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The Hacker's League

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					The Hacker's League
Lee Felsenstein
18 March 1992

Theory

     The Hacker's League is modeled loosely after the American
Radio Relay League (A.R.R.L.), an organization of technological
adventurers of the Edwardian period. In its heyday, the radio
amateurs moved from being nuisances to being important
contributors to the development of radio technology. In a field
which demanded governmental regulation for orderly operation, the
A.R.R.L. represented the interests of amateurs in the councils of
government and organized ongoing educational activities through
which newcomers to the field could learn not only the technology
involved, but also the human interactions which connect the
technology to the outside world.

     The most recent triumph of radio amateurs has been the
development of packet radio, which has recently been adopted by
Motorola as the basis for its "wireless local loop" for wireless
telephone operation. Thanks to the amateurs, it was developed
and tried out in an open environment outside of commercial
pressures which tend toward secrecy and exclusion.

     In the area of computers and telecommunication, there are
several parallels between today's hackers and the radio amateurs
of 1915. Hackers are seen by the respectable technological
players as nuisances capable of doing great damage and generally
without redeeming qualitites. They were indistinguishable from
rogue broadcasters who trampled on other signals in their urge to
cover the longest distance. In the corridors of power there was
a movement toward outlawing them. Nontechnical people did not
know quite what to think about this problem and its suggested
solution.

     The A.R.R.L. was more than a lobbying organization, though.
It provided a means for the mutual education essential to the
growth of any technology, a route of entry open to all comers,
and a social scene to accompany the technological forum. Through
the A.R.R.L. green kids could encounter grizzled oldtimers who
would be unapproachable in their positions the industry. At
field days and other events the cameraderie of being explorers
overcame the barriers of class and position as well as those
engendered by commercial competition. Networking was possible in
the amateur environment which forwarded the operation in the
commercial and professional environments.

     The concept of the Hacker's League is similar but different
as befits the different nature of the technology. The aim is to
provide a situation in which otherwise unqualified entrants to
the field can engage in informal learning situations, test their
skills as a means of exercising their craft, gain hands-on
experience with systems which would be unobtainable otherwise,
and participate on both sides of mentoring and tutorial
relationships.

     The Hacker's League would provide an outlet for the creative
energies which are otherwise expended making life worse for
perceived or imagined enemies through unauthorized entry to
systems and other illegal or unethical conduct. Such energies
would be turned toward projects which advance the state of the
art, and in a way which undermines the arrogance and exclusivity
of the corporate managers which hackers find so tempting a
target.

     To the charge that the Hacker's League would become a front
for the interests of industry may be raised the defense that by
exploiting industry's fear of low-level disorder it would provide
an organizing platform for higher-level attack upon the
technological underpinnings of the existing structure. Consider
the difference between outcomes had hackers in the 1970's been
content to organize politically for access to mainframes. There
would have been no personal computer industry, and the power
relationships would not have undergone the radical changes
brought about by the triumph of open architecture. One might
well have said then that the amateur computer activity was a
distraction from the true task of tugging at the sleeve of power,
yet we can all see the effects of that activity.

     The Hacker's League could be seen as a guild serving to
restrict entry to the membership of the technical elite. In
fact, the League would be far more open than the current system
of university education. It would provide a means of testing to
see whether one is suited to the demands of the technology
without exacting years of commitment to learning prerequisites.
Within the Hacker's League there would be much more mobility
among specialties than exists in university curricula, and the
doors would be open to underage entrants and those who come later
in life after entrance to a university becomes difficult or
impossible.

     Still, the human tendencies which lead toward exclusivity
and the formation of cliques will always be with us, and we must
bear themin mind as we proceed in conceptualizing and realizing
the Hacker's League. The technology in which we work tends to
eliminate the need for centralization, and one of the important
outcomes of the Leagues's development would be the demonstration
of the decentralized mode of organization, as noble an
exploration as might be contemplated, int he opinion of many.

     After all, the primary challenge is not so much in the
hardware, or the physical form of the systems of
intercommunication and interaction around which society develops.
The important work is in developing the social forms of use of
this technology which forwards the common good as well as that of
the individual. New ways of thinking, as Einstein said, are the
urgently needed ingredient for the humanization and survivalof
society. The Hacker's League would not only provide a
development bed for social innovations involving the use of
information technology, but it would empower those innovations
through the parallel development of the technology and, most
importantly, of the human network through which the technology is
made to come alive.

Practice

     The Hacker's League would be membership organization open
to nonmembers for certain functions. It would be organized as a
nonprofit educational and scientific organization. Its
publications would be freely available to all interested readers.

     The League would hold periodic local events demonstrating
technical achievements of members or chapters, and offering
places for individuals outside the League to exhibit or to engage
in low-level trade, such as swap meets. A newcomer would most
probably make first contact at such events, and might decide to
attend a local chapter meeting.

     Meetings of local chapters would be high in information
exchange and low in structure. Newcomers would be acknowledged
and provided with a brief orientation so that they would not feel
put off by displays of technical virtuosity or cliquishness. If
the newcomer desired further involvement, there would be a set of
course tracks available as suggested paths for establishing,
through achievement, one's level of skill. These might be
thought of as Scout Merit Badges, although the name would
probably not be used.

