I’ve just read a blog by Seth Godin about Protecting vs Spreading Ideas. The moral of his blog, as far as I can tell, is; “Get good at what you do”; “Spread your Ideas Freely” they belong to everyone.
I agree with this philosophy but have often agonised over possible exceptions to this rule.
Lets take a hypothetical rewrite of History. Lets say Rutherford split the atom and kept it to himself, he went on to do a few more experiments and discovered in isolation the power that could be obtained from such activity and kept it to himself. Pondered a bit more he decided to try the reverse of splitting the atom and discovered that fusing together atoms was even more powerful than splitting them. He still didn’t tell anyone. Experimented a bit more and came up with a working fusion reactor. This he told. In fact he gave building instructions, that an idiot could follow, to every country in the world.
Japan now had the energy they previously went to war over, no nuclear bomb got dropped, in fact it never got invented because there was no need for it.
Now lets assume instead that anywhere along this time line that Rutherford dies taking his ideas to his grave.
No splitting of the atom, no discovery of fission, again, no bomb.
OK I’m not a science historian. I have no knowledge of how long it would have been before someone else would have discovered the splitting of the atom bringing the world through the sequence of discoveries that have got us to where we today rather than the impossible events that lead to my Utopian scenario. It does however illustrate the possible need for exceptions and why I spend time agonising over it.
Are nanotechnology ideas going to progress or harm humanity’s progress? How about genetic engineering? Biotech?
Was the letter, sent to the American President, which sparked the Manhattan Project, and signed by Albert Einstein, an exception to the rule?
History documents Einstein’s anguish over the decision to send that letter.