2012 05 14

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Contents

Feature Cast for 2012-05-14

(00:00:17.342) Intro

(00:03:19.274) Hacker Word of the Week: fork

(00:04:37.878) How This Hacker Sees Public Policy

  • I expect that it is the rare kid that grows up thinking they'll work in public policy
    • If I was able to ask my ten year old self whether I'd end up working at a think tank
      • Even if I new what such an organization was
        • I doubt I would clearly envision myself where I am now
    • That kid had just been exposed to programming computers
      • And would have been far more likely to imagine doing something
        • Like creating games of some kind than writing, speaking and acting
        • To help nudge the regulations and laws around those games onto a more footing
          • That is more deeply and correctly grounded in a considered understanding
          • Of the technologies on which those games are based on their social and economic impacts
    • I very much enjoy my new career but it has been the result of a very gradual process
      • One that I thought would be worth examining
        • As it is clearly shifting the kinds of experiences I have
        • And the sorts of topics I now spend pondering and eventually discussing here
    • When the administrative or executive part of a government is working well
      • Aligned with the norms of those its governs
        • Then its actions are more likely to go unnoticed, just part of the status quo
    • When those actions are disjointed or raise questions from the citizenry
      • I expect many still take this state of things for granted
    • I have had many conversations with friends and acquaintances over the years
      • That inform my sense that public policy is largely ignored
        • With few narrow exceptions, where it has a direct, unignorable impact
    • No doubt many folks, here in the US and elsewhere
      • Have at least learned the basic underpinnings
        • Either in a civics or history curriculum
    • I know up until a handful of years ago, all of this was true of me
    • Learning about how policy works in practice versus theory
      • Either at its base or teasing out the more complex interactions
      • Was a process that took a good deal of time for me
    • Each step of the way, some new aspect was revealed through issues
      • That grew increasingly important to me
    • The trajectory of learning was in many ways similar to learning how to program
    • As you gain mastery, it affects how you actually write code
    • With public policy, instead of looking back at more naive code and shuddering
      • I've had moments where I realized that my earlier views
        • Were unrealistic, not taking into account enough factors
        • That affect and inform how policy actions unfold and what drives them
    • I am far from the sort of mastery I possess with various technologies
    • My career shift was motivated in a large part
      • Because I felt that I was hitting limits on how much more I could learn
    • I feel very grateful for working at a growing organization
      • With such a broad and deep body of experts and expertise
    • From the very first day, I had a sense I had made the right choice
      • Because I was clearly reading a lot of the same material
        • And could keep up to a certain degree
    • Much more acutely I felt stretched, that I needed to really work that much harder
      • In order to really contribute in a conversation or a project
        • Than the opportunities I had before adopting public policy as a profession
  • I think I have explained the very start of this path for me
    • In the form of first coming to understand how software licensing works
    • At first I didn't really understand the underlying mechanism
      • But had an initial curiosity that led me to reading and learning more
    • This was definitely an example of a narrow issue that affected me more deeply
    • Early in my career as a software developer, licensing was a big part of the cost
      • Working at a growing software consultancy embedded deeply in the first web bubble
    • I felt a great deal of frustration, too, at the limitations of the market dominant vendors
    • My first experiences using Linux daily were wrapped in a rejection
      • Of closed and expensive tools for the creation of software
    • I didn't immediately leap to a stance of only using open source
    • In terms of an alternate server platform for running the web middleware I was building
      • My choice was Java, one that even after the language has been opened up
        • Is still at the center of debates around patents and copyright
        • In the form of the current suit between Oracle, the now owner of Java
        • And Google for the latter's alleged use of the language and APIs in Android without a license
    • Even if the core platform was closed down then
      • And still isn't as clearly open as more modern alternatives
      • The community building tools and libraries on top of Java on the server
        • Seemed and still seems to me to be fairly innovative
    • I credit this to a more open attitude by Sun at the time, a stance of enabling the creations of others
      • Rather than trying to limit or control them
    • The utility value of more open systems inspired a curiosity in how this was accomplished
    • It wasn't long before I was reading and learning a great deal more about copyright
    • The timing undoubtedly had a lot to do with how fascinating I found the subject
    • The DMCA was in the offing just as the first truly popular digital media was taking off
    • Debating whether DRM made sense and the clash of new and old business models
      • Around copyrightable works was fuel on the fire for me
    • A lot of great voices like Lessig and Doctorow were writing and speaking on the subject
      • Making it a lot more accessible than I think it was previously
    • By this point I was pretty well hooked and started to both expand my study
      • To other subjects at the intersection of technology and public policy
        • Like privacy and security
      • And to starting to take action in the form of local volunteering and online activism
