The Dark Side of Protection

Chapter 12 from A Different Universe by Robert Laughlin.

The Dark Corollaries also have important and disturbing consequences for business and the economy. … Suppose I write a computer program that allegedly predicts something. I tell you the underlying equations – in other words, what the code ostensibly does – but not reveal the method by which I solved them. I allege that solving these equations correctly is just a matter of being smart enough … You are sure you wrote the code correctly and now realize that I simply lied, since the equations are unstable. … No one can solve them! Proving this, however, is impossible for the same reason that they cannot be solved in the first place, no can you check what I did to see whether it is right, because it is proprietary. …  The most you can do is to write a paper or patent saying you have some “technology” that does something different from what mine does and has a different practical application.

We can put a positive spin on the sitation by saying that unstable physical systems are important economically because they enable us to reveal the fundamentals of a thing without revealing the thing itself.

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