Fab City
Interfacer Series Podcast E02
Fab City Hamburg Podcast

Interfacer Series Podcast E02

The second episode of the Fab City Hamburg podcast features Jaromil from Dyne.org as a guest. We have transcribed the podcast for you.

00:00:00 - 00:00:42

Into-Snippets Jaromil:

  • Hi, I’m Jaromil.
  • We are using a radically different technical approach for our architecture.
  • It sounds pretty much a kumbaya moment if I describe it like this. The economy has focused a lot on innovating through creating start ups. In Europe, this has been mildly a failure.
  • I believe open source hardware is as important, if not more, nowadays than open source software. One day maybe we can even repair our washing machines if all this will be open source.
  • The vision in our work in Interfacer is to change a bit. The game. Indeed.

00:00:43 - 00:01:33

Raphael Haus: Welcome to the second episode of the Interfaces series of the Fab City Hamburg Podcast. This time we have a very, very, very interesting guest. With us is Jaromil , director of Dyne.org. He and his team are technical coordinators in the INTERFACER project. I was really fascinated and Jaromil has a lot to say to our future economy, complementary currency systems, the future of open source hardware and things we actually can do. So again, it would mean the world to me if you could rate or review this content and share this wherever you can. The things Jaromil said are super interesting and important. Jaromil also mentioned a lot of authors you can discover in the show notes, so let’s jump right in.

--- Show Notes ---

People Jaromil recommends you to read their books: Commons Movement

  • Elinor Ostrom Bioeconomics
  • Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen Complementary Currency Systems
  • Margrit Kennedy
  • Christina von Braun

Raphael Haus: Jaromil, Who’s that gentleman on the on the picture?

00:01:33 - 00:01:47

Jaromil: It’s Alan Turing. This is a portrait by a painter that I bought. Yeah, I think it’s representative of my work. I work in cryptography and he is one of the most famous cryptographers of the last century.

00:01:47 - 00:01:51

Raphael Haus: Okay, let’s start. So please explain to us what is your role in the INTERFACER project?

00:01:51 - 00:02:15

Jaromil: We are technical coordinators of the project and we are working to develop both its infrastructure online, its cryptographic model, economic model and an implementation of the digital product Passport. We are very passionate about what we do and we are very happy to put our technical knowledge to serve the purpose of circular economy projects like INTERFACER.

00:02:15 - 00:02:18

Raphael Haus: How would you describe your profession?

00:02:18 - 00:03:31

Jaromil: In Dyne.org we practice a lot of interdisciplinarity, so none of us is just an expert in one area, and we thrive by making sure that we all know what is happening on each other’s desk. So my professional profile may be confused as that of many others in this project. I’m trained as a philosopher. I work as a cryptographic applied cryptography developer since more than ten years, and I’m directing Dyne.org through European research and development projects in the last ten years, mostly focusing on data sovereignty and the circular economy. Before Interfacer, we completed a success story project for the European Commission called Reflow, which is feeding a lot of the technical developments also in INTERFACER and applied to Hamburg. And well, if you ask me, what is my job? I think it’s just like yours being passionate about what we do because this is half way to success.

00:03:32 - 00:03:36

Raphael Haus: I didn’t know that. You said you’re a philosopher, right?

00:03:36 - 00:03:57

Jaromil: Yeah, I completed my doctorate in philosophy in University of Plymouth. The dissertation is titled Algorithmic Sovereignty, which became a hot topic later on, and I’m blown away by the fact that it’s the most viewed doctoral thesis in the world, Plymouth University, which is a pretty big public university.

00:03:57 - 00:04:03

Raphael Haus: What is Dyne doing in developing Fab City OS and what is the goal?

00:04:03 - 00:10:40

Jaromil: In in the INTERFACER project we are very happy to cooperate with Fab City Hamburg in a city like Hamburg, where the movement of the open source hardware is growing at a faster speed probably than than many other places in Europe. And we are looking at practical cases to empower these situations.

So first of all, what are the challenges of people working in a networked environment trying to leverage skills of different people towards goals that are production ready, that are sustainable in terms of economy, and they are useful for participants and users that want new products. What does this means is we are trying to power up this concept of a diffuse industry where designers can contribute to each other, works just like developers do already on source code, but on open hardware. And to do this, we need to standardize the processes and protocols of communication, also the formats of designs. And we try to put also this movement of designers, distributed design movement, in touch with people able to produce the designs. So for example, if I’m very good with a 3D printer and a laser cutter and perhaps a milling machine, then I can download the design of the INTERFACER platform from Fab City OS and realize it as a concrete object and even sell it over an e-commerce or over my own connections over my shop.

