On the day I sat with Stewart Brand in his Sausalito office, he told me about the early days of white-hat hackers … At the time, with personal computers just starting to penetrate the consumer market, software was ballooning into a hugely lucrative business. But these guys wanted it to be free, an idea that would have sounded crazy to anyone not in that room.
“And we did it!” Brand said with a smile. “Open-source software was brought into existence.” The hackers knew what was best, even though it went against the prevailing wisdom, and they made it happen for the benefit of us all.
Despite the negative connotation of the word hacker, Brand defines white-hat hackers as people who are “benevolent fixers of things that are broken or not as good as they could be.” And society, he says, “is in the process of making itself more hackable — in a good way — ideally, more hackable by benevolent hackers rather than the a–holes.”
In other words, in this more open era, we have to be prepared for the incursions that will inevitably come. Instead of doing business as usual, expecting that our systems and data are impregnable, we have to play differently.
Hackathons are redefining the meaning of civic engagement.
The word hacker, hacking and hackathons are returning to their heroic roots. Hacking is tinkering and creative exploring, often with cause.