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The Biggest FOSS Challenge: the Smart Grid

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Andy Updegrove, ace attorney and author of the excellent Standards Blog, is one of the few people who understands the real implications behind seemingly-simple goals like "Let's have paperless networked medical records so health care workers can be more efficient" and "Let's have a smart electrical grid that manages electricity delivery intelligently." As he says in Standards and the Smart Grid:

"...the many multi-billion dollar initiatives that the Obama Administration has launched that are heavily dependent on standards - which in many cases do not yet exist. Each initiative is also of great complexity, and will need to rely on a level of cooperation and collaboration that does not natively exist in the marketplace. "

Mr. Updegrove goes into detail on the relevant federal legislation, goals, funding, and challenges. He talks about conservation and "green" technology, and paints either a rosy picture of the future, or a horrifying one, depending on your perspective:

"To close the analogy, as every home WiFi enabled network can become an intelligent node in the global telecommunications network, so can the electrical system of every home or business become an intelligent, interactive node in the national electric grid network. Much as a home or business router can tie a host of two-way services and capabilities into the telephone and cable system, so can a home or business electrical network become an interactive part of the power grid in ways that can dramatically lower costs to the user and demand on utilities, thereby helping achieve all of the environmental, social, and national benefits noted above."

Being the nervous type, the first things I think of are law enforcement horning in this system to collect data for profiling future threats and possible crimes, and marketers spam-bombing this fabulous interconnectivity. Imagine getting a multi-media sales pitch with every toilet flush. You watch, it will happen.

But that's not the point of Mr. Updegrove's articles. This is the future, like it or not, so I believe it is important for advocates of software freedom to see this as an important arena to influence, and to work to make it an open, accountable process. It's too important to leave it up to the parties who stand to profit from it to have all the decision-making power.

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