Natural Disasters and Environmental Events

This post was collaboratively written by Liz Barry, Greg Bloom, Willow Brugh, and Tamara Shapiro. It was translated by Mariel García (thank you). Español debajo.

Every year, communities are affected by “extreme environmental events.” These might include hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, or floods. There are, of course, official response agencies with mandates to rescue, feed, heal, and rebuild; however, the true first responders are always people who live in the affected regions — neighbors and community leaders.

The matter of who responds — and who is supported by formal institutional response — is complicated by patterns in which historically marginalized people are often ignored or unseen by outside actors.

These patterns have been further complicated in the aftermath of recent disasters during which spontaneously-forming networks have “shown up” to assist in ways that are more rapid and distributed than is typical of the formal disaster response sector — yet without any of the accountability that formal institutions (supposedly) uphold.

During these experiences, we’ve seen clearly both the promise and the peril of modern digitally-enabled and network-led crisis response and recovery. After 2017’s alarming hurricane season, a network of people formed with interest in improving the capacity for disaster response to more effectively support local priorities and leadership in times of crisis. We are now calling for the convening of people who have worked together through crises such as Sandy, Harvey, Irma, Maria, and the like. At this “Crisis Convening,” we will share experiences and skills, explore ways to promote equity and justice through modern crisis response, and build resources for the type of assistance that we offer.

Here is our key question: in times of climate crisis, how can outsiders — formal ‘disaster response institutions,’ grassroots community organizers from other locations, emergent networks of volunteers on the ground, and ‘digital responders’ — most effectively engage and support community-based responders to achieve a more accountable, humane, and adaptive response?

At this ‘Crisis Convening’ event, we will converse and take small, actionable steps towards addressing some of the following questions, and many more we haven’t considered:

  • How can formal institutional responses best support those who are most impacted by a crisis?
  • How can spontaneously forming networks provide assistance in a way that centers the needs, interests, and leadership of people who are experiencing the crisis?
  • How can we ensure that data about a community stays in that community’s control?
  • In what ways are environmental justice and disaster response related?
  • How can outside intervention support recovery as well as response?

We hope you’ll join in this conversation with us here, or (better yet!) at the event. If you are interested in participating in the convening, please fill out this form to let us know – and we’ll be in touch.

About the Event

We’re excited to announce that we’ve been invited by Public Lab to host this convening during their upcoming network gathering on July 13-15, in Newark, NJ.

Public Lab is an open community which collaboratively develops accessible, open source, Do-It-Yourself actions for investigating local environmental health and justice issues. Twice a year, they convene in an event called a “Barnraising” in the spirit of coming together to achieve something larger than can be achieved alone. At a Barnraising, people share advocacy strategies through telling stories from their lived experience, build and modify tools for collecting data, deeply explore local concerns presented by partner organizations and community members, and connect with others working on similar environmental issues across regions.

During this convening, we will gather between 30-60 people from areas that have been hit by climate crisis in the past 15 years to discuss real-world scenarios and discuss actionable steps to help ourselves and others practice more effective community-centric crisis response.

Here’s how we hope to do that:

Dedication to local voices and representation

The impacts of crisis often fall heaviest on those who are already struggling. We hope to include those most impacted, though we also understand such folk might have a diminished capacity to engage. To address this, we are inviting an intentionally broad set of people, actively supporting child care at the event, and offering scholarships to those who express interest and need.

We will need all kinds of help to make this happen. Will you sponsor a participant who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford to participate? Click here to contribute to travel and accommodation costs.

An advance day for Crisis Convening

On Friday, July 13th we will gather to focus on the matter of crisis response. Attendees are encouraged to have a quick conversation with the facilitator in advance to shape the agenda. We might share skills, contribute to a resource repository for communities entering a time of crisis, or further explore how inequality plays out (and can be counteracted) in response.

Public Lab Barnraising

Building on the energy coming out of the Crisis Convening, we can continue our conversation in the same location Saturday and Sunday as more people join for Public Lab’s Barnraising. On the first morning of the barnraising, all participants, including those from Crisis Convening, will collaborate to create the schedule via an “Open Space” approach. This process will ensure that the agenda speaks directly to the interests of the people present. Crisis Convening delegates will be welcomed to add their topics to the schedule. The Code of Conduct applies here as in all other Public Lab spaces.

Please Let us Know What You Think

  • In comments
  • Reach out to discuss directly
  • Join us at the event.  If you are interested, please fill out this form to let us know.  We will follow up with an official registration form shortly
  • Sponsor a participant who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford to participate. Clickhere to contribute to travel and accommodation costs

Together, we hope to discover small, actionable projects together which will equip community-first response, whether through organizing, technology, institutions, or things we have yet to discover. We hope you will join us.

Este post fue escrito en colaboración por Liz Barry, Greg Bloom, Willow Brugh y Tamara Shapiro. Fue traducido por Mariel García.

Cada año, hay comunidades que son afectadas por “eventos ambientales extremos”. Éstos pueden incluir huracanes, terremotos, tornados o inundaciones. Por supuesto, hay agencias de respuesta oficial con mandatos para rescatar, alimentar, reconstruir, etcétera; sin embargo, los verdaderos primeros intervinientes siempre son personas que viven en las áreas afectadas: vecinos, líderes comunitarios, etcétera.

La cuestión de quién responde, y quién recibe apoyo por parte de la respuesta institucional formal, es complicada por los patrones en los que poblaciones históricamente marginadas tienden a ser ignoradas o no vistas por actores externos.

Estos patrones se han complicado aun más en las secuelas de desastres recientes a lo largo de las cuales redes de formación espontánea han “llegado” a asistir de maneras que son más rápidas y distribuidas de lo típico en el sector de respuesta formal a desastres, aunque sin la rendición de cuentas a la que las instituciones formales (supuestamente) están sujetas.

A lo largo de estas experiencias, hemos visto con claridad la promesa y el peligro de la respuesta a y recuperación de crisis modernas, habilitadas por tecnologías digitales y redes. Después de la alarmante temporada de huracanes en 2017, se formó una red de personascon interés de mejorar la capacidad de respuesta en desastres para apoyar liderazgo y prioridades locales de manera más efectiva en tiempos de crisis. Ahora estamos llamando a personas que hayan trabajado juntas en crisis como Sandy, Harvey, Irma, María, y otras similares. En esta “Reunión de crisis” compartiremos experiencias y habilidades, exploraremos maneras de promover equidad y justicia a través de la respuesta moderna, y construremos recursos para el tipo de asistencia que ofrecemos.

Aquí está nuestra pregunta clave: En tiempos de crisis climática, ¿cómo pueden los extranjeros (las instituciones formales de respuesta a desastres, líderes de desarrollo comunitarios de otros contextos, las redes emergentes de voluntarios y las personas que hacen respuesta digital) involucrarse y apoyar a los respondientes locales de la manera más efectiva para promover la respuesta más humana, adaptativa y responsable?