    • I think the first time I was invited to speak about copyright pretty much sealed my fate
    • My first audience responded with the same sort of interest and curiosity that drove me to that point
    • I was humbled and gratified by those early experiences of articulating what I had learned
      • Helping others come to a more clear and relatable understanding of copyright
        • And how it could impact and affect their daily lives in more general ways
        • Than the often narrow but drastic collision between quotidian reality and public policy
  • My feelings and views followed a parallel arc that was from, away and now back to a radical stance
    • As a techie with some understanding of logical systems
      • My first reaction to understanding modern copyright
        • Was to deem it as fundamentally broken in the face of a post-digital, post-network reality
    • First instinct then was what many a hacker would do with a stretch of code deemed flawed
      • That is to scrap it altogether and to use the lessons learned to write new, better code
    • I am thinking of a CCC Congress exchange when Lawrence Lessig gave the keynote
    • John Perry Barlow stood up and essentially made an impassioned case for dismantling copyright
    • Lessig responded with a great deal of respect that this isn't necessarily the most stable course
      • That sustainable revolutions find the least degree or part of a regime to overthrow
    • I was reminded of a comparison I read I can't remember where, maybe in Lessig's own Code
    • One can argue that the reasons the American and French revolutions had such different outcomes
      • Is that the former preserved more institutions
      • Whereas the latter tried to scrap and reinvent them all
    • As I have talked about in the context of the craft of software
      • There is usually far more value in what we often rush to label a legacy system
    • The dependencies up such, whether in computer or legal code, are complex and difficult to untangle
    • Throwing away such a system, no matter how flawed, then often has a more far reaching affect
      • As the consequences cascade out through those relatively unknown and little understood linkages
    • More cynically, I am reminded of the Not Invented Here syndrome in programming
      • That in my experience most often arises from a lack of desire, motivation or ability
      • To read and really understand what some other coder has built
    • My response to coming to realize how naive my early views were
      • Even in some instances rather narrowly focused and informed by self-interest
        • Was to try to delve deeper, to learn more, and to better understand existing institutions
    • My reading included more authors posing frameworks of thought and theories of action
      • Including reading even more of Lessig as well as adding more academics like Shirky and Zittrain
    • This desire to know more about existing structures in public policy
      • Also invited to a curiosity about their history
    • In the last handful of years I've read much more on this subject
      • Like Netanel, Johns and Hyde, some of whom I've discussed on the podcast
    • I've more often found myself in the sort of Lessig-ian role these days
      • Trying to help a hacker coming to public policy for the first time
        • More quickly realize the lessons I did, to read and understand more broadly
    • As much as I've come to the opposite end in some ways in terms of urging caution
      • In the face of calls to abolish regulations on technology that reveal a profound disconnect
    • * I still do understand that these political constructions are still broken
    • That continuity and the anemic outcomes that arise from calls for reform or balance
      • Are increasingly bringing me full circle, as I've discussed
        • Asking whether demolition is perhaps warranted after all
        • But whether we can make more reasoned arguments around doing so
  • The other thought that comes up repeatedly that I question
    • Is that technology should justify a sort of exemption from engagement with policy
    • The argument runs something like those that are technically illiterate are not qualified
      • To form regulation, establish economic policy, execute laws, act in the realm of public policy
    • This view isn't going to stop those that have the power to affect policy
      • From doing so regardless of that ignorance
    • Increasingly I tend to think that technologists taking the first step
      • To try to understand the world of policy is a better way
        • To form a call to overcome technology illiteracy among policy makers
    • In the most simple instance, law makers, judges and administrators rely on expert staff
    • Those that demonstrate a certain fluency in both worlds
      • Can pursue opportunities to advice, informally or as part of such staff
    • I don't think teasing out how public policy works
      • Is to different from learning computer related subjects
    • Public policy is really kind of like a computer operating system
    • It is larger and more complex to exactly define than other civic systems
    • For instance, it requires the interaction of several bodies
      • Not just isolated branches of government like the judiciary, the legislative or executive
    • An operating system is more than a kernel or low level hardware drivers alone
    • The bulk of the really interesting stuff is getting to some of the fundamental principles
      • And working out how observed behavior arises from their complex interaction
    • I am not saying all technology advocates need to move to their respective policy capitals
      • Like inside the beltway here in DC
    • For every agitator, though, championing and defending technology from ill informed policy
      • I think there should be perhaps at least one counterpart
        • Finding some way to bridge between the two, as well
        • So that once the provocateurs get the attention of policy makers
        • We have a more sustainable system for steering them towards better day to day decision
          • Not just the large course corrections like we've seen with the rising tide of online action

(00:21:40.012) Outro

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