Open Value Networks: A scary Panopticon for Makers?


Update (July 2015): I wrote this article a while back (in bad english) and i want to add something to it toady. I am still in for all the points i made! But i am not so sure if they really fit to what Sensorica is actually building in reality. I don’t intend to harm that project. But given the success of and feedback rate to this article I think the points made are valid, interesting to discuss and good to be aware of in projects like Sensorica and similar ones.


At the OuiShare Fest in Paris i saw a talk by Tiberus Brastaviceanu that really scared me. The talk was about a project called the Sensorica Open Value Network.

A few days later i found a TED talk about it that almost got me started with a blogpost. Today i am at the Ecovillage 7 Linden where i met Victor (who was also at OuiShare Fest), he spoke about the sensorica project as a supporter and now i really have to write this post.

To defend.

One scary version of transparency

There is still a little chance, that i understood everything wrong – hopefully. In that case this blogpost marks down what a network like this in my opinion never should become.

What is Sensorica? The builders have a background in Open Source Hardware. And the new goal of sensorica is to create an open network, that measures and counts all sorts of contributions people make to a project and put them into an account. Your little contributions will bring you a share of the revenue made in the end. In short: You find a project online and tweet about it. Now your little tweet about it is a little marketing job for it, gets counted and is worth something in the end.

They say, they do it, to make Open Soure Hardware work better and grow. But i think they are also likely to do it a lot of harm. Because what i see here is, someone presenting in the name of Open Source Hardware a big and scary surveillance machine, something really fit for undermining intrinsic motivation..

A Scary Vision: Sensorica Open Value Networks

Surveillance because they have to save, measure, evaluate and store all the things you do.

And undermining intrinsic motivation because they take and extend the logic/idea of money (which is creating something abstract to represent different concrete things and make them comparable). Money and its logic is an interessting thing but it has a lot of downsides too.

One of this downsides is, that it is very good in destroying intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is a therm that trys to descripe, that there are things, we are doing just for fun, because they interest or facinate us or bring us joy. Nobody has to give us something for it, we just do it for the task itself. This kind of motivation does not work very well together with money all the time. A little story to illustrate this i found in some book:

Old Guy
And old and bald guy is sitting on a public bench, everyday. A boy comes by and spits on the old guys head, everyday. Than the old guy has an idea. He makes the boy and offer: „I give you one dollar if you spit on my head today.“ The boy wonders, takes the money and spits. The next day the old guy gives the boy only 50 cent for the spit, the boy spits. The day after that he gives only 25 cent, the boy almost without fun spits. The last day he gots offered 5 cents and he refuses to spit: „No!  I don’t spit on your head for only 5 cent. Are you crazy old man?!“

The boy stops doing something he was doing just for fun before after money became part of the game. Money and especially small sums of it are very good in destroying intrinsic motivation.

But intrinsic motivation is a hughe driver in the whole open source world! The beauty you can find everywhere in Open Source Hardware is a result of massive amounts of intrinsic motivation.

Sensorica: Super Money

And when i think about sensorica is see someone trying to create this high surveillance machine that tracks down your every little move, transforms it and makes you think about its possible economic worth! It is 5 cents or less.

Amsterdam, Mar-2014; by flickr user Mitch Altmann; CC-BY-SA (changed)
They measure your every little move.

This system is even more dangerous than money, because money ends, there are things that money can not reach. So there is still room for free thinking and acting. But this system creeps in a lot more niches, into every little corner of your day and actions bringing in the logic of money. Numbs you with counting and calculating.

The reason i am scared of this, is that so many people will probably think of it as a good idea. Because they are used to money and its logic. Yeah, when money is not really working, let’s create SUPER MONEY! And than they will start using it.

It Measures Your Thoughts

Let us think about it for a while and tell a fictive story: The system is likely to encourage and produce spam! If a tweet is worth something well than i send ten! If a contribution is worth something, well than let us make ten of low rather than one of good quality…

To prevent this a voting-, rating- or quality-measuring system is needed. But systems like this will always be wrong about things. Just because the world changes. Conlon Nancarrow had to wait decades till people understood and valued his work. Will they understand the value of your contribution? Or will the system say and express in numbers: „Your work is shit!“? Keep this question in mind. All the time.


And what happens, when history changes? Some old contributions of high value finally got recognized? Than you will get your reward later of course. But this could also mean that former good rated work brings you less. Suddenly you are an idiot that delivered bad quality. But however, to make this possible, everything will be tracked and stored and openly available forever…

Keep all of this in mind…

Yeah, tweeting about Open Source Hardware projects will be fun in those days.

An Economy for Intrinsic Motivation

Do you like to have super money sitting on your shoulder, whispering in your ear, filling your head with calculations on everything you do rather than with the thing youre about to do?