En esta “Reunión de crisis”, conversaremos y tomaremos pasos pequeños y accionables para abordar algunas de las siguientes preguntas, y otras más que aún no hemos considerado:

  • ¿Cómo pueden las instituciones de respuesta formales apoyar de la mejor manera a aquéllos que son impactados por una crisis?
  • ¿Cómo pueden las redes de formación espontánea proveer asistencia de una manera que se centre en las necesidades, intereses y liderazgo de quienes están experimentando la crisis?
  • ¿Cómo podemos asegurarnos de que los datos de una comunidad queden bajo el control de esa comunidad?
  • ¿De qué maneras están relacionadas la justicia ambiental y la respuesta a desastres?
  • ¿Cómo puede la intervención externa apoyar tanto la recuperación como la respuesta?

Esperamos que te unas a esta conversación con nosotros aquí, o (mejor aun) en el evento. Si estás interesado/a en participar en la reunión, por favor llena esta forma para comunicarlo, y nosotros nos pondremos en contacto contigo.

Acerca del evento

Nos emociona anunciar que nos invitó Public Lab a ser anfitriones de esta reunión en la próxima reunión de su red del 13 al 15 de julio en Newark, NJ.

Public Lab es una comunidad abierta que colabora para desarrollar acciones accesibles, de código abierto en el espíritu de “Hágalo usted mismo” para investigar salud ambiental local y temas de justicia. Dos veces al año, se reúnen en un evento llamado “” (“construcción del rebaño” en inglés) en el espíritu de juntarse a lograr algo más grande de lo que se puede lograr en soledad. En un barnraising, la gente comparte estrategias de defensa a través de contar historias de su experiencia vivida; la construcción y modificación de herramientas para recolectar datos; la exploración de preocupaciones locales presentadas por contrapartes organizacionales y miembros de la comunidad; y la conexión con otras y otros trabajando en problemas ambientales similares en distintas regiones.

Durante esta reunión, juntaremos entre 30 y 60 personas de áreas que han sido afectadas por crisis climáticas en los últimos 15 años para discutir escenarios del mundo real y pasos accionables para ayudarnos a nosotros y a otros a practicar respuesta de crisis centrada en la comunidad de manera más efectiva.

Esperamos hacerlo de la siguiente manera:

Dedicación a voces locales y representación

Los impactos de la crisis seguido caen con mayor peso sobre aquéllos que están de por sí batallando antes del evento. Esperamos incluir a los más afectados, aunque también comprendemos que estas personas podrían tener una capacidad disminuida para involucrarse. Para abordar esto, estamos invitando a un conjunto intencionalmente amplio de personas, activamente apoyando el cuidado infantil en el evento, y ofreciendo becas a quienes expresen su interés y necesidad.

Necesitaremos todos los tipos de ayuda para lograr este cometido. ¿Podrías patrocinar a un participante que de otra manera no podría costear su participación? Haz clic aquí para contribuir a los costos de viaje y estancia.

Un día de preparación para la Reunión de crisis

El viernes 13 de julio nos reuniremos para enfocarnos en el tema de respuesta de crisis. Se alienta a las y los participantes a que tengan una conversación rápida con el equipo de faclitación con antelación para influir en la agenda. Podemos compartir habilidades, contribuir a un repositorio de recursos para comunidades que entran a un tiempo de crisis, o explorar más cómo las inequidades operan (y pueden ser contrarrestadas) en la respuesta.

Barnraising” de Public Lab

Para aprovechar la energía resultante de la Reunión de crisis, podemos continuar la conversación en el mismo espacio el sábado y el domingo con las personas que lleguen al Branraising de Public Lab. En la primera mañana del barnraising, todas las personas que participen, incluyendo a las de la Reunión de crisis, colaborarán para crear la agenda a través de la técnica de “espacio abierto”. Este proceso ayudará a que la agenda apele directamente a los intereses de las personas presentes. Las y los participantes de la Reunión de crisis serán bienvenidos a añadir sus temas a la agenda. El Código de conducta aplicará en éste y todos los demás espacios de Public Lab.

Por favor dinos qué piensas

  • En los comentarios
  • Contactándonos para platicar directamente
  • Viniendo al evento. Si te interesa, por favor llena este formulario para informarnos. Te contestaremos con una forma de registro oficial.
  • Patrocina a alguien que de otra manera no podría costear su participación. Haz clicaquí para contribuir a los gastos de transporte y estancia.

Juntas y juntos, esperamos descubrir proyectos pequeños y accionables que equipen respuesta donde la comunidad esté adelante, ya sea a través de la organización, la tecnología, las instituciones, o mecanismos que tenemos aún por descubrir. Esperamos te unas a nosotros.

An Open Letter From Civic Hackers to Puerto Rico & USVI in the Wake of Hurricane Maria

I am working with a group of civic developers committed to supporting Hurricane victims for relief & recovery who have helped with the software development and data analysis of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma primarily in Texas and Florida. In the wake of Hurricane Maria, we want to help Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the same way. Devastation has already occurred in Puerto Rico and the USVI, and we’re here to help in the response and recovery pending from Maria.

But, we won’t jump in without your permission. These places have a long history of imperialism, and we refuse to add tech colonialism on top of that.

Here’s how we might be able to help:


Sometimes emergency services are overloaded fielding calls and deploying assistance. Remote grassroots groups help take in additional requests through social media and apps like Zello and then help to dispatch local people who are offering to perform rescue services (like the Cajun Navy in Houston after Hurricane Harvey).

Shelter updates

As people seek shelter while communication infrastructure remains spotty, having a way to text or call to findt the nearest shelter accepting people becomes useful. We can remotely keep track of what shelters are open and accepting people by calling them and scraping websites, along with extra information such as if they accept pets and if they check identification.

Needs matching

As people settle into shelters or return to their homes, they start needing things like first aid supplies and building materials. Shelter managers or community leaders seek ways to pair those offering material support with those in need of the support. We help with the technology and data related to taking and fulfilling these requests, although we don’t fulfill the requests directly ourselves.

If you are interested in this, please let us know by emailing me (bl00 at mit) or finding us on Twitter at @irmaresponse or @sketchcityhou.

Here are other groups lending aid already (maintained by someone else).
If you’re looking to jump in an an existing task, Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team already has a tasker active for helping to map the area for responders and coordination.

