technology solutions | MIT Center for Civic Media

Technology solutions can be software or hardware or even new ways of using old processes. They are tools that assist individuals and communities to engage with each other, share information, and take action.

HOPE X: Building an Open Source Cellular Network at Burning Man

Liveblogged at HOPE X.

Johnny Diggz, Geeks Without Bounds
Willow Brugh, Geeks Without Bounds

VizThink by Johnny Diggz.

Geeks Without Bounds holds hackathons to match people with skills with humanitarian groups that need those skills. In times of crisis, communication is one of the top priorities. But those channels are usually for "first responders" rather than residents.

Johnny Diggz is a cofounder of Geeks Without Bounds and many tech companies. Most recently he is the Chief Evangelist at Tropo. Willow Brugh is one of our own at the Center for Civic Media, as well as a cofounder of Geeks Without Bounds and an affiliate at the Harvard Berkman Center.

HTTP Must Die

Liveblogged at HOPE X.

Yan Zhu, EFF
Parker Higgins, EFF

VizThink by Willow Brugh.

Why is HTTP bad? HTTP touches everything we do. Agencies such as the NSA can use this to see everything we do online.

Even if you support HTTPS, not using it all the time exposes you to vulnerabilities. The NSA's QUANTUM intercepts requests to services like Yahoo and redirects them to NSA-operated FOXACID servers to infect them with malware, before a secure connection is established. The NSA also uses unencrypted cookies to determine who to target.

HOPE X: Can You Patent Software?

Can You Patent Software?

Liveblogged at HOPE X.

Ed Ryan, Patent Attorney

Will be talking about the Alice v. CLS Bank decision. So can you patent software? Short answer: yes.

In the US, the power to issue patents comes from the Constitution, and is meant to encourage innovation. Patents involve a trade: you get a monopoly on making something for a limited amount of time, but you have to tell us how you made it. It's common wisdom that patents are good, but Ed asks if that really holds up for software.

He argues that being secretive over ideas in tech is wasteful and that the main benefit of software patents is to allow people to talk about their ideas without the need for secrecy.

Software is usually patented as a "process" or a "machine." However, laws of nature, natural phenomena, and abstract ideas can't be patented. When you patent the basic building blocks of an industry, you in effect own that industry. Software patents go against the long-held ideals of sharing in open source.

HOPE X: Wireless Meshnets: Building the Next Version of the Web

Liveblogged at HOPE X. Presentation available here.

Kevin Carter - Technologist, Writer
Peter Valdez - NYC Meshnet
Kurt Snieckus - NYC Meshnet

Kevin begins by asking "why build a new network?" The internet has grown far beyond any scale that was predicted. Things like security were added after the fact. Control of the network has shifted from academic, to corporate and political. The internet is becoming less democratized with threats to Net Neutrality and increased surveillance. Governments can and do intercept router hardware and install malware.

Mesh networks are decentralized. Peers relay information to each other and connect by peering with any other connected node. One example is Hyperboria which runs the cjdns protocol. Other protocols include BATMAN. Decentralized networks put power back in the hands of the users. Although NYC Meshnet uses cjdns, they focus on using whatever technology works, and evolving as necessary.

The Open Web and Participation

Live blogged by Rahul Bhargava and Matt Stempeck Monday, June 23, 2014 - 3:45pm

The Internet lowers coordination costs, making it easier for groups of people to cooperate and work together. Despite this, it's often been hard to apply the lessons of online cooperation to the world of civics. A set of exciting new projects and initiatives offers hope for what's possible and a clearer sense of the challenges of using the web to participate in offline social change.

[Peer economy] Recap: Transportation licensing hearing in Cambridge

This last Tuesday, the Cambridge Licensing Commission held a hearing to discuss regulations concerning unregistered cabs, including transportation network companies (think Uber, Lyft, SideCar—peer-to-peer platforms that offer private point-to-point car service) and rogue cabs (not registered with the city and not participants with a TNC). A proposal—Regulations for Smartphone Technology for Taxicabs and Limousines—served as grounding for the discussion around how to regulate private transportation and/or update the definition of private transportation. An alert went out over email to the Media Lab community, and I attended the hearing. As the only ML community member who attended the hearing in full, I sent back a report. I've been encouraged to share it here. It has been slightly altered to provide links and to make it coherent outside of the Media Lab community.

[Peer Economy] Keep it real to catalyze the sharing economy

Last week, I was in San Francisco as a panelist and plenary speaker at the inaugural SHARE conference. The event was organized by Peers (a research partner in January) and SOCAP, and I spoke about the future of work. I also gave a lightning talk at the closing plenary. All of the plenary speakers had to bookend their lightning talk with "--- catalyze the sharing economy." I took advantage of this five-minute window to urge thoughtful discussion. This is the script that I more or less adhered to: 

I’ve been at MIT for the last few years researching peer-to-peer marketplaces. When I got the prompt for this talk, “BLANK will catalyze the sharing economy,” I had lots of different reactions. But in the five minutes I have, I want to say that straight talk is what will catalyze the sharing economy.

The People's Bot

Yesterday, we launched The People's Bot, offering scholarships, media fellowships, and an auction for people to attend and report on events where they are not physically present, including CHI 2014 and a 13 year retrospective on wearable computing and Google Glass. Together with Nathan Matias, we're imagining uses of robotic telepresence for the public good.

A bot at the Tennis Court Oath

[Peer economy] Media's place as herald and tastemaker

People are often boggled when I follow up my research interest in the future of work with the name of my M.S. program: Comparative Media Studies at MIT. While I could go on about how economic security is the cornerstone for meaningful pursuits—including civic participation—here's a direct media tie in. The following is an excerpt from my thesis draft. 

The Fordist framework1 is fraying quickly. Economic decline, technological displacement and globalization have resulted in a shortage of jobs that will not rebound. A powerful social contract is broken, leading Americans to question if investing in human capital—apprenticeships, internships, education, experience and technical know-how—is a smart use of time and personal resources.

These conditions account only partially for why attention is shifting to other work models. Another powerful influence is former and current media portrayal.

[Peer economy] Why the peer economy comes off as "share-washing"

Pay attention to Tom Slee; he's snide, but he's spot-on. In a recent blog post, he neatly sums up how peer economy proponents appear to advocate selectively for its place in the formal economy.