Open source and the Three Laws of Robotics
August 16, 2006
GPU is a Gnutella client that creates ad-hoc supercomputers by allowing individual PCs on the network to share CPU resources with each other. That’s intriguing enough, but the really interesting thing about GPU is the license its developers have given it. They call it a “no military use” modified version of the GNU General Public License (GPL).
Tiziano Mengotti and Rene Tegel are the lead developers on the GPU project. Mengotti is the driving force behind the license “patch,” which says “the program and its derivative work will neither be modified or executed to harm any human being nor through inaction permit any human being to be harmed.”
Both developers do agree about one aspect of their license clause. It is based on the first of science fiction writer Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, which states, “A robot may not harm a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.” That, they say, is a good thing, “because the guy was right,” Tegel says, “and he showed the paradox that almost any technological development has to solve, whether it is software or an atom bomb. We must discuss now what ethical problems we may raise in the future.”
Even though they call it a “no military use” GNU GPL, the patch can have wider implications, reaching out to all possible misuses of (open source) software artifacts.