We want this to happen and we want producers that engage with this community flow to be able also to give back the wealth they create with this last mile of production and bringing to shop. So we want to create also an economic incentive for designers to contribute their designs and to offer even help and support to people producing them into objects. We are talking about hardware here and it can go a long way because if you consider how many small boxes, also like a simple computer, like a Raspberry Pi worth around €30 if programmed with certain software and networked with certain sensors and hardware can be useful, can make a product that solves a lot of automations. One day maybe we can even repair our washing machines and more even appliances at home if all this will be open source.

So the vision is that of opening up the field of intervention for designers. The field of intervention for people producing the hardware and insert this dynamic into an ecology of open source products. I say ecology, maybe stretching the meaning of the word, but I try to highlight the fact that what we are doing aims at sustainability in a environmental sense. If the appliances, for instance, that we all have at home and we depend upon for our daily life will be open source, then we will have again the little shops that can repair them on on our streets rather than being desperate trying to get rid of old hardware as soon as a circuit breaks and buying a whole new appliance. So we try to also facilitate the recyclability of objects.

To do that, we also develop a digital product Passport, which is an authenticated method to trace what are the components that make an object? So for instance, we can take apart one one of the small and medium enterprises. We have been in touch. They are doing compost toilets for camping and for events and their make of made of many parts. There is ventilation, there are the the wooden parts that make them and they need to make sure that these parts have a lifespan. They need to predict eventually if they will break or not. They need to take them apart and recompose them by changing the parts that are too old or breaking up, but reusing the parts that are still good.

So digital Product Passport allows a company like this to keep track of the objects, not only of the designs of the components of the hardware, components that are part of the whole product. So take them apart, put them back, and this is a sort of passport and we are passionate about it because it’s not for people, in fact at Dyne we believe in free circulation and opening up the borders, but we want to keep track of objects as much as possible because they are ending up cluttering our lives and our living spaces and also creating most problems in disposal and recycling. So a company then can itself take care of the circularity of its own activities this way. And it is a simple thing. It can be a QR code sticker on the object, but behind it there is the whole tree of history and it’s like a tree. If you see the object on top or on the bottom, there is a three of parts and designs that compose it.

And this is what we visualize with a digital product passport accidentally in such a three of a history of an object you can also see the people that have contributed to it and where the parts came from. So we believe that this is a very interesting approach not only for the open hardware industry, but also for the food industry and for every other vertical in society that wants to track better their objects. So it’s a it’s a new it’s a new dimension for the logistics software of the future.

00:10:40 - 00:10:46

Raphael Haus: Actually, it’s a huge concept. Could you please tell us who’s involved in this and where does it come from?

00:10:47 - 00:13:03

Jaromil: The digital product Passport is not something I invented or we invented a dine at all. We are proposing a cryptographic model for authenticating it. But the concept of a digital product passport is something that a lot of people in Europe are looking at. I believe those that are looking in the right direction to really improve our society. There are many industries that are trying to establish a standard. We count more than 200 standard proposals in Europe for this. And I do know that the European Commission has a high priority of establishing a standard for the single market to adopt a common digital product passport.

So we are one of the many players in this game. Our approach is to do everything free and open source and to be purpose driven. So we are happy to work with our colleagues in Hamburg to apply immediately the ideas, to model them, to pilot them and to see on the field how they go. In this way I guess also our colleagues from the New Production Institute are ideal partners. As the name says, they are focused on production. One thing that I like to say about this concept.

For the scientists out there, I believe that it should be based on a graph. What does this means is that all data that we represent is in a graph and relations count more than single nodes. And these relations need to be governed by a vocabulary. So we are far from building an ontology, but we are getting there and we are building a vocabulary that can describe relationships. These relationships are between resources, events and agents, and any resource can be consumed or produced out of an event with agents intervening. And this way we describe a whole tree, a whole cosmos, a whole city of interaction.

00:13:03 - 00:13:16

Raphael Haus: Okay. Basically what you are describing is a track and trace of the resources, events and agents of open source hardware. You’re breaking the concept down to three layers. This helps you deal with the complexity.

