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Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility Dissolution and
Gary Chapman, Winner of CPSR's Norbert Wiener Award for Social and Professional Responsibility
It is my unenviable task to announce that Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR), a non-profit educational corporation, has been dissolved.
CPSR was launched in 1981 in Palo Alto, California, to question the computerization of war in the United States via the Strategic Computing Initiative to use artificial intelligence in war, and, soon after, the Strategic Defense Initiative — “Star Wars”. Over the years CPSR evolved into a “big tent” organization that addressed a variety of computer-related areas including workplace issues, privacy, participatory design, freedom of information, community networks, and many others.
Now, of course, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of organizations and movements that are concerned not only about the misuses of ICT by governments and corporations (and others) but also about trying to develop approaches that help communities work together to address issues related to economic and other inequalities and environmental degradation — as well as broader issues such as war and peace.
CPSR to me provided a vital link to important ideas and to inspirational and creative people. These people believed that positive social change was possible and that the use of ICT could play a significant role. For example, in 1993, CPSR developed a document designed to help shape the National Information Infrastructure (NII) program promoted by the Clinton/Gore administration to help guide the evolution of networked digital communication. Through a variety of conferences, workshops and reports, CPSR encouraged conversations about computers and society that went beyond hyperbole and conventional wisdom.
Although in many ways the issues that CPSR helped publicize have changed forms they generally still remain. The ethical and other issues surrounding the computerization of war, for one thing, have not gone away just because they’re not prominent on the public agenda. CPSR’s original focus on the use of artificial intelligence in “battle management” etc. and the possibility of launch on warning is probably still pertinent. The advent of ubiquitous and inexpensive drones definitely is.
Apparently, as many people know, the age of the participatory membership organizations is over — their numbers are certainly way down — and we in CPSR had certainly noticed that trend. I personally suspect that this development is not necessarily a good thing. I certainly would welcome another membership organization with CPSR’s Big Tent orientation.
On the occasion of CPSR’s dissolution we’ve developed two small projects for keeping CPSR’s spirit alive.
The first is that it would be a good opportunity to catalog the groups and organizations around the world that would be natural allies to CPSR if it still existed. We’ve started this cataloging (see http://www.
publicsphereproject.org/civic_) but presumably have only captured a small fraction of these organizations. Please open an account on the Public Sphere Project site and add the information about your organization. organizations
The second is less concrete but probably no less important. To help the current and future generation of activists as we envision possible futures and interventions, we’d like to put these two related questions forward: What applications of ICT are the most important to human development and sustainability?And, on the other hand, What are the strongest challenges to these applications? Please email me your thoughts on this and I will do my best to compile the thoughts and make them public.
With this note I also want to announce that CPSR’s final Norbert Wiener Award for Social and Professional Responsibility winner is Gary Chapman, who served as CPSR’s first executive director from 1985 to 1992. The award recognizes outstanding contributions for social responsibility in computing technology. Named for Norbert Wiener (1894-1964), who, in addition to a long and active scientific career that brought the word "cybernetics" (and, hence, cyberspace) into the language, was also a leader in assessing the social implications of computerization. Writing in Science (1960) Wiener reminds us that, “...even when the individual believes that science contributes to the human ends which he has at heart, his belief needs a continual scanning and re-evaluation which is only partly possible. For the individual scientist, even the partial appraisal of the liaison between the man and the historical process requires an imaginative forward glance at history which is difficult, exacting, and only limitedly achievable...We must always exert the full strength of our imagination.”
Gary who died in 2010, spent nearly three decades working towards peace and social justice as it related to information technology. As Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy and Information Center (EPIC) stated, Gary “made many people stop and ask hard questions about technology. Not just ‘Is it cool?’ but ‘Does it make our lives better, or more just? And does it make our world more secure?’ ”
Gary’s technology column, "Digital Nation," was carried in over 200 newspapers and websites. He taught and lectured all over the world, most recently as a guest faculty member at the University of Porto in Porto, Portugal. Since his time at CPSR he had been involved in a multitude of related projects including the International School for Digital Transformation (ISDT) that he and others at the University of Texas convened annually in Porto, Portugal.
Gary was on the faculty of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, Austin. On the local level, he also worked to bridge the digital divide, the gulf between those with access to technology and those without. In 1995, for example, he worked on the successful grant application that led to the establishment of Austin Free-Net (www.austinfree.net), which installed the first public access Internet stations in Austin, and continues today as a national model for bringing digital opportunities to low-income and digitally challenged residents. And in 2010, Gary co-founded Big Gig Austin (www.biggigaustin.org), which anchored the successful community campaign to bring the Google gigabit fiber network to Austin.
Gary was a principled and untiring advocate for the use of the Internet a tool for collaboration and other means to bring people together. Also, as a former medic with the Army Special Forces, Gary was especially concerned about the uses of computing in warfare. In his articles in the CPSR Newsletter, he warned that “Automating our ignorance of how to cope with war will produce only more disaster.” With David Bellin he co-edited “Computers in Battle: Will They Work?”, a book on the implications of computer technology in war, and was involved for many years in a rich collaboration with the Pugwash-USPID (Unione Scienziati Per Il Disarmo)-ISODARCO (International School on Disarmament and Research on Conflicts) community in Italy and elsewhere.
