willowbl00's blog | MIT Center for Civic Media

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

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.

All in Our Backyard - social justice in disaster response

One of the hardest lessons and ongoing challenges in digital disaster and humanitarian response is how to connect with a local population. While many digital response groups deal with this by waiting for official actors (like the affected nation's government, or the United Nations) to activate them, this doesn't always sit well with my political viewpoints. Some of these affected nations have governments which are not in power at the consent of the governed, and so to require their permission rankles my soul. But to jump in without request or context is also unacceptable. So what's to be done? It's from this perspective that I've been diving into how civics, disaster, and humanitarian tech overlap. And it's from this perspective that I've been showing up to Bayview meetings for San Francisco city government's Empowered Communities Program. ECP is working to create neighborhood hubs populated by members already active in their communities.

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.

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.

Forbidden Research liveblog: Messing with Nature: Genetics and Climate

Live blog by Sam Klein, Natalie, and myself.

Genetics

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.

Forbidden Research liveblog: Against the law: countering lawful abuses of digital surveillance

With bunnie huang, Author, Hacking the Xbox: An Introduction to Reverse Engineering and Edward Snowden. Liveblog by Sam Klein, Erhardt Graeff, and myself.

Introduction and overview from Snowden

This is my first time giving an academic talk, and I think it's the first time a US exile is presenting research at a US academic institution. One of the great things about Cory's talk is that we don't talk enough about how laws are a weak guarentee of outcome. theft, murder, etc still happen.

Introduction to Forbidden Research

Liveblog by Sam Klein and myself

Joi (director of the Media Lab), Opening

Research is forbidden when it won't get peer reviewed, you'll be ridiculed, your lab won't get any new students. Academic freedom is diminishing. We're not killed any more for the things we say and do (mostly). But looking at Nobel prizes, people are taking career-risking moves to discover something. Civic did an event called Freedom to Innovate. Laws for criminals used to stifle innovation. Courage needed to explore these areas on Forbidden Research.

So we're asking ourselves: how does an institution become robust? Laws etc put in place to protect the status quo. Academic institutions or society should question the status quo. All the things in history that we see as moments of social change have to do with doing taboo things. Reed Hoffman has agreed to support a Disobedience Prize ($250k). Difficult to award because "what is societally useful disobedience" ends up being complicated. We don't have a firm date but it's an experiment.

Civics in an age of mistrust and decentralization

I regularly coordinate a salon over at the New England Complex Systems Institute. For the January salon at NECSI, Ethan and Erhardt led a discussion and workshop on civics in a distributed society. We explored how people with influence/power/money try to create change in the world, how those affected by those changes view and respond to those attempts and changes, and also what we would do as people of influence/power/money.

Many thanks to Ethan and Erhardt for their valuable time and attention as well as images used in this blog entry, and to Erhardt especially for designing such a great workshop, and for suggesting edits to the blog itself. Y’all are pretty great. ❤ - w

Land and Water : a long-term perspective

From the website:

We will explore themes of reduced access that have developed out of tensions in property-holding, leases, and contracts; forms of control exerted or facilitated by the state, by law, and by other institutions; and exclusions of class, race, and gender. We believe that history has lessons to offer about how change is introduced to society. In taking this long perspective, the conference invites proposals that look backwards in order to look forwards.
Academics will have an opportunity to be inspired by the practical questions of activists acting in the present, as activists talk about their work, their present projects, questions, and concerns. Activists, in turn, will have the opportunity to articulate large structural conceptions such as capitalism, empire, or debt in relation to access to land and water.

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