     In the early stages of involvement, the newcomer might
interact with a designated instructor who is also working to
establish skill in teaching and coaching. Later, as the newcomer
gains skill and established competence, he or she would be
recommended for more individual instruction and consultation from
more highly skilled mentors. Such mentoring relationships would
be an important feature of the League, both as a means and and
end.

     The League at the local level would acquire maintain
obsolescent equipment which would be operated and imporved by the
members through development projects proposed from the
membership. Telecommunication resource would also be solicited
as donations from carriers, on the none-too-subtle suggestion
that the availability of such resource in such a context is
conducive to the developmentof skilled citizens instead of
antisocial attackers. Through this resource the League would
maintain its larger structure, which would be a communication-
based overlay of networks and ad-hocracies.

     Through these structures conflicitng positions could be
discussed and debated in a functioning participatory democracy.
Informed plebiscites would be conducted both as a means of
determining the senseof the League on issues of importsnce and as
development projects testing the capabilities of information
technology under various arrangements of use. The highest
structure of orgnization would be at the local level, and the
administrators at wider levels might be given titles, such as
Janitor, which tend to prevent puffery and self-glorification.
Sapiential authority would be fostered within the League as
opposed to positional authority.

     The newcomer would progress from establishing his or her
level of skill to a process of exploring the available courses of
self-development. It would be possible to propose a specific
course different from the recommended courses. The newcomer
would then engage in projects which require the improvement in
skill level under the supervision or review of competent skilled
members.

     This should be seen as professional development (where the
word has no connotation of "earning a livelihood") and since it
is a responsibility of all professionals to teach adn transmit
their skills, the newcomer would along the way be expected to
perform as an instructor and later a supervisor and mentor to future
newcomers. Thus, progress in self-development would not be
simply a matter of the "neat hacks" one could accomplish, but
would require an integration into the society first of hackers,
then the broader society. There is no reason why technologists
must rely on others to represent their work to the public or the
polity.

     One of the public service functions performed by the
members of the Hacker's League (and this performance would be
explicitly carried out by the members and not by the
"organization") would be consultation on informational security
and integrity of communications within everyday society. Members
of the League would provide a service of analysis of proposals,
investigations of system misuse and pursuit of abusers which
would rest on itsown professional foundation rather than serving
direct commercial ends which might distort the conclusions of
investigations.

     To use a popular metaphor, members ofthe HAcker's League
might be compared to doctors on the Electronic Frontier, with
their own loose medical association to keep quackery at bay and
serving a public health function. Or perhaps the analogy might
be to schoolteachers who also write literature and literary
criticism, as well as turningout works of art and organizing
criticism of the same. Obviously, this metaphoric space needs
work.

     One can expect to betterone's material condition through
participating inthe networks of relationships which would be the
Hacker's League, if one has the skill and aptitude to improve
one's skills. If not, it would be no shame to cease
participation. An important function of the League would be to
encourage the incompetent to go elsewhere without opprobium.
They may well turn up as administrators within industry, and it
is in no ones' interest for there to be hostile relations based
upon "loser" status.

     In fact, the Hacker's League would be a way to do away with
the "winner/loser" dichotomy. If you try, you win to some
degree, and younger members less secure in themselves need to
learn this, at times to a desperate degree. One can take on more
thnone can handle, be allowed to fail with support from those
more experienced, and not incur actual or emotional costs which
would otherwise drive one away from such experimentation. The
Hacker's League wouldn't be working without a measurable degree
of honestly won failure on the partofits members.

     What types of projects would be undertaken? Perhaps the
development of distributed operating systems suitable for
networks of variegated intelligent devices; elegant user front-
ends and development environments for intuitive system
configuration; pidgin speech (unnatural language) recognition
systems; new structures of groupware; posibly neural networks at
higher levels.

     But these are my own conjectures, and what would actually
transpire would almost certainly make these guesses look
ridiculously quaint and primitive. Let's give it a chance to
happen.

				
DOCUMENT INFO
Description: [The following is provided via the courtesy of the Internet Society White House Press Release Gopher Service.] E X E C U T I V E O F F I C E O F T H E P R E S I D E N T THE WHITE HOUSE Office of the Press Secretary ______________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release February 22, 1993 REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AND VICE PRESIDENT TO SILICON GRAPHICS EMPLOYEES Silicon Graphics Mountain View, California 10:00 A.M. PST THE PRESIDENT: First of all, I want to thank you all for the introduction to your wonderful company. I want to thank Ed and Ken --we saw them last night with a number of other of the executives from Silicon Valley -- people, many of them with whom I've worked for a good length of time; many of whom the Vice President's known for a long time in connection with his work on supercomputing and other issues. We came here today for two reasons, and since mostly we just want to listen to you I'll try to state this briefly. One reason was to pick this setting to announce the implementation of the technology policy we talked about in the campaign, as an expression of what we think the national government's role is in creating a partnership with the private sector to generate more of these kinds of companies, more technological advances to keep the United States always on the cutting edge of change and to try to make sure we'll be able to create a lot of good new jobs for the future. The second reason -- can I put that down? We're not ready yet for this. The second reason I wanted to come here is, I think the government ought to work like you do. (Applause.) And before that can ever happen we have to be able to get the people, the Congress, and the press who have to interpret