So you want to build a tech tool which bridges political divides…

I reached out to friends at Center for Civic Media about how much I’ve been hearing lately about folk wanting to “pop communication bubbles.” A bunch of these (and Berkman) folk have been working on things like that for a long time, and have some excellent things to share in regards to our attempts, successes, failures. This is a near-exact transposition of their response to my prompt. Platforms which already try to bridge political (or other) differences:

A review of these systems is in breaks news into simple statements, lets users vote their opinion Things which indicate how great Amber is and that it should be used, but I bet were great when they led somewhere:

Attention and Atrocities

Every year, Canada’s Médecins Sans Frontières (AKA Doctors Without Borders / MSF) meets for their Annual General Assembly. I know about this because two years ago their topic was “Is MSF missing the technology boat?” to which I was invited to speak about Geeks Without Bounds and community technology projects with the talk “Technology as a Means to Equality” (video broken because of issues with GWOB YouTube account, and with my apologies). I went back this year because my organizational crush on them maintains, and because Aspiration (my employer for teh past 2 years, a technology capacity building organization for nonprofits) has been working on an ecosystem map of the digital response space. The real-world and values-driven experience of MSF provided valuable insights and data points for that map, and so I went seeking their input. I spent the first day at their Logistics Day hearing about 3D printing for manufacturing and prosthetics, telemedicine, and use of smart phones. My second day was for the Annual General Assembly again, this time as an attendee. The first half of the day focused on how to deal with the bombings of hospitals in war zones, the second half on mental health for patients and for field practitioners. I’d like to speak to you here about the first half of that day, how it overlaps with things I’ve learned here at the Center for Civic Media, things I was reminded of during bunnie and Snowden’s announcement at Forbidden Research, and things which have sadly continued to be relevant.


There are certain things that humanity has learned we find untenable from past experience. Some of these lessons are most notably codified in the Geneva Conventions, ratified by the UN and its membership. Among other things, the Geneva Conventions cover how noncombatants should not be involved in conflict, the right to bring someone to trial for war crimes, and the right to access to medical treatment. This last is of most concern of MSF, namely in that more and more hospitals in war zones are being bombed. These bombings are happening without the external accountability which the Geneva Conventions and the UN Security Council claim to uphold (then again, 4 of the 5 permanent seats on the UN Security Council are held by countries linked to these bombings, so that’s maybe a conflict of interest and integrity). So, maybe this is not a system of accountability we can necessarily depend on any longer. How can the bombings be stopped? Who can (and should) hold those doing the bombings accountable, if not the long-standing (albeit imperfect) Geneva Convertion mechanism? MSF has been maintaining a campaign for public visibility, hoping this will lead to some level of accountability via #NotATarget.

The question that I remembered during bunnie and Snowden’s announcement at Forbidden Research was: are these individual blips of horror across many different countries, or is this a new norm? bunnie and Snowden were referring to the subtle but systemic targeting and killing of journalists. MSF panelists spoke of the picking off of hospitals in conflict zones, sometimes when nothing else around them has been attacked. There are two things at play here: a technological way to do the targeting, but also the acceptance of this happening. One speaker at MSF AGA, Marine Buissonniere, spoke to both of these points by indicating that we should be able to hold both highly contextual circumstances and overall trends in mind at the same time. Perhaps the bombing of one hospital happened in a silo of decision making for one military, but the fact that it is deemed acceptable by so many at the same time indicates a deeper shift in global cultural norms. She and the other panelists also spoke to how this is an ongoing attack on civic life, that hospitals are the last refuge in times of war, and to make them unsafe is to remove the provision of basic needs to entire regions. Whether a subtle cultural shift or a concerted effort to errode transparency, accountability, and safety; both the cases of hospital bombings and targeted journalist killings come from a similar place of disregard for human life and for accountability. It is our responsibility to hold those taking these actions accountable.

It can be difficult to understand what this sort of thing means. It is difficult to build empathy, a huge component in bringing sufficient public attention on those trampling human rights to hold them accountable. The panelists acknowledged “outrage fatigue” coupled with the failure to act from enforcement agencies and courts. When our attention wanes, so too do the mechanisms of accountability. Similar to the work already done around Media Cloud and Catherine’s work on location of the news, a question emerged: would people have cared differently if these bombings were happening a part of the world other than the Middle East and North Africa? Regardless, those perpetrating these violences are benefiting from our outrage fatigue. How can we take care of ourselves and each other while balancing our areas of influence with our areas of concern? How do we choose which actions to take?

Journalism and Medicine

This is in part why I think MSF is so amazing. They act both to respond to a basic human need (access to medical care) in places often abandonded or never paid attention to begin with, and they speak truth about the circumstances in which they do so. To publicly statewhere a hospital is both puts them in immense danger and also protects them through public outcry against that danger… but only if those outcries continue to occur. To seek justice for infractions to human rights can be seen as non-neutral, which would then put MSF deeper in harm’s way.

One way to navigate this might be divvying up parts of this ecosystem. Diederik Lohman from Human Rights Watched joined the panel to speak about documentation and accountability — documentation which MSF practitioners are not trained to create, and the creation of which might jeapordize their status as neutral parties. If instead someone from Human Rights Watch were to document, could MSF better maintain their role as a humanitarian, and therefore neutral, party?

Truth is the first casualty of war

Many of the atrocities associated with #NotATarget remain unaccounted for due to politics. But some have to do with a lack of visibility of the incidents and others of the context of the incidents. MSF often doesn’t disclose the nationalities of their clinicians as a way to emphasize that all tragedy is human tragedy, rather than allowing countries to cherry-pick reporting based on what seems connected to them. But they’re also not great at indicating how many different demographics across civilians and combattants they’ve served on a given day. The impartial nature of their service delivery is invisible to both local and international crowds. What would documentation look like which helped MSF do its job, made disruptions of that work visible in a trusted way, and wouldn’t add to the reach of the surveillance state?

I came away from both of these sessions with more questions than I arrived with, but also greater trust and awareness of the others doing work in these spaces. All my best, in solidarity and hypoallergenic kittens, for all that you do.

Forbidden Research liveblog: Messing with Nature: Genetics and Climate

Live blog by Sam Klein, Natalie, and myself.


How do you innovate in a field of massive potential and risk? When it comes to genetically engineering living things, most of the technology being developed happens behind closed doors. How do we change the perception of science and genetic engineering with an emphasis on openness for the sake of safety, ethics, and cautionary vigilance but continue to move forward? Who should be responsible for making “god-like” decisions that will ultimately affect our entire future as a society? Megan Palmer, Senior Research Scholar, Center for International Security and Cooperation, Stanford University was our moderator.

Developing the field of synthetic biology. Policy and practices around the safety, security, ethics, governance around engineering biology. Does getting better at doing this actually increase our health, prosperity, etc? Microscopic organisms are already trying to kill us all the time. Are unintentional ramifications or malicious use open us up to unacceptable risks? Can we make this information open to the wide public? We’re both destroying and saving the world all at the same time.

There’s a First Robotics competition. We have genetically engineered machine competition. What will undergrads make? Don’t compete them against each other, but instead “what is the most useful thing we can do with this tech?” Give incentives and rewards to be thinking about these questions the whole way. Learn the US had a destructive biological warfare program. Since the 70s we don’t do that, that they have to uphold that. Limit between what is constructive and destructive. Dual use research concerns, like work on pathogens. When we develop the data about balancing things, the jury is still out. Who decides in these cases of uncertainty?

