Math and Computer Technology

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Chandler Davis was the first to speak; he discussed different organizations of mathematicians and their work against social injustice. The specific organizations he discussed are Mathematician’s Action Group, Association of Women in Mathematics and the National Association of Mathematics. He found himself irritated by recruiting ads for war research and issued a statement saying: “Mathematicians we urge you to take responsibility for the uses to which your work is put. We believe this responsibility forbids putting mathematics in the service of this cruel war,” that ran as a paid ad in American mathematical monthly. Davis assisted with the organization of a demonstration against the Democratic Convention in Chicago protesting the draft and the Vietnam War.

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The second speaker in this panel was Bob Ogden. He spoke about the NSA and their surveillance practices. He noticed after 9/11 that students in his computer ethics classes started saying “Whats the problem with NSA spying if you have nothing to hide.” Also during this time computer programming jobs were being outsourced and an increasing number of people were going to work for the NSA because it offered a good place to work with no risk of job outsourcing. The core value of the NSA, as stated on their website, is loyalty to the nation – not to the public, the country, or the constitution. Ogden goes on to day “the nation is an undefined term, it obviously means the United States, but not the ‘this land is your land this land is my land’ United States. I think it means the United States of corporate power.” Software engineers have an oath similar to the Hippocratic Oath in which they promise to accept responsibility for making decisions consistent with the safety health and welfare of the republic, and disclose factors that might endanger the public. This oath conflicts with the work being done by the NSA, which creates a need for whistle blowers like Edward Snowden. The origins of Snowden’s ethics are unknown, but it is known that he was working mostly alone. Ogden calls for people to be conscious of whistle blowers and give them the support they need so they aren’t standing alone against a large cooperation.

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The third speaker was Robert Shapiro. He started his talk by sharing some of his experiences at the University of Chicago. One day he saw a computer in the math department, and was surprised because it was mostly a theoretical math dept. He followed the computer and knocked on the door of the lab involved for a month, eventually he was given an aptitude test and asked to work in the lab. Once he was in the lab he realized it was the institute for air weapons research. In response to the work he discovered he formed a collective in NY aimed at aiding a movement that tracked US policies that affected the power structure in Latin America that needed access to computer technology. He spent time later in life asking “can computer technology be used for the good of the public?” He eventually came to the conclusion that they could be, for example if digital images could be used to provide more effective wound care to people who have trouble accessing wound care specialists.

 

The last speaker was Steven Brewer. He discussed the growing amount of control corporations have over the media, software, and consumer products. The development of new technologies such as the printing press, film, radio, and television offered a way to spread ideas and information to large groups of people. Unfortunately it takes a large amount of capital to spread ideas using these technologies and created a situation where the ideas of capital holders are the ones that are shared. The response to the unfair distribution was public access television, free software, and the maker/hacker movement.