00:13:16 - 00:14:14

Jaromil: Yes. This is also nothing that we have invented. The resource event agent model (REA) is an accounting model. It has been mostly in theory, and it’s a model of accounting for very complex networks. Accounting, as in the sense of accounting for money, is done by a double bookkeeping, for instance. It’s the most simple. So the checks match from what goes in and out. There are many other ways to account, and when it’s more than money, it becomes more complex. In this case, it’s super complex because we have events in which, again, agents which can be people mostly, interact or organizations, and then we have resources. So the REA model in brief as an acronym R E A is the paradigm of accounting we adopt.

00:14:15 - 00:14:45

Raphael Haus: It’s well discussed what solutions we need for our sustainability and production crisis. Tackling the way we do accounting is one of the major solutions we have, I think, and we want to change our accounting to a fair accounting. Also taking into account resources that we overlooked for a long time like water, air and so on. And the way I understand it is that you want to apply this accounting by introducing this new Digital Product Passport.

00:14:45 - 00:21:35

Jaromil: You you said it very well. We tried to put into the picture to account for things that were overlooked that were not part of equations in previous accounting models. This is a crucial thing to understand. Most people really want the best for the world around themselves. What happens is that we do not have a way to visualize, perceive and account for what happens for every action, even in goodwill. So far, we have had a calculation over the performance of nation states based on the income of people. But this doesn’t tell us about the well-being of people living in a place.

And so when we go down in detail, it’s definitely a problem when we don’t take into account what economists so far called externalities. We go further into this because it’s not only objects we take care for, but we work also on the level of a city. So a lab, it can be called in many ways, we have hackerspaces, we have places of practice, places where people share knowledge and production means for realizing projects, be them common or formed around a few group of people. And these places are also in the lens of the INTERFACER project. We are developing an economic model, and the objective of this economic model is to take into account positive externalities.

What we call positive externalities are things, behaviors, cultural traits, dynamics, social dynamics that are not taken into account When we calculate the output of a place, when we calculate how much a place can earn or how much people can earn by being part of a company or an organization. These are the roles of people that maybe produce failures and now and then produce successes. But still, being around, they create a ecosystem and ambiance that really helps people being creative. This is mostly a positive externality because it produces a positive energy into places where where, where it acts but is completely not accounted for. It sounds pretty much a kumbaya moment if I describe it like this, like let’s love and flower power. But I can tell you a concrete examples and especially the way we do it.

What we want to do for places like Fab Cities where designers and producers interact is a system that takes into account their activity. And their activity, be it on a project of the Fab City, a project that takes place in that place so affects more people, that activity is a threshold. It’s a level of threshold at a minimum level of work that people can do around that place. If you pass that level of work, be it for a successful project or a less successful or growing project, a new an old one, then you will perceive basic income. So a basic part of what enters into that place. And then we zero those points because a new cycle, a new month can start in which other people may be active more or other people less. So this sort of creates a rational way to share what comes from the outside.

If you remember, before I made an example, someone can go and produce a design. Let’s say there is a group of designers that worked for ten years on a design of a new bike, very efficient bike and unique, let’s say, goes with the wind. So not even electric after. After ten years, someone finds this design and starts selling it. Of course this someone needs help. Needs help for people to communicate the idea for the marketing, for putting it on the shop, for the logistics, for the sales, not only for the design and realization. For all these things this person will need help. When this person produces this thing and this thing becomes famous in all Hamburg, because people love to go on wind bikes across the streets of Hamburg and a lot of money comes into this operation, what happens is not that just the person that had the idea to bring it to market will get the money. But through the digital product passport, we will be able to trace all the people that have that have contributed to this design that by contract being used in production will have to be taken into account. We will reach these people and we will say, “Hey, your design that you put into the commons of this place can be rewarded now” because something has came, came in. And in the meantime, we will also be able to split this reward among all people that have been active through the place, promoting it and keeping in touch, and also people that have been working on less successful projects that are still within the same place and maybe will create the next the next great idea of the future.

So what we are trying to do is break out of this economy that just rewards the bright entrepreneur, the protagonist of a story, and trying to really put an incentive for everyone to put their ideas and designs in common. And this platform will will make it easier, of course, to understand the mechanism because we have a onboarding platform where one can upload ideas, can import git repositories, and these things can can start rolling.

00:21:35 - 00:21:42

Raphael Haus: When we talk about the Fab City Operating system, we are talking about a systematic change and we are talking about game changes.