Community consent, the dangers and benefits of bioengineering

Kevin Esvelt, Director of the Sculpting Evolution Research Group, MIT Media Lab
When we engineer life, what does that say to other people? What are the repercussions to the living systems we depend upon? We tamper with them at our peril. When we alter one organism, we tamper with something nature has optimized to thrive in the wild. So we end those threads when we mess with individual organisms (or we upset the rest of the ecosystem). Gene Drive Inheritance makes dominant genes (so spread through the wild). Block out all mosquitoes that carry malaria. Make crops that are not tasty to invasive species ending blights. What if someone makes a mistake? Public backlash and harm to the planet, to the population, to the field, to research. Working to make all work in the open. If we have the possibility of messing everything up, everyone should be able to see what we’re doing. We’re not always careful, there are laboratory accidents. Right now it’s hard to find other pieces of the puzzle, hard to know if your efforts are wasted if someone else is already doing it. By working in the open we are more effective AND more ethical.

Preventing mice at Martha’s Vineyard from getting infected with Lyme disease, which means no ticks would have it, which means kids don’t have it. Working with the potential community before we even start the research. We want independent monitoring set up by you to be sure everything goes well. End points for the project unless you say it’s ok to proceed. [and of the 100 people who came to this meeting, every one supported moving forward]. So there is a way of moving forward in cases like this, but trust is not a given. It must be earned each and every time.

Bringing back from extinction, or revitalizing endangered species?

Ryan Phelan, Executive Director and Co-founder, Revive & Restore, The Long Now Foundation

No one believed we could completely wipe out a species. But now it’s ingrained that extinction is forever. Is there recoverable DNA? Would that change the game? Woolly Mammoth in a healthy ecosystem someday. It’s a long project. But it’s super taboo for academics and funders. But they’re happy about the other side (helping endangered species come back). Secure gov sponsorships, fish and wildlife, etc.

It will take away from teh concept that “Extinction is Forever” as a rallying cry which has helped us be motivated as citizens. But if we’re pioneering this, like from the Passenger Pigeon we could recreate that ecosystem. Taking money away from conservation (if it’s a 0-sum game). We want to bring more money in. We may release a problem for future generations. We’ve made it look easy so people will take money off of protection. Frozen Zoo! Was considered rouge for taking in and saving endangered species DNA. But we’re now taking cells out to increase genetic variation. Now the Frozen Zoo is prescient.

The context of genetic engineering

George Church, Professor of Genetics, Harvard Medical School
It may be forbidden to do some research on others, but it seems moral to experiment on yourself, your own body. I know a number of people, now, doing gene therapy on themselves, way in advance of animal trials.

There are a number of trials currently underway. This ability to self modify is quite prominent. It’s not all about genes. Many things which are heritable. We have four generations of phones in my family. We talk about genes as irreversible. the other things we inherit are hard to reverse like our culture and our technology. What we’re worried about is that something we do could be very attractive in the short term which has repercussion in the longer term. We worry about changing our environments in unintended ways. We have twice what we thought was the carrying capacity of the globe, and half of what we will end up with.
This has been a core part of our work in our lab: Making open

  1. How people are involved in medical research so they have access to their own data.
  2. Rise of synthetic biology – we’re on an exponential curve. I Argued for [open] surveillance of the uses of synthetic biology, since things are changing so rapidly, so we’re aware of what is happening

We don’t just need a reaction to things we think are yucky (germline is more acceptable than abortion to some folk). We need to think a bit out of the box rather than immediate rejection. Altering our minds, electrodes implanted in our brains for epilepsy and depression. Will become more and more biological. This can happen much faster than the germline. This is going to be a much faster revolution.

Genetic question and Answer

how do you reconcile? advisors?
* openness to being advised. listening carefully as well as teaching. hear what folk are up to, worried about. Make a special effort to make our information public (ignoring possible competitors)
* what if Martha’s Vineyard hadn’t been 100%? Would have been up to the community to decide percentage for consensus? He wanted at least one skeptic, as those are the folk who actively check you for the things that will destroy the project or allow it to cause lots of issues.
* have you decided to move forward outside of consensus? Revive and Restore adapted to public response asking for shorter term gains. We don’t need consensus to do science, but we do need public input.
Not all of our community takes these precautions. How do you resolve your differences with them?
* We decided to tell everyone BEFORE we did the thing, which is just not done in science. You usually prove it before you tell people. The history of science is that of closed doors. We can get away with being open, but what about our students? Us pushing them to being open means our students might get scooped, and that ruins their career.
We publish about the study and then ask for public comments. Sometimes we don’t get any, and somtimes they’re not good.
* You can’t just publish a lab notebook and expect others to know what to do with that. We write stories around it.
* Fruitflies – a group was going to do self-inserting CRISPR, going to publish it as a method for others to use. not thinking about ramifications across everything else. We can’t think about all the ramifications on our own.
We claim to be democratizing things, but are we actually distributing everything?
* sequencing that is hand-held. Wearable sequencing. Surveillance of micro-organisms. DIY Bio should be the ultimate in citizen science. Outreach through films and congress and etc.
Informed consent can’t be given for algorithmic decision making. What are the folk in Martha’s Vineyard consenting to? [side note from Willow to check out the Framework for Consent Policies]* Ask people to take an exam about if they understand what they’re consenting to.
* People are consenting to trying it out right now, not anything else.
As we talk about ideal genetics, who gets to decide about the ideal human? What we currently call disability, what gets expressed and not expressed? What happens to the forms that are or aren’t expressed?
* More discussion around how ti INCREASE (not decrease) diversity. There’s no ideal put forth. The lesson we learn time and again is that diversity is an extremely good thing. Culture, color, neural, bio. We’re selecting for female when we select. We’re selecting away from painful diseases.
Is any attention being given to LACK of habitat for these revitalized organisms?
* Yes. We’ve helped shape de-extinction guidelines. one main one is where they would flourish. Others include that the purpose is encouraging the flourishing the species in its natural habitat, not as a zoo specimen. And that the original cause of the extinction (hunting, pollution, etc) has been removed. increasingly we have new challenges like diseases, invasive species taking down bottleneck.
A CRISPR product has been introduced (a mushroom). There was no policy or regulation around it.
* Let’s not demonize a specific tech, but know what we do and don’t want from it.

Genetic closing

What’s the one rule you love to break, or what is one forbidden thing you’re thinking about?
* We break the rule of being silent scientists. Some colleagues say it’s not their responsibility to point things out (esp related to their funding). I don’t feel edgy stating that we’re not like that.
* Do we have a chance to think beyond what we’re doing right now?
* people in our field think that we “shouldn’t tell the muggles.” I think we should. Evolution is amoral, nature is amoral. Evolution hasn’t optimized for flourishing and wellbeing, should we be doing that? Is that moral?


Moderated by Stewart Brand, Editor, Whole Earth Catalog and Founder, Long Now Foundation; with panelists David Keith (Professor of Applied Physics, Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and Professor of Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School) and Gernot Wagner (Research Associate at Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Co-author, Climate Shock).
Geoengineering, or using technological interventions to address climate change, is much on the minds of scientists, policy makers and citizen groups. As our ability to “mess” with nature evolves from science fiction to reality, we are faced with serious questions about whether the possibility of success is worth the massive potential risks. Technologies for reflecting solar radiation back into space are being researched, but what will happen if we deploy them? Who should decide? Who will?

