Tux with Nobel Peace Prize

Linus Torvalds for the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize!!!

Since the Nobel Peace Prize is often given to politicians, some disagree with the choices. But it is often given to non-politicians who create international efforts to change the world for the better.

The free software movement has been with us since the beginning of programming. The movement was defined and elaborated by Richard Stallman, who inspired many programmers. However, the effort broke into the mainstream, and became a huge international effort, because of the work of a 21yo Finnish college student named after 1962 Nobel Peace Prize winner Linus Pauling. It would be fitting to honor this world-changing process by giving a Peace Prize to Linus Torvalds, perhaps in 2011 on the 20th anniversary of the August 1991 Linux announcement, or in 2012 on the 50th anniversary of Pauling's award.

Linux is one of the largest cooperative international efforts ever undertaken. It inspired Ubuntu, One Laptop Per Child, and many other global projects. Linux conquered the supercomputer space, the server space, the embedded computer space - by peaceful means! Linux helped sequence the human genome, helps protect the world computer infrastructure from viral attack, and is now the pathway for millions to learn computer programming and participate in new international efforts.

While I imagine Linus Torvalds would be embarrassed by the attention, it would sure make his parents happy. And it would mean one less Peace Prize for a politician. :-)

Why not share the award with other major contributors?

When thinking about projects like securing the Nobel Peace Prize, think in terms of optimizing for a successful outcome rather than optimizing for proper distribution of credit.

Right now, there is a controversy in the electronics community about which individuals should have gotten the Nobel Physics Prize for the CCD imager. There was a cast of thousands. Where do you stop?

If we include the deserving Mark Shuttleworth and Richard Stallman and Jimmy Wales, shouldn't we include Ward Cunningham, for example? How about Dennis Ritchie and Ken Thompson? Kirk McCusick? Tim Behrners-Lee? Bob Metcalfe? Vint Cerf? Lawrence Lessig? Bill Gates (gasp)??? The list is endless - and that is our most powerful selling point.

Would you demand Richard Stallman if the result was the inclusion of Bill Gates as well? Remember, we can suggest (indirectly), but we CANNOT CHOOSE. It is a committee of 5 Norwegian politicians who make the choice. Think about their decision making process, and the pressures they must respond to.

The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded to communities, usually in the form of their most visible and least controversial leader. Study the history of the prize recipients. Yes, there are some flavors of the month, and there are plenty of individuals who later proved unworthy of the prize, but across the broad sweep of history, the movements they represented mattered, and still affect us today.

For example, the award to the Current Occupant is not for the particular accomplishments of that person, but to the American election process. Amid much contention, we still did something that would be impossible in most of the rest of the racist world. If the result of that is more free and open elections in the rest of the world, it takes away some of the sting for those of us who preferred different candidates. Many may not agree with the particular result, and we may all regret our votes before the 2012 election, but this is the kind of process that the Prize committee rewards. We need to match their expectations.

I suggest we focus our efforts on a single well known, long established, and relatively uncontroversial candidate, because we can succeed best that way. Linus Torvalds is eloquent, engaging, and ... Scandanavian. We make it clear that by honoring Linus Torvalds, we are honoring the open content creative community of the entire world. We honor all the other contributors by proxy. Almost all will be thrilled to see L.T. get the Nobel Peace Prize (except Bill Gates). We also honor the work of the 1962 Nobel Prize committee, whose award to Linus Pauling had a direct effect on the production of Linux and of its principal author. We draw support from every country in the world.

We open the door for other twentieth anniversary prizes, such as the 2021 peace prize for Wikipedia to Jimmy Wales and Ward Cunningham, the 2021 literature prize to Lawrence Lessig for Creative Commons, and the 2024 peace prize for Ubuntu to Mark Shuttleworth. This is our first opportunity; if we do it right, it is by no means our last.

That is how we sell the idea to Linus Torvalds: He will be helping establish the Nobel Hackers Club, which will eventually include computational physicists and chemists and physicians, collaborative literature groups, perhaps someday an A.I. entity or two. It is time to leave the machine closet and take our place in the sun ( the bright thing in the big blue room )!

Finally, framed in those terms and establishing those precedents, does anyone here think Steve Ballmer will EVER get a Nobel Prize for the monkey boy dance?

Next steps

Nobel Peace Prize candidates can be nominated by academics in political science, law, history, and other social science disciplines. Perhaps Lawrence Lessig could get the ball rolling.

According to the list on Wikipedia, the five people to convince are Thorbjørn Jagland (chair), Kaci Kullmann Five (deputy chair), Sissel Rønbeck, Inger-Marie Ytterhorn, and Ågot Valle. These are Norwegian politicians in Oslo. Perhaps we can send them Norsk language Ubuntu disks, and the many Norwegian Linux users can help them. If Linux becomes a big part of their world, Linus Torvalds becomes more visible.

Again, this is not about who deserves the Nobel Peace Prize the most. This is a matter of who among our community is most likely to be the first among many to receive the award. Think outside your world. Try to think like a Norwegian politician, perhaps a little left of center, committed to the kinds of community that Norwegians favor. Who among us most resembles a Norwegian politician? Sorry, Linus, but the rest of us fit the mold even more poorly than you do!

For more information, email to ltnpp (at) keithl (dot) com .

This email address is NOT to be used for unsolicited commercial email.

last revision November 20, 2009