00:21:42 - 00:27:56

Jaromil: It’s very hard to create a game changer and wishful thinking of course. So the vision in our work in INTERFACER is to change a bit the game, indeed, seeing it, seeing society in a in a in a progressive and positive sense, we think that some rules can be improved so that the game is more interesting for more people. Yeah, the game changer in INTERFACER are primarily, from a social and economical point of view, we believe is the economic model. Because the economy, at least in the last 15 to 20 years, has focused a lot on innovating through creating start ups. It imported this economic model from the US, a place that is culturally very different from Europe. There is more investment flowing and philanthropy is a model that substitutes public sector. In Europe, this has been mildly a failure, I believe, and it is not sustainable in the sense that start ups constantly crunch people life through high stress and KPIs that are only market oriented.

So we want to change this game and having even more people playing it. So not excluding those who have played, excelled and especially those who have failed into the startup economy. And let me say that the most people that participated to start economies have failed. And this is not, I think, a reason to exclude them from future games.

The game changer is speaking about inclusion and about less profit driven initiatives that again, value positive externalities like a cultural production within the fabric of a city, the improvement of a cultural environment and a social environment and the production of objects, products, designs and digital services that respect the environment. These are the variables that we want to put into the game, and we want to make them extremely important, even more important than the profit of a single person of or of an investor was in the previous economy. Another game changer is the fact that we are using end to end cryptography. It’s a little bit more technical as it sounds. It rests into the context of technical sovereignty and digital sovereignty, and it is very important because it does not make us own your data. So we are building platforms that are not enclosing the data of participants into a silo. Your desires, your needs, your log of usage, your history, be it on a platform like Uber or a Tinder or Facebook or Instagram, is then siloed. It’s controlled by the company that created these services.

We are using a radically different technical approach for our architecture. First of all, it’s federated. So you can add your own node. You can build a node, a new FaB City with a collective in another city of Germany. You can open it in Halle, in Dortmund, in Cologne, and then you get in touch with each other and exchange data. So you have people traveling through and using machines with the same user. Just like today is the Fediverse with Mastodon, which is a substituting Twitter. And we use end to end encryption because your keys, like the secret keys you use to sign your actions on this platform, they are inside your mobile or inside your desktop. They are inside the browser. They are composed by a mnemonic seed which is created by answering five questions and these five questions about your personal life, which are secrets to you, they create your seet, your password.

So if you tell me I lost my password, can you reset it? I cannot. Even on our system because we don’t have your passport password on the system. You have to remember those five answers and recover yourself your password. We try to make it as easy as possible. So through our onboarding, again, that is quite comprehensible, but the concept is is quite complex. So I hope you can follow the difference between, “oh, don’t worry, we will help you and we will keep all your data safe” and “no, one moment my data is with myself”. Even willing, you cannot sign in my name because my signature is not on. Your server is in my wallet. So we created a wallet that is also ready to hold crypto assets as well. We are not using them in INTERFACER, but the sort of technology is the same and we wish to leverage the potential of crypto technologies which has been only deployed in the financial sector so far, a very toxic vertical in my opinion. We want to leverage the innovation of these technologies, also in other verticals of society.

00:27:56 - 00:28:10

Raphael Haus: These are very good news that we can see a concrete project that has a possibility of the systemic change. But let me ask you also why you think that the Fab City movement in particular is so interesting to you?

00:28:10 - 00:31:15

Jaromil: The most interesting part of the Fab City movement, I think, is that it has a history in which personally I can see a certain coherence in my own participation. So I’m talking about the hacker movement. I’m talking about the makers movement. I’m talking about even like protest movements that have tried to fight the ongoing corporate exploitation of environment and creativity into a proprietary system. So what I call this movement is the Commons movement. Elinor Ostrom being the most famous researcher into this.

I think that what makes cities very interesting is this: is that they link to a history that makes value not out of scarcity, but out of abundance and participation. The vision is that we can produce and reproduce designs and out of this will come wealth. And it’s opposed to an industrial capitalist system that thrives on scarcity and privatization. And intellectual property. In this sense, I find myself at ease with a movement as the city, also as an activist and as a person that believes that societal change needs to be driven through our action. Also professional action in our life. A lot of the things that cities are talking about, they were envisioned by an economist, a bright economist that is worth going back to study, Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen from Romania back already almost now, 100 years ago started envisioning the role of the second law of thermodynamics into economic systems, taking into account the entropy of systems, economical systems. So the entropy is waste. But if we see entropy as something that we could also not send just to waste, and again, as the second law of thermodynamics says, nothing really goes to waste, nothing disappears, it just transforms itself, eventually will come back. It just depends how much we are able to deal with this transformation in a virtuous way that does not pollute our environment and serves our purposes.