If anything could go wrong with something new, don’t do it. Moral hazard is “lack of incentive to guard against risk when one is protected against its consequences.” Treating the symptoms of climate change, giving people the ability to ignore the causes. “A junkie figuring out new ways to steal from their children.” The Whole Earth Discipline.
Solar geoengineering rests on the simple idea that it’s possible to make the whole earth a little more reflective. Reduces the risks of carbon. It’s relatively easy and it’s relatively cheap. It could also diminish the problems we care about most. We could bring temperatures back to pre industrial. That’s not doubted. But does it deal with extreme events like big storms, heatwaves, rising sea levels? We have no real research programs as we don’t want to think about it. But now it’s been modeled etc. On a region by region basis if used appropriately reduce all these risks, increase productivity of crops worldwide. How do we control and learn more?

Why don’t we just stop emitting carbon dioxide? no cars, planes, powerlines. Would it get warmer or colder? Warmer, because we have a delayed feedback loop. Might be up to a century. Solar geoengineering is different. We still have to get emissions to zero. It partially, imperfectly deals with the CO2 we’ve emitted in history. Lots of questions about tying ourselves to the mast, about messing with history, etc. We’re already messing with nature, it’s going to keep being messed with. We might be doing less than if we don’t do solar geoengineering.

If a person comes in who needs Lipator, they also need to diet and exercise. As an economist, you would reduce your 30 minutes of exercise by 30 seconds. But people actually do 90 and keep doing 90. Those who do none might say “holy shit I need a pill to keep me alive? Maybe I should also take the stairs more often.” Because people aren’t rational. So if we’re talking about acting on solar geoengineering as a response to climate change, are people more or likely to vote for things that reduce emissions?

We have next to no support in doing this. This research has been suggested since 1982. Field experiments might make sense as a study 2 years ago. People don’t argue back, but somehow we just can’t. There are now formal Chinese programs, EU programs. US programs are done by diverting funds or philanthropic. And this is a sort of political cowardice. Almost all climate models. Some small experiments to understand the key processes to understand the risks and efficacy. All modeling or social sciences (there might be more here and governance than science). We talk more about whether or not its ok to talk about than talking about it.

Want to deliver how to do this in a technical sense, what failure modes would look like, how to monitor for failure, governance structures. Those are our goals within the decade. Sulfuric acid because we know volcanoes do it. Limestone might slightly restore the ozone layer. We know what nature does, how long it lasts, what sort of cooling it does. Sulfate damages the ozone layer. All of this is talk until we get to experiment. Looking at key chemistry interactions which we don’t know yet. Release small amounts of various materials we think would work, see how it affects things around it. We’re not saying it should be done, we’re saying we need to develop the knowledge of how to do it so we can make informed discussions.

We can do better than sulfates for solar geoeng: Calcium carbonate; diamond dust [factory production (vapor deposition) is cheap]. System engineering when we don’t fully understand it, is that responsible? We’re committed to it. We’re already doing it. How do we couple human governance with planetary management? How intelligently are we doing to do this? We’re already altering the environment and our planet.

The people most affected by climate change are those in tropical countries who feel the heat the most. The moral pressure to protect those most affected is huge.

Challenge with cutting CO2 emissions: You don’t feel the effects of your own actions – CO2 emissions. The reason we aren’t cutting emissions, unlike progress with pollution cutting, is because the generation of people who will be cutting CO2 emissions aren’t the ones who will benefit from decrease. Simple thing is just to keep putting CO2 in the air. Mitigation takes a long time to get it to happen, slow response time. You’re talking about a quick intervention. Solar geoengineering happens within a political cycle.

Urge us not to assume that the natural answer is that the possbility of solar geoengineering. We need to do the best we can to tip the balance of the planet into our survivability. We’re up to 8 or 10 professors, getting funders to pay attention to us. Prominent environmental donors are coming up, hoping to tap in there. Harvard and China.

For solar geoeng, it’s so cheap that any country could just do it…. [or some individuals]Some companies, new startups, are working on capturing CO2 in the air. That’s less controversial: make low-carbon fuels for power. There is a competitor in Switzerland called Climeworks AG.

CO2 removal is complicated. Solar power is getting cheaper. Can use that to produce hydrogen, combine with sequestered Carbon, make fuel. Carbon in and out of the biosphere, it’s like having a pile of flamable stuff in Central Valley California. The cycle is hours (foreset fire) to decades (ecosystem life cycle). To put carbon in the ocean doesn’t work.

Recent research showing some hurricanes are being suppressed due to aerosol. Ice sheets are deeper, different.
Clearing up pollution in China — is that going to warm things up? Should we stop cleaning up the air? No! Europe in the 70s started cleaning up because acid rain etc. For Europe, decreasing tropospheric aerosol pollution has likely incrased temps in the Artic by half a degree celcius. Should we stop killing people? But then stratospheric injection. 50*26 for sulpher we put in the lower atmosphere, [THERE ARE NUMBERS I DON’T KNOW WHAT’S GOING ON — willow]

We’re talking about doing some things on islands to control for impact. What about consent when it’s the whole globe?
Sulfur doesn’t have sex. if you do a tiny experiment in the stratosphere, and you quit doing it, you’re back where you started. There’s some small risk bio would run amok. Except for a moral hazard.
But how we make a global decision like this is unprecedented. How do you handle global consensus? There is no global government. For oceans, there’s teh World Ocean Commission. 15 or so wise men or women, they don’t have any power, it’s a talking shop but it’s a place to give guidance. Step one is to take the decision away from teh scientists. They can provde the technology but it’s literally everyone else who needs to be there for when to turn the knob. We’re not tryking to deploy this, we’re trying to research it. Are the benefits and costs balanced? Vaccinations were 1000 to 1.

Will we end up with citizen science/disobedience of people doing small versions of this?

Forbidden Research liveblog: Sexual deviance: can technology protect our children?

liveblog by Alexis, Sam Klein, Natalie, and myself

Ethan Zuckerman, Director, MIT Center for Civic Media moderates.

Conducting research on adults who have sex with children is virtually impossible due to ethical and legal restrictions. The advancement of technologies like robots and virtual reality has opened the door to exploring questions that were previously not possible. But while a U.S. court case has held that virtual child pornography is legal, the law in this area is controversial and emotionally charged. Legal uncertainties and vast stigma make actual research difficult. At the same time, a better understanding of this deviant behavior has the potential to significantly change lives.

Lead to paraphilia. We’re not showing explicit imagery. It may be triggering. Going to try to deal with this very difficult topic. Lots of real world ramification. 1300 people are serving time for sex crimes just in MA. X are in indefinite civil confinement – finished sentence, but not released into the general public because of fear of recidivism. Research on the statistics. 10% to 50% which suggests that there isn’t a ton of research. We know very little indeed. Most people who are afflicted with pedophilia are actively trying to fight these urges. When talking with therapists, they’re trying very hard not to act on these urges they’re suffering from. There are some existing efforts to develop support programs. Whether there are ways of treating with VR, intimate robotics, etc.. It’s a challenging topic with a lovely set of folk willing to take it on.

