Ventilator Software Should Be Free

Thu 26 March 2020 | tags: rants,

Coronavirus, COVID-19, etc. it goes by many names (some of which are borderline racist). It's hit us pretty hard and it's turning life upside down for a lot of people. This post is not going to be about how rough it has been for me, it's really been pretty great. I'm working from home for like a month and have seen no reduction in the work that I'm doing so it's really the same as going to work except I don't have to pay for gas! It's not about my thoughts on the politics of the situation (although I have those). This post is about ventilators. The piece of equipment that is in seemingly short supply and likely won't improve anytime soon.

Whatever you think about the use of the Defense Production Act in this situation, it doesn't change the fact that we are low on ventilators. In order to get more ventilators, people who don't typically make ventilators need to make ventilators. Whether that is willingly or not is not important to the matter at hand.

The difficulty for a lot of these companies has been that ventilators are incredibly complex. Many companies have reported that the most difficult part is the software the controls the machines. In that spirit, I've decided to channel my inner RMS and complain about the fact that ventilator software is a closely guarded secret that companies are defending even in the time of a crisis.

I'm not some Free Software zealot that says you can't create, use, or love closed source software. I work for a closed source software company for crying out loud. Having said that, it's insane to me that software for something as vital as a ventilator is closed source. If you want to close source your video game, go for it. It's not a life or death thing. A ventilator is a different story. This should be freely available software that other people can work on, if necessary. If there is a definition of "common good" ventilator software definitely fits that definition.

There are a lot of issues with the ways in which we as American view the health care industry. Often times, the default is profits over people. I'm not a healthcare worker or an insurance executive. I don't know enough about those to contribute meaningfully. I am however, knowledgeable about software. This seems like a good hill to stand on.