Gary contributed chapters to several books that I was involved with. Most recently, he contributed The Good Life, one of the patterns (publicsphereproject.org/
People who hope for a better world feel the need for a shared vision of the "good life" that is flexible enough for innumerable individual circumstances but comprehensive enough to unite people in optimistic, deliberate, progressive social change. This shared vision of The Good Life should promote and sustain conviviality and solidarity among people, as well as feelings of individual effectiveness, self-worth and purpose. A shared vision of The Good Life is always adapting; it encompasses suffering, loss and conflict as well as pleasures, reverence and common goals of improvement. An emergent framework for the modern "good life" is based on some form of humanism, particularly pragmatic or civic humanism, with room for a spiritual dimension that does not seek domination. Finally, the environmental crises of the planet require a broad vision of a "good life" that can harmonize human aspirations with natural limits. All this needs to be an ongoing and open-ended "conversation," best suited to small geographic groups that can craft and then live an identity that reflects their vision of a "good life."
Although this will be CPSR's final Weiner award, the work that Gary and other activists from CPSR and other organizations helped launch over two decades ago is now being carried forward by scores of organizations and thousands of activists all over the world, as digital information and communication systems have assumed such a central location on the world's stage.
Several projects including a Festschrift or other book project or event related to CPSR and social responsibility have been discussed although no firm plans have been made.
Gary Chapman was patient but persistent in his pursuit of progressive goals and a better life for all. Sadly, Gary left us before he could see his vision brought to fruition. He'll be missed but we all must push forward with his vision.
We realize that (1) people are concerned about Facebook privacy in general; and (2) there isn't much information about privacy made available to Facebook game users. So, here is what we know about privacy and the Activist Mirror game.
We do NOT access the player's profile, we access only the most basic information (such as name and user id). We cannot read any non public data and we cannot read the player's wall. The request for the basic information is the default request, so every app on Facebook at the least must request this, and there is no way to not ask it. That is the way Facebook does it and most interactions with Facebook at least require knowing who the player is.
We have access to a really limited amount of data: name, profile picture, gender, networks, user id, and list of friends. The only data we save are: answers to the questions, patterns shown to the player, the player's user id, the player's vote on the patterns (and the issue the player is analyzing) and whether the player's clicks on a pattern and goes on the pattern page on the Public Sphere Project site.
The answers we get help us understand what answers are being selected the most, this helps us fine-tune the game. The patterns shown also help us for tuning. The player user id is really the only info about the player we store, we use this only to understand if the player re-plays the game. The player's vote on the pattern help us know what patterns are more interesting to the player (also relating to the issue the player is analyzing).
The last data we save is to understand if, by looking at a card, the player is intrigued enough to click on it to see the description and if after reading the description he goes to the pattern page on PSP. This gives us important data on the patterns: how intriguing they are initially and how interesting they reveal themselves to be once the player reads their description.
The data regarding the patterns is obviously of no use to anyone but the developers and we believe it's impossible to extract relevant psychological information from the 8 questions and answers. We aren't planning on sending emails but if we decided this in the future it wouldn't affect users that play the game now (as we don't save this data) and we would need to follow the Facebook policy and the CAN-SPAM Act.
The data is stored in a database in a server hosted by the Civic Informatics Laboratory (LIC) at the University of Milan (Italy). On the issue of trusting this third party, we believe we can trust it as it's not a corporation that would gain anything from the data stored. Recently a group of hackers attempting to show how insecure the information systems were leaked passwords for many Italian universities,; the University of Milan wasn't in the list, so we can presume that the protections are pretty good — at least for now.
Sadly there is no standard approach to privacy that Facebook game developers use. In fact even Facebook's data collection policy is anything but clear! There are HUGE grey areas in their Automated Data Collection Terms, as well as some more disturbing (and declared) clauses, such as the fact that everything you post on Facebook (be it text, image and so on) is Facebook's property. Our opinion is that just being on Facebook is surely more risky that playing our game in terms of data collection.
What kind of activist are you?!?
I'm happy to announce that the Activist Mirror game based on the Liberating Voices patterns is now available on Facebook.
Since it's possible that there are still bugs, we're only letting a few people at a time know that the game is available.
Please give it a try as soon as you get a chance and let us know what you think!
There has been a lot of activity on the site behind the scenes. Please stop by the community forum and invite friends to join in discussion. We are working hard to make the site not just a resource, but a community for folks interested in sustainable public spheres.
We have finally finished the job we started over a year ago!
We have created a card for each pattern in Liberating Voices: A Pattern Language for Communication Revolution. We are making these cards freely available for download (in three parts at http://www.publicsphereproject.org/digital-resources/) in the hopes that people will use them in creative and productive ways. One approach is to develop a workshop or game that will help lead to effective projects.
Each of the cards in this deck represents one pattern from the book that MIT Press published in 2008. Each pattern represents one idea for using information and communication for transformative social change.
Please let us know how you plan to use the cards and how it went.
Marc Smith used the NodeXL tool to generate some graphics based on the pattern links in the book. Although these are preliminary they're still worth a look. Marc and I are planning more work on this in the near future.