Kate Darling, MIT Media Lab, IP Theory, Policy, and Robot Ethics, Fellow at Harvard Berkman Center is looking at the NOW of robot-human interaction. Leads us off. Human robot interaction, how we behave around robots. People treat them as though they’re alive. We know they’re just machines, but subconsciously when we interact, we treat them as if they’re alive. Not just about people getting used to a new technology but instead something which is biological. Our brains might project intent and life on moving things which seem autonomous. How strongly we respond to the cues these machines give us. Gives us a chance to study human psychology. People who have low empathic concern for others treat robots differently than those who have high empathetic concern —this is part of a research study Kate has been conducting with Palash Nandy, a researcher at the Media Lab in the Personal Robotics group. Those who treat robots like a living thing makes them a potentially great tool for

When child-size robots come to market, will they be used to address desires and protect children, or to normalize it and put more children at risk? There’s no way for us to know. These urges are not a moral failing, they are a psychological issue. Nearly impossible to self-report as you’ll get booked. If we really care about children, we might need to be preemptive about this.

Courts don’t know what to do with these robots, since no child has been harmed in making them.
While high quality sex robots are not coming as quickly as some might think (or like), but they are coming at a pace that’s faster than society is willing to talk about.

Child porn doesn’t exist for at least two reasons: because we think it’s not ok, but also because a child was harmed in its creation. 3D modeling etc would shift that. Do any international courts handle this differently? Need intent as well as harm to have broken a criminal law in the US. In the US in ’96 we had an act forbidding pornographic CGI depicting children. In ’02 the supreme court decided there was a free speech issue that overruled, and struck down parts of that act. Since then, a new act “Protect” has been passed, which prohibits “obscene” cartoons. They’ve shifted the child piece towards obscenity, which is not well defined and depends on community standards. Ex: some media showing young girls performing fellatio was targeted b/c it was aimed at an audience of young girls to teach them improper behavior, not because it included images of young girls.

Back to the question of legal status, but what is exploitative and what is put into legal frameworks because it is uncomfortable?

Ron Arkin, Roboethicist and Professor, School of Interactive Computing, Georgia Tech. Robots and robot ethics. Sex, laws, and violence. Robot deception, killer robots, but today we’re talking about sex.

There’s plenty of money to be made in lethal autonomous weapon systems. The USG doesn’t do? that, but some people do. And I do work in robot deception (how and when robots lie?) but that’s not what we’re discussing today. Outbranch from Genevive Bell. Intimate Robotics. Most concerned with lethal autonomous systems, but also concerned about something else that is happening now. I work with Sony, and the Aibo. we know how to make people fall in love with these things. What if we start crossing from teh social space into the sexual space? the questions we ask are around if human-robot intimacy is acceptable? Do you become a deviant if you have sex with a robot? [What about one indistinguishable from a human?]

Can [sex with a robot] it serve sort of like methadone for [sexual] deviants? These are research questions which need to be explored. Any time past offenders are released back into society, there will be more victims. [as there are already today] We need to be prepared for that.

Thank you for this forum for sharing this discussion with the audience and the public.
Uncanny valley has to do with behavior, temperature, texture, etc. Roxxxy, VR robot. How will the prostetution industry do in light of these dolls etc? Some see it as a way to free prostitutes to do other things (this is a rather paternalistic view). [Examples from non-sex robots, and sex robots, the former already well-funded by governments.]

Article from the Atlantic recently: “Can Child Dolls Keep Pedophiles from Offending?”
VICE: “Canada’s Child Sex Doll Trial Raises Uncomfortable Questions About Pedophilia and the Law” A man ordered one in Canada and gets arrested. Methadone is perscription, maybe we need to do the same here.

Protest: there’s a group called Campaign Against Sex Robots, viewed by the founder as “part of a cultural pattern to legitimate pedophilia more widely”. [This reminds me so much of some of the arguments against prostitutions, not seeing how sex is a basic human need ].

Study from Stanford University — touching a robot’s ‘intimate parts’ makes people uncomfortable. Published in an obscure journal, couldn’t find funding source listed. Study on body comfort zones: differences between Japanese and American adults re: where they normally touched close friends or sexual partners, and where they touched their parents, when they met. Dramatic differences in all cases; which one would take into consideration with any robot designs.

Wanting to establish a research agenda. Will sex robots increase or decrease urges? We have an ethical obligation to do this research.

Christina Couch, Journalist
Written on the question of computer imagery. How our feelings, thoughts, desires shape our our technology is designed.

Working on an article – therapeutic uses of VR : Treating PTSD, depression, phobias, addictions. Patrice Reneaud studying pedophiles right at the point of arousal. Having someone at that point requires a stimuli, which for pedophiles have super valid concerns attached to them.

Dr. Patrice Renaud – “assessing deviant preferences in sexual offenders” using virtual immersion.

Mostly audio, having a hard time getting data. His team published a paper that even when they KNOW a subject is a known pedophile, they couldn’t evoke a response just using audio files. When VR started working, they started building scenarios with [fewer] concerns. The differences are in motor and eye movement. The data we have on recidivism is nebulous because it’s really hard to study this group. Interested that VR is what opened up these possible studies.

Also a shift in how we view pedophiles. Virtuous Pedophiles is a support group of people trying to prevent acting on their impulses. Another group like them is called the Dukelfeld Project. Confidential treatment focused on preventing them from acting out. Accessibility to a population which has been traditionally hard to research PLUS new research tools usually means a huge amount of research coming out, but not so much for this case. Dukelfeld was able to get on their feet because there aren’t reporting issues, it might be covered by insurance.

In the US, Lupron (what people use to chemically castrate themselves) can be gotten under perscription as well. We’d first need a better idea of this as a psychological problem rather than a moral problem. How is the legal system changing? We used to think homosexuality was a moral failing, and then a disease, and is now accepted. How does that transition happen? Popular culture led. TV shows etc. The law came afterwards. Untouchable was a documentary on this. If you throw the word “pedophilia” into any legal debate, all the politicians jump in to vote for it. There’s no nuance. The topic (understandably) raises so many emotions for folk that it’s difficult to have a rational conversation about it. The YouTube videos for NYT articles are saying they need to be slaughtered for saying it might be an illness rather than a moral feeling. European culture just thinks about porn files as any other file. It allows them to approach all of this in different ways.


So: you’re a robot ethicist. What’s stopping you from studying this? A: Funding. It can come most easily from foundations, but only a limited amount does. Most governments don’t support it [though as noted elsewhere: in Germany treatment for pedophilia is covered by insurance].

Can people get help with their urges? What are their motivations for doing this work? Is there a trend in what’s going on?
I don’t know that the landscape of research today is big enough to generalize. I know of only 2 researcher using VR for this. Maybe there’s more than that, but it is small.

