Barefoot Man: Towards Open Source Humanity 

Barefoot Man: Towards Open Source Humanity 


When we began our project as the Warwick Rowers calendar back in 2009, the world and the internet were both very different places.   

The world was still not ready to believe that a group of handsome, heterosexual young rowers at a prestigious English university would undress in front of the world to promote LGBTQI+ rights, and specifically to make queer men feel more welcome in sport.  

We proved the world wrong on that score, but we gradually learned that we had got our own learning to do.   

The growing awareness of inequality between men and women that came from the #metoo movement showed us that looking at men’s bodies had relevance beyond just men.  Black Lives Matter and the growing concerns about the unrealistic body standards being promoted on social media showed us that, despite our best intentions, we had to be more mindful to avoid being part of the problem. 

The increasing focus of online power in the hands of a few companies based largely in Silicon Valley showed us that our nudity was already part of the problem.  These organisations, particularly Alphabet and Meta, could not understand our perspective on nudity as a force for social change rather than as a purely profit-driven tool for commercial exploitation.  That was, after all, their own key motivation and we have been impacted over many years by the financial and cultural agendas of these massive corporations.   

We started life in a digital world that was dominated by individuals with blogs and a passion to share information, and we have watched as that has changed.  The predominant business model of the internet today is geared more towards consumerism than enlightenment, showcasing a fundamental misalignment of intent and execution in digital spaces. 

For us, Wikipedia is one of the remaining examples of an ethos that seemed to prevail when our project began 15 years ago.  Wikipedia reflects the potential for technology to foster knowledge and empowerment and remains free to do so, unfettered by the vested interests of Big Tech and its big money backers.  

The Barefoot Initiative: A Vision for Democratic AI 

We aim to learn from Wikipedia and its model of independence.  The Barefoot Way envisions an AI-driven future where technology serves as a catalyst for true democratic engagement, much like Wikipedia has for knowledge sharing. In this future, AI could enable a real-time, global conversation reflecting the collective human will—an unprecedented form of democracy previously unachievable due to technological constraints. 

However, this optimistic scenario is not guaranteed. Without a commitment to inclusivity and public interest, AI could become just another tool for concentrated power, reducing individuals to mere tenants in their digitally mediated lives, their thoughts and experiences monetized and managed by a select few. 

A Crossroads of Ideologies 

The introduction of AI into this complex landscape presents a critical juncture. It offers a path towards a renewed dialogue between contrasting ideologies like capitalism and socialism, reminiscent of post-1945 discussions. It poses an opportunity to redefine societal constructs and power dynamics through enhanced connectivity and shared understanding. 

AI stands at the crossroads of being the harbinger of new dialogues or the terminator of meaningful conversation. It is imperative that AI development be guided by a collective intentionality, reflecting a broad spectrum of human experiences and ethical considerations to avoid replicating past mistakes of exclusion and bias. 

Conclusion: Charting the Future Together 

As we stand on the brink of potentially paving paradise to put up a digital parking lot, the choices we make today will determine the legacy of AI for generations to come.  

We believe it is essential to foster an open-source approach to AI development—akin to the Barefoot Way—where technology reflects the diversity and richness of human experience, supporting not just economic but holistic societal progress.  

Through Barefoot Man and a broader Barefoot model to come, we aim to ensure that AI serves as a tool for true human advancement, preserving individual freedoms and promoting collective enlightenment.