A Six-Month Retrospective on Ethical Open Source

Curated by: Small Business Management

The Parable of the Locksmith

Photo CC-BY Will Folsom.

The parable of the locksmith presented here is based on a thought exercise proposed in the 1960s by Edmund Berkeley, early computing pioneer and founder of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM).

“One day, a mysterious stranger walked into a locksmith’s shop. The locksmith had never seen this man before, but he could tell from the way he was dressed that the stranger was well-to-do. He came to the locksmith with a proposition.

“‘I have a job that needs doing, and it requires someone with your highly specialized skills,’ he said. ‘I’ve done my research and you are one of the smartest and most capable locksmiths I’ve ever heard about.’

“He felt very flattered, and more than a little intrigued. The man continued.

“‘I want to hire you to open a certain safe. Never mind whose safe it is—that’s none of your concern. Just do the job I hire you to do, and I will make you rich beyond your wildest dreams.’

“The locksmith was excited at the proposition of such a lucrative job, but also a bit nervous about not knowing who the safe belonged to. It seemed suspicious.


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