Q: What are the key research questions in this space (intimate robotics)? As an experimentalist, are there things you’re thinking about studying that will help answer these Q’s?
A: (Kate):- how do our interactions with robots affect our interactions with humans? I think about harm: if our interactions with robots lead to harmful interactions with other humans, than that is a bad thing. But we don’t know if our interactions with robots will lead to any of these negative outcomes, so we have to do the research.
We currently know how to observe and measure behavior with robots, but we don’t know if this changes your behavior with people. That’s hard to study in any arena, and especially with intimate robots, I’m worried we won’t do it at all. If a big name in social robotics can’t get support for such work, how can anyone do that?

Q: In defense of continental Europe and its culture – I have experience with Quaker work in this field; they are some of the frist to visit prisoners, and they work with sex offenders. All these technologies seem to further sequester and isolate offenders from society. That seems to be something they’re trying hard to get over; they want to integrate with society. Do you think it is possible in the US to propose a system where groups voluntarily engage w/ pedophiles, on the basis that they are humans, and shouldn’t be treated even worse than violent criminals?
A: (Christina) A story just came out about a [NJ?] task force that is dedicated to that. I don’t have any way to answer, but people are starting to consider it.
A: (Ron) I don’t think this is a panacea for reintegration; but it should be considered as a possible positive force.
A: (Kate) People being visited are the small percentage who have been convicted of a crime. Most people affected have a hard time coming forward at all. I love that groups are forming to help (convicts), but we need legal changes and maybe tech changes as well if those can help people.

Q: (Willow) You’re talking about a lack of data and other things. This is the most academic panel we’ve had so far. I wonder if by opening up science to more citizen science approaches like other panels have, we might catch more data and discover more things. Are there possibilities to try citizen science approaches to sex studies?
A: (Ron) Yes, and I support anyone who wants to contribute to this, but: this does need strictly controlled science evaluation, with IRB and other controls, to get reliable data. We couldn’t even get accurate recidivism rates, and how hard could that be? Numbers were all over the place, because of the dearth of data. And we need to understand the tech coming down the pike. That might be easier to distribute, rather than the study of sexual deviance.
A: (Christina) VR is also bing used to study and treat victims of sexual trauma. This (type of tech) isn’t a one-way street. When we talk about amplifying research methods, it’s not just for offenders.

Q: You all seem to say that lack of funding and stigma are barriers. What would this look like if those didn’t exist? Get to Ethan’s initial questions: how does culture change, this medium change, over the long term? How does this change the future of dealing with taboo paraphilias?
A: (Ron) Human research interaction work has at present gone almost too far in requiring huge amounts of data. I think we can develop research with small focused sets of data. Then a series of progressive experiments could gather a larger body of data over time.

Q: There are studies that suggest porn has changed standards of sex. If these child robots are rolled out, who gets to decide if you can have such robots as therapy, or as entertainment?
A: (Kate) A lot of research here has been very [basic]. Many studies have questioned if violent/sexual games change behavior. Methods used in those cases can be applied to robotics. The increased realism may have more of an effect, but similar approaches may apply.
A: (Ron) To my mind, courts or physicians would say it is appropriate. But there would have to be quasi-controlled environments for this to work.

Q: (Victoria) I’m interested in areas where sex is considered? inappropriate such as w/disability. Looking at sexual deviance – how much correlation or research has been done to see whether pedophilia is different from other deviances? (anything considered unnatural by any society: bdsm, homosexuality, &c) If we’re talking about changing human behavior, can we cross-examine sth like violence, and the relevant effects of VR? [To inform these questions in a less taboo realm.]A: (Christina) I don’t know if any correlation like this has been done. In 20y of VR research, we find that yes it can influence RL behavior. PTSD can be reduced more quickly… unconscious racial bias can be reduced (in at least one study), though that’s incredibly difficult to break even temporarily. It’s not crazy to think this could influence behavior in pedophiles.
A: (Ron) Changing human behavior happens routinely, with or without robots – a change wrt. views on marriage, bestiality

Willow question: why can’t people consent to sexual research?
Question: how do advanced robots consent to sexual research?
Willow question: why are we talking about fully autonomous systems? Does the debate in self-driving cars and mixed-control systems apply here?

Forbidden Research liveblog: Disobedience: breaking the rules for social good

Many ideas and norms once considered unthinkable, like test tube babies and gay marriage, have now become everyday norms. It’s impossible to imagine life without them. For society to evolve, however, we must always be challenging our norms as well as the rules and laws that reflect them. Our institutions must lead in a way that harnesses this questioning into a driver for positive change. This session looks at how institutions can become “disobedience robust” — cultivating the ability to question themselves and accept questioning from others.

Moderated by Joi Ito, Director, MIT Media Lab with panelists
Liz George, MIT Alum Class of 2008
bunnie huang, Author, Hacking the Xbox: An Introduction to Reverse Engineering
Karrie Karahalios, Assistant Professor, Siebel Center for Computer Science, University of Illinois

All panelists are former MIT students (although Joi says he come in the backdoor:). Before this event, Joi interviewed lots of administrators at MIT including John DiFava. And everyone said that they had never met a student who was a bad person. And DiFava spent his career chasing bad guys with the MA State Police before coming to MIT.

Karrie remembers coming to MIT for rush week her first year. She took an “orange tour” and loved it, and it seemed like it was sanctioned by the university. Her House Master encouraged the students to win the East Campus lockpicking contest. And students were constantly hacking things in the dorms like phones and washing machines.

A discipline committee was set up around 2003. The police stopped arresting people at all, but started picking up more people and sending them to this discipline committee. So people who would have been let off altogether were getting in trouble.

The trouble now is that students have this fear of getting caught.
Should they not?
Then it’s hard to abide by that last point of the hacker ethic: avoid getting caught, but if you are, cooperate fully.
I find in some places if everything is legal, it’s not nearly as interesting. Is that a big part of it or not?
Sure it is. [but that doesn’t mean “risk of imprisonment”]“Just so you know, statue of limitations is 7 years.”

There’s a thing, ‘if you see something broken, report it to Physical Plant’, we would note these things if we were up on the roof and tell them. That almost helped build as sene of community across the groups. I did get caught at the ML, I was picking a lock here, I wanted access to one of the tool rooms? They described me as “tall kid, dark hair, asian” in an email to ML. I could have avoided fessing up, but I did tell someone in my lab. They got reasonably mad at me, saying just ask for permission, it’s not hard, and showing me how. That was a scolding, not disciplinary action. I’m a little cynical about MIT’s stance – Liz said MIT likes to own successes and disavow failures [JI – that’s broadly true you know, in the world] But a university is a good place to catch people when they stumble. Especially when they just did something unfortunate [not hurting others]

The ethics associated with hacking. Breaking the rules mindfully. MIT hacker secret sheet

— andres lombana b. (@vVvA) July 21, 2016

Hacking the xbox led me to discover the problems with the DMCA which led me down this whole long path to where I am today [w today’s announcement]. My advisor Tom Knight introduced me to the general counsel, I was all excited; they met me with a sealed envelope on the table; they said I just want you to know we don’t want to touch this or have anything to do with it; you did this on your own time with your own funding, good luck.
I wanted to know, why is the institute disavowing me? I didn’t even disclose what was going on, I just wanted their help to do disclosure responsibly. They wouldn’t even hep with that. Fortunately Hal A and Tom K helped me find an amicable solution (via the EFF).

