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Open Source Appropriate Technology - Joshua Pearce

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This is an entry in The Future We Deserve - a collaborative book project about the future. See all the entries or talk about this entry.

A solution to the general problem of access to critical information for the future of sustainable development is found in the growth of open source appropriate technology (OSAT). ‘Open source' refers to the free, vibrant, and burgeoning open source software movement and 'appropriate technologies' are those that can be easily and economically utilized from readily available resources by local communities to meet their individual needs., the primary wiki-based site for collaborative solutions in sustainability, poverty reduction and international development, is an excellent example of open source appropriate technology that harnesses the power of distributed peer review. All the information developed is free for others to use and adapt to solve their own sustainability problems.

Even a superficial review of global environmental conditions results in a rather bleak outlook on the future. The optimists' position is that accelerated progress in technology will rescue society even from global-scale problems like catastrophic climate destabilization. It is undeniable that technological development has provided great benefits to humankind in medicine and many other fields and technology is indeed developing faster now than ever before. Unfortunately, the vast majority of this research and the knowledge created is not focused on problems related to sustainable development and surprisingly, even much of it that is, is effectively removed from maximum deployment by patent and copyright laws.

The development of information on appropriate technology can clearly benefit from the application of an open source model.[1] open access Throughout the world there exist research institutes, community groups, and non-governmental organizations working with different technological innovations to alleviate poverty and mitigate the destruction caused by excesses of consumer culture. For the most part they remain disconnected, often re-inventing the proverbial wheel again and again although their counterparts in another part of the world may have already designed and debugged a similar technology. This restricted and closed model of technological development results not only in ethically unacceptable levels of poverty, but also widespread environmental desecration.

A solution to this global lack of collaboration and access to critical information for sustainable development is found in the rapid development of OSAT.[2] open access In order to be effective, these technologies must take into account the environmental, cultural, economic, and educational resource constraints of the local community. Often, and particularly in the developing world, these technologies are small scale, elegant, and simple, yet provide for people's needs without destroying the capacity of the Earth to support life. OSAT also harnesses the power of distributed peer review and transparency of process, proving more efficient and adaptable than closed, hierarchical systems of technology development. For example, Wikipedia [3] has become one of the top ten sites on the internet – with content created by thousands of volunteers surpassing the output of multi-billion dollar international companies.

Consider the future effect of open source appropriate technology taking hold and creating a vibrant virtual community to share AT plans and experiences. OSAT venues like Appropedia [4] are already enabling designers and field workers to download free plans of water pumps, windmills, basic medicines, solar photovoltaic devices, and many other appropriate technologies. OSAT would fall within the legal framework of an AT General Public License, where those plans can be used freely, modified, and republished under the same license for those in the future all over the world to benefit from. In this way, open source appropriate technology will become a true rival to the paradigms of the development of technology that have dominated civilization since the industrial revolution. A new revolution is underway, built on a dispersed network of innovators, inventors, and researchers working together to create a just, sustainable world. Join us.

  1. A. J. Buitenhuis, I. Zelenika and J. M. Pearce, “Open Design-Based Strategies to Enhance Appropriate Technology Development”, Proceedings of the 14th Annual National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance Conference : Open, March 25-27th 2010, pp. 1-12. Available:
  2. Joshua M. Pearce and Usman Mushtaq, “Overcoming Technical Constraints for Obtaining Sustainable Development with Open Source Appropriate Technology”, Science and Technology for Humanity (TIC-STH), 2009 IEEE Toronto International Conference, pp. 814-820, 26-27 Sept. 2009.
  3. Wikipedia ranks 7th as of Sept. 15, 2010