[Noisebridge-discuss] Sigh -- I'm not helping with Maker Faires this year.

Michael Prados mprados at gmail.com
Wed Apr 4 02:20:42 PDT 2012

I'm very uncomfortable with the Make division of O'Reilly Media's decision
to work with DARPA on a high school program, but I recognize it is a
complex issue.  I seek to be a pragmatist in many ways, but I can't quite
talk myself into this one.  The basis of my concern is the notion of
stewardship of technology.

I believe that technology is the main, if not the only, means of permanent
societal change.  Rhetoric, activism, fashion, aesthetics, or the cult of
an unusual personality can carry the day, and sometimes decades or
longer.   But, without new technology (and you'll excuse me for using the
conveniently broad definition of technology on wikipedia,) these changes
are ultimately temporary.

This means, that if you want to effect lasting societal change, stewardship
over technology is critical.  It is true that technologies created with the
best of intentions can be turned towards wicked ends, and that technologies
created for the worst reasons can be adapted to benefit humanity.  But, I
believe, it is imperative that we try to steward technology towards
humanitarian ends.  It is only by trying, and observing what works and
doesn't work (my pragmatic angle...) that we might learn to be wiser
stewards.  Randomly going after technology regardless of moral intent is
likely to give more scatter shot results, and seems more likely to lead to
suffering than an approach directed intentionally towards humanitarian ends.

This is why I think intention matters, and why I feel that an organization
whose goals are like DARPA's are so problematic.  It is one thing to juggle
means and ends with transient tools (rhetoric, etc,) for any damage can
only last so long.  But, if your mission is to turn innovation towards war
(and I fully credit DARPA with being good at innovation,) then there is a
risk of a much longer lasting harm to society.

I feel that one of the greatest failings in American STEM education, where
it is successful at connecting eager students with good teachers, is that
the question of technology stewardship is not well addressed.  I've even
felt that a sort of moral nihilism is even encouraged - "Your job is to
innovate.  Cash your check, go home, and let someone else worry about the
long term."  I worry that a class of innovative nihilists may even be worse
than permitting technological ignorance.

Since this program gives DARPA, an organization which scares me so much,
direct influence over high school students, the ones most hurting for
wisdom about technology stewardship, I have a hard time justifying the
moral calculus.  I'm in awe of the opportunity I see that I missed by not
having access to the resources this program provides, but dread more the
harm I could have done.

As to whether this makes sitting out Maker Faire a moral imperative, I am
not sure about that.  It does strike me that an organized boycott may be an
effective tool to send a message of disapproval.  Although, as a
pragmatist, I do see the benefit of showing up and exemplifying an
alternative moral philosophy.

Regardless, this certainly does take some of the fun out of Maker Faire.
I've always had an uneasy feeling that Make was co-opting an existing grass
roots movement.  Maybe a maker is just a hacker without the soul.


On Wed, Apr 4, 2012 at 2:10 AM, Jacob Appelbaum <jacob at appelbaum.net> wrote:

> On 04/03/2012 09:42 AM, Matt Joyce wrote:
> >
> > And I want to remind you.  DARPA isn't in the business of killing people.
> > It's in the business of engineering peace where there is none.  War and
> > chaos do not achieve the objectives of DARPA or the US military.  Their
> > goal is to END conflict.  They don't start it.  They get tasked to "end
> it"
> > usually on favorable terms.  You want to equate defense work with
> "murder"
> > I'd point the finger at the ambassadors, senators, and other political
> > entities that allow war to happen.  Some of them will own that
> > responsibility and some of them will shirk it.  But to place blame on
> > for it is somewhat absurd.
> >
> > Just some thoughts.
> >
> Hi Matt,
> I just wanted to quote Darpa's home page[0] for you:
> "The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) was established
> in 1958 to prevent strategic surprise from negatively impacting U.S.
> national security and create strategic surprise for U.S. adversaries by
> maintaining the technological superiority of the U.S. military.
> "To fulfill its mission, the Agency relies on diverse performers to
> apply multi-disciplinary approaches to both advance knowledge through
> basic research and create innovative technologies that address current
> practical problems through applied research.  DARPA’s scientific
> investigations span the gamut from laboratory efforts to the creation of
> full-scale technology demonstrations in the fields of biology, medicine,
> computer science, chemistry, physics, engineering, mathematics, material
> sciences, social sciences, neurosciences and more.  As the DoD’s primary
> innovation engine, DARPA undertakes projects that are finite in duration
> but that create lasting revolutionary change.
> So when you say they're not in the business of killing people, you're
> almost right - they sub-contract it out. It's a distinction without a
> difference for most people.
> ( I wrote a lot of other stuff but then I realized I originally just
> wanted to correct your misstatement for the record of other
> noisebridge-discuss readers and not to argue with you.)
> All the best,
> Jake
> [0] http://www.darpa.mil/our_work/
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