How Open is the Future? Economic, Social & Cultural Scenarios inspired by Free and Open Source Software


Crosstalks Publications

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Ever since Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation, received his Doctor Honoris Causa at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, CROSSTALKS started to explore the probing issue of “Free and Open Source Software” from an interdisciplinary and wide-angled perspective: an excellent starting point for its kick-off event.

The results were published in the first CROSSTALKS book. How Open is the Future? (VUB Press), edited by the university’s Vice-rector Research Jan Cornelis and Marleen Wynants, Operational Director of CROSSTALKS. The look and feel of the book appeal to a multi-coloured public, as it offers a constructive and innovative look on the boundaries of intellectual property, as well as new and open forms of collaboration, not only situated in an academic and industrial context, but in musical and artistic spheres as well. Characteristic for CROSSTALKS is that both the copyleft- side of the story as the proprietary, Microsoft -like approach are taken into consideration. The book is released under a Creative Commons License and presents an interdisciplinary mix of transparent perspectives on the digitalisation of our society while reflecting on the limits of property and public domain on the level of knowledge, information and technological and digital informatisation.

“It is an excellent production indeed – both in the variety and quality of the contributions assembled, and as an artefact.”
(Quote from Paul A. David, Professor of Economics and Senior Fellow, Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, Stanford University)

“How open is the Future?” thus became a platform for contrasting but also complementary perspectives from the industry (MySQL, Microsoft), internet pioneer Tim O’Reilly, from policymakers (Belgian, European) and from toplevel scientific researchers (VUB, Stanford & Oxford, Paris Dauphine & Jussieu, Universities of Utrecht and Maastricht and the Sony Computer Science Lab in Paris). These articles are completed by a series of case studies from Extremadura (Spain), the music industry (from the Grateful Dead to Napster) and the cultural subculture (from Rastafari to Mongrel) en with two interviews, one with Richard Stallman and one with VUB scientist Lode Wyns about the patenting of life.


There are two reasons why the free and open-source software issue has become such an inspirational and powerful force today: the rise of the Internet and the growing tendency to protect all intellectual property. Internet technology made it possible to handle massive decentralized projects and irreversibly changed our personal communication and information research. Intellectual property, on the other hand, is a legal instrument which – due to recent excesses - became the symbol of exactly the opposite of what it had been developed for: the protection of the creative process. As a result, free-thinking programmers, scientists, artists, designers, engineers and scholars are daily trying to come up with new ways of creating and sharing knowledge.

In 2003 Vrije Universiteit Brussel launched its university and industry network called CROSSTALKS, aimed at developing a new interdisciplinary exchange dynamic for key players in society. This first CROSSTALKS book provides an open, constructive platform for a wide range of researchers, lawyers, artists, journalists and activists invited to air their complementary – and sometimes contradictory – views and discuss future prospects for the driving forces of our time.

Jan Cornelis is Vice-Rector Research of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and head of the Electronics and Information-Processing Department. He is also a consultant professor at North-Western Polytechnical University in Xi’an, China and a member of the board of directors of the Interuniversity MicroElectronics Centre (IMEC) in Leuven. He is the driving force behind CROSSTALKS, the VUB’s university and industry network. His main research interests lie in the domain of Image Processing and Machine Vision.

Marleen Wynants is the operational director of CROSSTALKS and a contributor to JANUS Magazine. She has produced content and articles for the major media groups in Belgium, and has also written books for children and published a large number of essays on the impact of ICT technology on society. She gives educational workshops on creativity and technology. In recent years, she has focused her activities on communicating information about interdisciplinary scientific projects and the people behind them.



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