So seeing it this way, I think that it becomes very interesting to talk about economics as a field that needs to improve itself and always look at improvement of systems. And again, not just the be at ease with profit. And improved technologies that can deal with entropy in a more productive way.

00:31:15 - 00:31:28

Raphael Haus: Thank you very much. My last question would be directed to a very controversial topic, and let me phrase it quite pessimistic. Isn’t open source hardware to fail? Isn’t it quite utopic? What would you say against it?

00:31:28 - 00:37:06

Jaromil: Open source hardware is as important, if not more, nowadays than open source software. And being a software developer, I know very well that our success in sharing and in open source dynamics is benefiting a lot from the fact that we have very low marginal costs in communicating and in shipping. Open hardware has the huge challenge of moving objects, things. So it’s a huge margin of cost. And the cost is just growing with energy crisis and and the complexity of logistics. So I think that we must be very careful when applying the visions of open source software to open hardware. The dynamics will be different and a lot of research and a lot of visions need still to mature. It is not just the application of the same economy in the same situation. It is translating it from digital to physical. It’s a big deal. And in doing so, I believe that it is important to think that the environment in which we inscribe these dynamics is is extremely beneficial or or or represents a big problem for the realization of an open source economy in an environment in which the capital reigns with its investments and thrives out of scarcity. It will be very difficult to graft an operation that is based on open source principles as an example. Nowadays, virtual capital, I say virtual because it’s like printed out of knotting. To invest and buy entire nations is driven by venture capitals to buy out a whole operation that is in a certain territory, calculates the loss over years until the whole economy is deleted and then creates a new economy, which is a colonial basically operation. So this sort of virtualization of capital and and investments is not an environment in which any open source can thrive. I can do all the good I want for a community, but when the small money that I ask for, for for my services is when the market is broken because someone enters from the outside and asks one euros instead of ten, then I will not be able to lead my economy forward because I’m a small fish and someone else comes from outside with an enormous amount of resources just to delete the economy that I created. This happened all over Europe. I’ve seen this happening in, in various fields. I’m sure you have examples. So in this, in the, in this framework, if we think of creating an economy that respects variety and and people contributions and put in touch grassroot communities, we are naive. We cannot thrive into the current financial regime of investments of venture capital funding and decontextualization and and colonization of economies. So rather than taking a defensive stance, I like to be still looking at how to develop a grassroot economies that can thrive and defend themselves from outside influences. Therefore, I’m a big fan of complementary currency systems. And here I can give you references to, I think, some of the best thinkers in the world about these systems, at least in contemporary times, who happen to be German: Margaret Kennedy She comes from architecture and I think it’s not a coincidence, a field that builds architectures for people to live in and to to develop a society. And she wrote a lot about complementary currencies and what they can do. And even on a deeper level, a more philosophical level, the work of Christina von Braun is also very interesting on money as sacrifice and the dimension of its liturgy and what we can expect from the future. I make no mystery. I’m a big critic of the politics of the IMF and of the handling of debts in a geopolitical sense. And I think that diversity in this sense just brings more resiliency. If you ask me about the larger picture, I believe this is a worthwhile attempt, at least to do in certain parts of our society because it is a different approach and is not the dominant one. And the dominant one has been trying to delete every single attempt at a complementary economy and the local economy development so far. So it’s a larger picture.

00:37:06 - 00:37:20

Raphael Haus: Thank you very much. One last question. Feel free to answer just yes or no. Can we, our community do it on our own? Or do we need a policy that changes the framework conditions? I would say no.

00:37:20 - 00:38:04

Jaromil: I agree with you. We cannot do it on our own. No one can do it on their own. In a system in which we are at least in Europe, completely dominated by capital and the colonialism of capital and capitalism. We definitely need to think in a more holistic sense that the environment, the politics, the social politics and and the economy needs to be steered, at least in some parts, in some places where it’s possible in a different way. We cannot plant a seed in a ground that is done to grow something else or to not grow plants at all.

00:38:05 - End

Raphael Haus: All right. Thank you very much, Jaromil. Hope your family is well.

Jaromil: Yes.

Raphael Haus: See you soon.

Jaromil: Take care. Bye. Cheers. Raphael.

Raphael Haus