Maybe the currency logic is something we need to overcome. Do you think Captain Picard  gets a paycheck? Of course nobody knows today how this will happen and can go. But i like to think, that Open Source Hardware is a place for planting, breeding and growing first potentials for this from something very close to intrinsic motivation.

And when i look at super money, i fear that there will be something that slows down this process. History is not predicted.


Monopolies that aren’t you

One more fictive scenario: Imagine you want to use your weekend for a hobby project, just tinkering around with something. There are two options for platforms to use. Your time and contributions will be measured in both and someday you will get something back from there. So it will be smart, to look out for the bigger and economically more promising platform. This is likely to drive your decision or the decision of many people.

The decision is not just about what platform you like more. Maybe you like the little pink thingy better but it does not look that promising economically. But maybe you would have created more beautiful and satisfying projects with it activating all your passion?

What ever world we go in, i hope we will go in the one, that supports people to go for the pink thingy if they really want it.

A measured value network currency system may prevent this. And it is possible that it is good to grow monopolies – adding on the bigger pile is smart! Or if not monopolies: platforms and products grow for different reasons than … passion or usefulness.

Maybe i rather have a world with closed products and more makerbot-stories for a while than diving into a world with super money.

Monopoly Scam

Open Source Hardwares Economic Success

Sensorica reacts on or is likely to take adavantage of a fear that many people have: how to make money and a living? This is a reasonable fear.

But people with that fear should probably not go into to field of Open Source Hardware anyway.

Open Source Hardware will develope without super money. We don’t need a system like that, to make OSHW economically work. There are a lot of other roads to explore. It just takes time. But a value measuring and tracking network is a possible danger for this development.

Yes, the system employs you somehow. There is the chance to earn something here. But probably not the same amount like a real job (especially when everything is open and easy to copy for others). It is a great way to excuse to pay you a starvation wage! Shoots us right back into the early days of capitalism before unions and other structures for protecting workers were installed. Yes, it is the wet dream of a super-capitalist. And on top of everything it kills your intrinsic motivation.

„Hey, it is just an Experiment!“

It is rather obious: Someone would have suggested something like this – a value measuring network – anyway. And there will probably be more people trying something like that in the future. We are all so used to money and the logic behind it that something like this is an obvious idea. This makes it a necessary experiment probably. I understand that. But part of this experiment is, that people can argue against it – engage in a discussion. This is what i am doing here.

Amongst other things i am an researcher. So i have an open eye and mind when it comes to all sorts of experiments. But the trouble i am having is, that we do not have many different lab-situations here. We have one world and internet. And a strong super money experiment could become a problem and get in the way of the experiments i want to see up and running and producing knowledge within my lifetime.


Approved Systems for domesticating your Brain

One last ficitive story: Imagine something like the system we are talking about here works and becomes a success. Than big institutions like companies or even governments might be interessted to use it – for example to measure if you are a good citizen, a citizen value network. And because the system is up and open and accepted it is only a small step to this. Measured in the currency logic for your whole life, traced and judged on record.

UPDATE: I wrote this more or less in the night after talking to Victor. The next morning i met Victor again and he asked me to add, that this system is not made to destroy Open Source Hardware but to pull Non-Open Source Hardware people from hierachical organizations in this. Provide them an entry point. I added it now. Maybe there are ways to imagine super money as an entry point for freedom.


UPDATE 2: Is this all just theory-blabla from me? What happens here at Ouirky? At Ouirky people come together in a big distributed inventing and evaluating process. For every single contribution you earn „Influence“: „Influence is a measure of your contributions to the development of a product. Think of it as points, only infinitely more lucrative. Each percentage of influence you earn also earns you a share of the revenue when the product starts selling.We share 10% of all gross revenues from the direct sale . . . “ And Ouirky works. But the contributions are very little ones like answering questions, suggesting words and ideas and prices and voting on them – one minute clicks. They appeal to the urge of people to be right about something. It is just gamificated idea-dropping and consumer research, the possible income is a meaningless gamble as well. All the hard and complex work (e.g. manufacturing, delivering, fool-proofing designs etc.) is still done by real employees. How to gamify this?

Picture Credits
Ps. Sorry for the strong pictures.

1 – Presidio-modelo2, by I, FrimanCC-BY
2 – Amsterdam, Mar-2014; by flickr user Mitch Altmann; CC-BY-SA  (it is a derivative)
3 – Panopticon , public domain
4 – The_Boer_War,_1899_-_1092_Q102053, public domain
5 – Monopoly Scam, public domain
6 – British_casualties,_Spionkop,_1900, public domain
7 – 40_000_000_by_zbynek_baladran_7, by zbyněk baladrán, CC-BY-SA