Richard Stallman: Why We Need Free Digital Iron Circuits

Original author: Richard Stallman
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How far do free software ideas extend into the field of iron? Is there a moral obligation to make iron circuits free for the same reason programs should be free? Is it necessary to give up iron made according to non-free plans to ensure our freedom?

Free software is important for freedom, not because of its price. Users are free to use and copy software, changing it or not. More precisely, this can be formulated by the four principles of freedom:

- freedom to run the program the way you want, and for any purpose
- freedom to study the source code and change it according to your needs
- freedom to make exact copies, distribute and sell them
- freedom to make copies of modified versions, distribute and sell them

Applying these principles to iron: free iron is one that can be freely used and copied, distributed for a fee or free. But since there are no systems for copying iron (except for keys, DNA, and external forms of plastic objects), is the concept of free iron possible? Most iron is made according to plans and schemes. The scheme is primary.

Therefore, we need exactly the concept of the iron circuit. That is, a scheme that can be used to make iron, and which can be copied and distributed, changing or not. Four principles of freedom must be applied to this scheme. And then “free iron” will mean iron, whose circuits are free.

When people come up with the idea of ​​free software, they immediately think about free copying. Many programs are free, it costs nothing to download them. But saying “free,” we do not mean that.

Other issues may arise with iron - its production costs money, so commercially manufactured iron will not be free to copy. But this does not mean that his schemes cannot be free. What you can print with a 3D printer may be cheap, but not free, due to the cost of materials. In our case, the question of freedom is higher than the question of free - a device that denies people their freedom does not cost anything.

The terms "open iron" and "iron with open circuits" are sometimes used instead of "free iron" - but these terms belittle the meaning of freedom. They are formed from "open source software", which roughly means "free software", but does not mean freedom. To emphasize the importance of freedom, we say “free iron”. There is no such subtext in the word “open”.

Is there an injustice in a non-free gland?


From an ethical point of view, software should be free. A proprietary program is unfair. Is it possible to transfer this point of view to iron?

It is necessary in those areas that 3D printing can provide (more precisely, any method of personal production of things). Models for making things on the printer (practically useful, not just decorative) should be free - since they were developed for practical use. Users must control these items for the same reason that they must control the programs that they use.

Propagation of proprietary useful item schemes is just as harmful as proprietary software distribution. When choosing a printer, choose those that work with free software. Some printers are made according to free schemes, but, for example, Makerbot schemes are not free.

Do we reject non-free digital hardware?


Is the existence of non-free digital hardware unfair (in this case, hardware, in which there are also analog circuits)? Do we need, for the sake of freedom, to reject iron with proprietary schemes in the same way as we reject proprietary software?

Although many draw parallels between programs and hardware schemes, I believe that the circumstances of these two entities are different.

The modern manufacture of chips and printed circuit boards resembles printing presses - they work in mass production. This is more like the task of copying a book in the 1950s than modern copying software.

The freedom to copy and modify programs is an ethical necessity, as it can be done by those who use these programs. Equipment for using software (computer) is enough for copying and changing it. Also, a computer is enough to download and execute a version of a program modified by someone - even if you are not a programmer.

But how does this apply to iron? Not everyone who can use digital hardware knows how to change the circuit diagram or chip circuit, although everyone who has a computer has the equipment necessary for this.

The difference between hardware and software is that it is impossible to build and run a PCB or chip design on a computer. Making a big pay is hard work. Making a chip is generally not available to private individuals - at an affordable price, they can only be made in mass production. With the help of modern technologies, it is impossible to download and run the version of digital hardware that Vasya Hackers changed, just as you can download and run the program that Vasya Hackers changed. Therefore, the four principles of freedom do not give users the same control over the development of hardware as they have over programs.

In 1983, there were no free OSs, but it was clear that if we had one, we could use it right away. All that was missing was code.

In 2014, if we had a free CPU chip scheme suitable for PC, mass production would not give us the same freedom in the field of iron. If we need to buy a product in a factory, then our dependence on it causes the same problems as dependence on proprietary schemes. For free circuits to give us freedom in hardware, we need manufacturing technology from the future.

You can imagine a future in which personal devices make chips, and robots assemble them together with transformers, switches, buttons, displays, fans and more. In such a future, we ourselves will make computers, and devices for the manufacture of iron, and robots. And everyone will be able to take advantage of the changed schemes that people who are knowledgeable in iron will do. Then the arguments for rejecting proprietary software are also suitable for proprietary hardware schemes.

But this is not expected in the coming years. In the meantime, it makes no sense to reject iron with proprietary schemes.

We need free digital iron circuits


Although it is too early to reject iron, we need to develop free iron circuits, and use them whenever possible. Today they have advantages, and in the future they may be the only way to use free software.

Different companies can make iron according to free schemes, which will reduce the dependence on manufacturers. It will be possible to organize the production of group orders. Access to the schemes will allow you to search and correct errors. Free circuits will serve as the basis for creating computers and other complex devices whose circuits will be published. Such devices will contain fewer parts that can be used against us.

Even before we learn how to make iron on our own, we may need free circuits - they may be the only way to avoid proprietary software. Secret specifications and requests for proprietary hardware make it less and less compatible with free software. Some chips in phones and graphics accelerators require firmware signed by the manufacturers. Every program on your computer that anyone other than you can change is an unfair power over you. Such iron is harmful. All modern phone models are malicious.

Someday free software can only be run on free systems. Let’s make sure that by this time we have free circuits of such systems, and we hope that we will have the opportunity to make them cheap enough.

If you are developing iron, make your development free. If you use it, join our campaigns that encourage manufacturers to make iron circuits for free.

Copyright 2015 Richard Stallman. Released under Creative Commons Attribution No Derivatives 3.0 license.

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