Open-source software–or at least the concept that drives it, a world where coding expertise and technology are furthered for the good of the public instead of corporate profit–is gaining traction in a big way. Some top names in tech have even announced their support for open-source, and whole crowdfunding campaigns have been dedicated to creating products and launching startups whose titles are available to everyone.
But an article that appeared today in TechRepublic highlighted the blood-curdling circumstance of a heart patient whose software-enabled pacemaker could have easily killed her. The software that drove the device–and ultimately made the decision on when to administer a shock to the woman’s heart for a very rare condition–wasn’t able to take into account the fact that she was pregnant, and therefore adjust for it. Her drive to launch open-source software that patients could use instead of the manufacturer’s limited software may very well have saved lives.
So what’s the holdup when it comes to broader adoption of publicly created software to power our devices? After all, they’re ours. Shouldn’t we have some measure of control over how they operate, and shouldn’t we have the option to share that knowledge with others without teams of lawyers getting up in arms?
That’s the growing sentiment thanks to a number of recent events. One of the headline-grabbing arguments for open-source software has been the recent Volkswagen emissions scandal. Since the “proprietary” software automakers use in their vehicles is a closely guarded industry secret (that even the cars’ owners and drivers legally cannot know), the auto giant felt secure in selling millions of cars that were intentionally designed to violate pollution standards. Fortunately, that single incident has already opened the doors to legal action that intends to increase transparency and strip away much of the hush-hush nature of software.
One of the long-held arguments against open-source software, though, is the inherent risk of intentional malicious coding in titles that gain popularity and widespread use. Unfortunately, it’s an outdated argument, despite the fact that those with money to earn in software still throw it around.