NASA Astronaut Ron Garan on How Open Source and Data Sharing Will Tear Down the Walls that Separate Us

Many organizations are reluctant to share important information across national borders. Astronaut Ron Garan, whose time in space helped him see the world in a whole new way, argues that these apprehensions fail to take into account the big picture: We're all in this together. We need to get into the habit of promoting information transparency and working toward international collaboration, says Garan. Prioritizing these things will reap myriad economic, infrastructural, and innovation rewards.
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Ron Garan: The global society, the landscape of our global community is really changing rapidly and there are trends that are developing that, I think, embraced and accelerated could have a profound positive effect on the trajectory of our global society. And I think the open-source movement, data sharing I think is a very, very big part of that. It’s important for organizations to have all the pieces of the puzzle, especially if these are development organizations, these are crisis-response organizations. But we have not to date really had a sufficient, effective means to share data. And by that I don’t mean we have technical barriers to sharing data. We have cultural barriers to sharing data. There are a lot of organizations around the world including crisis-response and development and humanitarian organizations that are reluctant to share the real data that enables true collaboration and I think that’s a mindset we need to get around. The other thing is there’s a difference between providing data and providing data in a usable, user-friendly way that people could actually use for good. And so there are a lot of efforts around the world to be able to take, particularly, big data and to put that into bite-size bits, to put that in something that can be used by the public, used by citizen scientists, used by governments to create good. And I think there’s a strong movement in that direction, but we’ve got a long way to go.

One of the things that I think is really going to affect our global society is — and one of the things that I think is going to propel open source and transparency and data sharing is — I believe that true open collaboration, which requires all those things, is going to be a tremendous economic engine. And I think that those organizations and those people and those governments that deal in corruption and deal in secretive dealing — those organizations that take an exclusively proprietary mindset are going to see themselves being left behind. And they’re going to have to adapt and evolve and take on a much more collaborative and cooperative mindset to be able to keep up with the economic growth that true open collaboration will bring. And I think this is a really significant trend. You know there’s many problems that we face as a global society. Corruption for instance. I don’t think — we’ve had corruption probably since the first transaction and I don’t think we’re going to be able to tackle that head on. But we can potentially make corruption obsolete by making it irrelevant, by making it be an ineffective way to do business.