Joi: Ethan mentioned TidBit, where we had a student working on a project. It’s funny b/c MIT’s counsel represents MIT. There’s some things they can and can’t do. We ended up setting up a law clinic – I’ll give credit to the GC’s office and Provost for this fully-funded and pro-bono clinic at BU. So any problems a student has can go to a BU clinic; in your case they could have directed you to that. This is recent, within the last several months. One of the problems has been the liability concern that something happens and the inst. gets sued by the parents, and lawyers are lawyers. We’ve been trying to set up ways for people to talk to the admins. Legal support is key. Hoping that will help in the future.

There are certain things the institute should sanction, but there are certain things we can’t. On the research side, there are things that affect the whole institute. Some kids don’t know what the repercussions are. I went to a lot of cases I heard about to hear their side of the story. If some of these things came out, it would hurt privacy of the student. It can be better. But the trust gets developed when you have communication. Need informal communication because formal puts you at risk in other ways. Secret backchannel. So the hackers will often tell the police so they’re not caught off guard. No formal acknowledgement. People based and don’t persist over time. 4 year turnover. Met about what could be done. The policy in the handbook was drafted, students said “given all the things that have happened, you can’t ignore it.” You can’t say “look how amazing this place is” and then not support people when they get in trouble. People had to meet with a lot of people about what could be said legally. What was acceptable to write in there? The trust went up a lot after that.

What are the principals we put into a disobedience prize? Principles, playfulness, creativity, social benefit. Large scale collaboration. Swipe all cards in all doors as a way to add noise into a database. CSAIL and Media Lab run our own networks. Here we retain as little information as possible. No cameras here because it creeps us out, can be taken over. We have a lot of theft here, we know we wouldn’t catch the professionals anyway. Research in how we increase security without sacrificing privacy.
What aren’t you allowed to do? Purposefully destruct something for the sake of being destructive (if you’ve evaluated that it’s necessary, go for it).

Relationship between an institution and those performing civil disobedience is difficult. People who get attacked by people on the other side of the argument. Building an institution where disobedience doesn’t have grave consequences. It doesn’t have to be completely safe, but reasonably safe. Tenure, if you piss off the people in your department you don’t get it. How do you do things which speak truth to power while still being on people’s good side.
Tenure was put in place to allow people to be disobedient during McCarthyism. But maybe you’re past that phase in your life by then, you’re like 45. High school Japanese kids working in a lab, being picked on by grad students. Academia shouldn’t be about that, it should be the new people encouraged to question authority. “Does scientific research advance one funeral at a time?” – Max Planck Spoiler: yes [according to a recent MIT paper (PDF) which you should read].

These people learn most of their things on the internet; but without access to journals, they have a hard time applying it. We can go to first principles and questioning these things. That’s what I want to start with: questioning these things [publishing, bad laws]


Q: do you think the administration today is too strict? A: when I was a student, yes. students aren’t doing this for the thrill of the illegal; but curiosity, exploring the inaccessible, doing a great piece of engaging engineering.

Maria Zuber: We now have a list of amazing, disobedient folk… a list we have to protect.
How is our Head of Research about this? I’m so glad we’re great at being self-reflexive. I think it went well. You’re listening to all this and some of it is shocking or discomforting, but the MIT administration talks about this stuff all the time. There’s a whole range of opinions. The administration gets a full spectrum of points of view. The ones we heard here [today] are not in the center of the bell curve on where the campus falls in a lot of matters. If there’s a question of how far we can push something, we can always have a conversation about it at least. Try to find the right balance. Try to explain why when we can’t do something.
One thing we are talking about is: is it OK to take an action that affects a broad population? IRB violations could shut down research across the institution. When things come to me, I have to think about the balance of people wanting to do something that moves their work in a positive direction (for them) but may affect others.
Can I ask a Q about that? ITAR rules for instance prvent you from bringing IR sensors into certain countries. Shoud an institution like MIT be pushing back against these rules with the govt? Saying these are rules that are iportant? MIT as an institution has a lot of clout.
A: on that particular issue, I have in fact been pushing back, personally. I’m a space scientist, so I care a lot also about thse cameras. We do that. but in the meantime we [may?] have to also obey the rules so people can continue to do their work.

Joi friend at Twitter and now White House. Would go to police events and just hand out his business card. So instead of busting things, we’d just have people calling him to fix it first. [This is so reminiscent of disaster response I can’t even]. When it happens in public there are egos on the line, too.
(Cory) The opposite of disobedience isn’t obedience, it’s compliance. it’s if you don’t immediately comply with an order, you risk summary execution.
Need to challenge laws in order to progress the nation.

(Sam) There are simple laws and painful laws. How do we make sure the institute isn’t standing in for excessive response, even when it happens outside that bubble?
(Joi) There are laws which are supported by commercial interests (DRM, CFAA, SoPA, PIPA). The Media Lab has made statements against those, and we have a lot of money from Hollywood (none of which went away). Courage to stand up to those that are backing you. We’re in a privildeged position to do that. Then there are laws that limit academic and scientific progress. There’s a way to try to talk to the authorities. There are broad thinkers there.
(Liz) those of us with power need to take those risks, support our folk when they cause problems.

(Kendra) Institutional trust and these back channels, I feel that insitutional trust is not something everyone has. What is MIT doing to help students know they have support? If you are a young black man, being arrested has different connotations.
(Joi) I’m thinking about this a lot lately, and it’s not just for us. I just try to talk with and connect with as many folk as possible
(Karrie) That you have this clinic is a huge signal that you want to support your students. I’d love a phone number for those students. I’d love to be able to promote this sort of structure at my university. We don’t have access to this sort of clinic.
(Joi) if we can figure it out, I hope others will also follow.

() This has been fantastic and it’s appreciated. What about research that would piss off your liberal collegues? It’s close to an ideological monoculture. Many of these entrenched things are not useful. Can we have another Forbidden Research conference which pokes holes in liberal assumptions?
(Joi) DARPA study on race and bias etc. The Uni had to be sued to release the study.

Steward Brand, claiming the final question
What’s most interest to me is the elegant hack, minmax, lazy hack. So fiendishly clever, subtle and undetectable. And yet has a great big effect. Do you have any examples of that?
(liz): The insription in Lobby 7 says what the institute was founded for: ‘for the furthering of science and technology and agriculture and commerce’ 20yrs ago some hackers made an incredible reproduction, but replaced the last two words with ‘entertainment and hacking’. Anyone passing by thought it was the original; and it was there for a really long time until a tour guide noticed it, and said “Here are the famous founding principals of MIT, and read it outloud.”
Joi: there’s a piece of artwork, metal and black, in front of the Green building. it’s a bunch of pieces of metal. some kids would leave pieces of metal, and people would think it was broken and weld it back on… it’s a good story, don’t know if it’s true.[Willow – I feel like it’s fine for institutions to move slowly. I feel like this whole thing is about an over extention and crimilization of otherwise inconsequential acts.]