Open source is a corporate goldmine

I watched this video yesterday titled "Searching for the User Interface: First Steps" by Steven P. Reiss posted to the Microsoft Research channel on YouTube, which at time of writing has been up for 6 years and has 63 views.

In it, Mr. Reiss shows his research software which allows him to define a software problem by its outcome, search every public code repository for code that might solve the problem, then review and stitch that code into his own. The subject of his talk is user interfaces, but the software is built upon a generic code search interface that already works fairly well. This talk gets at the tension I feel between open source—or any other free exchange movement in creative arts—and the corporate-dominated reality we live in.

I want a generosity-based economy. I believe that we should give everything to each other whenever we are able, especially with digital knowledge and property. I believe that even the economy of today relies on free (or stolen) goods to function. And that was the whole point of the internet anyway, right? An eternal free exchange of knowledge and resources.

But we live in the most monopolistic, capital-dominated era in human history right now. Under that regime, these oceans of freely available code are just a new resource for corporations. GitHub, GitLab, and any other code hosting site is a rich vein of raw code to learn from and build upon. And only corporations—aided by academics—have the time, resources, and obsessive mandate needed to mine them effectively.

So I'm not particularly worried about Mr. Reiss's interface building tools. As a question during the presentation pointed out, there are other ways of building UIs quickly without having to collage together other people's code. What worries me is how this old video shows how even well-meaning academics are empowering corporations to further exploit the commons.Because GitHub was acquired by Microsoft 2 years after this video, for exactly the kind of massive code analysis that this novelty UI builder was powered by.

In this monopolistic tech landscape, even if you contribute to open source like the solarpunk rocker you are, you're still a FAANG intern; creating code to go into the mine and be scanned for anything with corporate value.