there is no reason why it should be considered “controversial”. Thiel chose to support a candidate he considers worth supporting with his private money. But one would be wrong.

The issue stirred a long and interesting discussion on Hacker News, splitting the HN-ers into two camps on the issue of tolerance of ideas they find very different from theirs. Personally, I have no problem with people refusing to do business with those that hold ideas they disagree with. As an employee, I aim to work mostly or entirely on free and open source software, without patent protection. As a consumer, I avoid and speak against Microsoft’s non-free software whenever I can. And I speak about those attitudes openly.

Peter Thiel was expectedly criticized by Ellen Pao and David Heinemeier Hansson for what he did. I find Ellen Pao’s reasoning unnecessarily verbose and screaming “please agree with me”, yet I still don’t agree with it. I would, however, have no problem if she openly said “I don’t like Thiel’s political views and how he uses his money so I refuse to deal with him” without trying to sugarcoat it. DHH, on the other hand, is trying (and failing) to be cool and provocative.

Others, like Anselm Hannemann, took the issue as far as “I don’t want to have anything to do with anything Thiel has ever touched”, which I find extreme and unnecessary, but to each his own. Personally, I have no problem using the Linux kernel, and I know that at least two of the kernel developers are social justice warriors. I am sure many free software developers and users are socialists. They have different ideas about the world they want to build and inhabit, and that’s fine. We agree on the idea of free software, so let’s build on it and ignore the rest.

What surprised me however was Paul Graham stepping up publicly to defend Peter Thiel’s freeedom from DHH’s criticism. Not because of his ideas (he is at least leaning libertarian), but because of the pressure of current political climate of censorship and purge of almost anyone who opposes social liberalism under the false premise of “hate speech” and “non inclusiveness” and “opposition to diversity”. Mark Zuckerberg also unexpectedly defended Thiel.

As for why would a self-proclaimed libertarian such as Thiel support an authoritarian canididate such as Donald Trump, I will quote Timur Vural‘s comment from the Hacker News thread mentioned above:

[Peter Thiel] believes that most of Silicon Valley is naive politically, and that the popularity of social liberalism there is just a moral fashion. He is a liberarian, and believes that the Valley’s instincts are libertarian, not liberal. He has a slightly pessimistic outlook on the future, and believes that America has been falling behind since 1969, “when Woodstock started… and the hippies took over the country”. That aligns well with the central point of Trump’s campaign – America has started losing and we need to “make it great again”.

He’s often said that one of his favorite interview questions is, “tell me something you believe to be true but which nobody agrees with you on”. His support of Trump falls into that category. 40% of the population agrees with him, but the people closest to him see his opinion as unthinkable. He seems to take pleasure in having opinions like that.

Furthermore, Donald Trump represents a giant middle finger to political correctness, identity politics and related anti-meritocratic ideas such as affirmative action. This way, his eventual presidency can be seen as a swing from the present left (social liberalism) back to the middle, which happens to be in the same direction which a libertarian would like to take. Peter Thiel certainly knows that very well and, unfortunately for him, his enemies do know it too.

Just like Trump, Thiel is rich enough to do basically whatever he wants because he does not have to seek employment afterwards and see his applications being rejected due to his political views. Another glorious comment from Hacker News, from AvenueIngres, explains Thiel’s financial status very well:

People don’t risk openly supporting Trump unless they have the kind of fuck-you money/assets [like Peter Thiel does] that allows them to do so. Truth is that the tech industry is probably leaning toward the Democratic party a lot less than it actually seems simply because of the politically motivated discrimination you would face should you endorse the wrong candidate (or embrace the “wrong” opinions in public).

I have seen what happened to a couple folks who told “unappropriate” jokes in a private discussion to their friends while at a public event. They lost their job.

I have seen how tons of progressives (not to say most) are so entrenched in their own bias that they fail to realize that dissenting opinions to their beliefs are not morally reprehensible. And that their cultish attitude with respect to diversity is as stupid as the white nationalistic obsession of homogeneity.

You might be next. Yes, you, no matter who you are and what you do. No matter how much you agree with the ever changing dominant narrative, how religiously you accept the mainstream ideas, and how peaceful and tolerant you are to those you disagree with. Something you wrote somewhere might be “inappropriate” for whatever reason under whatever narrative is active at present. The argument for “inappropriateness” does not even have to be rational. It does not matter at all.

To fight this insanity and restore freedom of speech, we should call out all those who propagate the idea of “tolerance” and then limit their personal tolerance to exclude people they politically disagree with. We should call out those who claim that “diversity” excludes diversity of “wrong” ideas. They, of course, have every right to invent whatever definition of those words that works to suit whatever agenda they want to push at that moment, but should expect to be regularly called out on it.

These anti-meritocratic and anti-freedom actions have to be exposed to the scrutiny every time they occur because, should we forget to do so and fail to carry on the ideas of Ronald Reagan and many before him, “we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free”.