Hey, lookie here (comment thread, not press release) – the Maker community is finally having that overdue conversation about ethics and DOD funding.
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- Some further comments on my irreverent caption. I realize this stuff has been discussed on mailing lists and in hushed tones for months, so nice to see some conversation about this issue actually happening in orbit around Make/Maker Faire.Apr 5, 2012
- There was a discussion on the PD list years ago regarding the use of "military" technology. A group decided that they would not use GPS (I wonder if they have since changed, this was before the smart phone onslaught) because it was developed as a military technology. (An interesting aside is that the GPS has a pretty specific and Cartesian way of looking at locations in space, and it could certainly be argued that that way of looking at space is conceptually incompatible with a project that is centrally looking for human meaning in space, not absolute location.) The counter arguments were around the labelling of "military technology", as pretty much all digital technology can be rooted back to military use (calculation of projectile trajectories). So where to draw the line?
Personally I don't think the use of military funding for education in technology is terribly problematic, as long as the funding body does not exert any power over the curriculum (implicit or explicit). I am concerned with the apparent participation of military directly in maker faire ("We had the military participate at Maker Faire in Detroit, representing TARDEC, one of the area’s largest employers.") What could be further from grass-roots production but high budget military engineering? My concern is in the possibility of normalizing military spending and providing a "career path" into military R&D. This could be resolved by including a unit in the curriculum on power structures and influence in technology, which would be nice to be in there regardless! People still seem to think technology is some autonomous continuum of progress that makes the world better and better (hence transhumanism). People who make need to know how to be critical of the ways technology changes life and thought. Making is not just about playing around with "cool" stuff, its about building tools that change both the ways we interact with, and think about, the world around us.
It seems to me the motivations behind DARPA are that north america (maybe even the western world) is sliding behind in terms of real technical literacy of our young people (programming enrolment is dropping like crazy, and Douglas Rushkoff makes the argument that because technical skills are not taught early in our schools that the emerging second world will surpass our technical abilities in a short time). I think this is probably true, and if technology education for young people is a priority, then there should be government funding for it, especially if it takes funding away from hard military spending.
I suppose, like everything, its always a matter of balance. I think that the training of technical makers needs to include a critical and big-picture perspective on what technology is, and its role in the world, in culture, and in our cognition.Apr 5, 2012
- "My concern is in the possibility of normalizing military spending and providing a "career path" into military R&D"
I think it is this idea that a 'career path' is being designed is what unsettles a lot of people about this partnership. That GPS stance seems a bit extreme, GPS has been 'dual-use' for a decade – it is a technology that is of (but not exclusive to) the civillian world now.Apr 5, 2012