HOPE Number 9 – (day 1)

HOPE stands for Hackers On Planet Earth and it is a conference that takes place every tow years in New York. So far all HOPEs have been held at the Pennsylvania Hotel, across the street from Penn Station in New York.

What follows are the summaries of the talks I attended.

Community Fabrication – Four Years Later

Speaker: Far McKon

This talk was about evolution of 3D printing in the last 4 years. The speaker had given a talk on 3D printers in 2008 and here he compared then and now. The news in 2008 was RepRap, the first machine that replicate itself. Today 3D printers are common.

Over the past four years basic 3D printing technology advanced – there are number of 3D printers under $1000 (eg. B9 Creator,  MakerBot). The technology that has not improved much is laser scanning. A laser scanner can scan a physical object and create a digital model of if so that a copy can be printed.

But lots of interesting things are being developed. In fact electronics have advanced greatly. We have cheap processors that can be easily embedded into machines (Arduino, Rasberry Pi).

For 2016 the speaker predicted that 3D open source stuff will flourish, but the 3D designs may be in legal trouble. And we are still looking for 3D printer “killer app”.

Technology to Change Society

Speakers: Chris Anderson, Gus Andrews, Matt Curinga, Christina Dunbar-Hester

This was a panel presentation on how technology geeks attempt to change society and succeed or fail.  For example, one of the speakers talked about setting a community radio station in an African country. The station came online, but due to local governmental regulations never went on to broadcast real programming. One of the reasons for the failure was the lack of attention paid to the cultural and political environment.

Another failing example was Oral Wiki. Here a system was set up to allow tribal elders to record their decisions and judgement via cell phones, so that people from many villages could benefit from the recorded tribal law. The system was implemented and worked technically but was never used by the target audience.

Another area of frequent technology misapplication is in education. A nice suggestion for how this should be done was “be the guide on the side, not the sage on the stage”.

Finally there was a reference made to a book called “Diffusion of Innovation”.

Keynote – William Binney

William Binney retired from NSA after over 30 years of service and is now trying to expose some of the actions NSA and the US government are doing to spy on its own citizens.

He talked about his history at NSA and how NSA is organized. Today there are two main groups at NSA: operations – this is where data on the enemy is analyzed and actionable intelligence is produced, and technology – this is where new technology to assist operations is developed. According to the speaker the separation of the two groups was a bad idea, since technology group needs to create stuff in order to have money flowing.  Technology’s mission statement can be cynically summarized as “Keep the problem going, to keep the money flowing”.

While working in operations, the speaker and his group built a system that was able to analyze data on the internet and find relationships between “persons of interest”.  One of the concerns the speaker expressed was that such system began to be used for tracking US citizens especially after 9/11/2001.

William Binney appeared on episode of Democracy Now, where you can hear him voice similar concerns as he expressed during his keynote.

Legal Practices as Infrastructure Attacks

Speaker: Alex Muentz

In this talk the speaker, a lawyer, presented an interesting idea. Even when the data in your computer is protected from intruders and crackers, it can still be vulnerable to legal attacks.

Part of civil or criminal case is a discovery process. In discovery process “each party must identify and disclose all sources of potential responsive ESI” (where ESI is “Electronically Stored Information”).  ESI has to be preserved, compiled into a viewable format (i.e. PDF) and handed over.

As the definition of “responsive ESI” is very broad a lot data may have to be handed over.

  • Discovery effects – huge amount of data may have to be handed over, some of this data may become part of the public record, plus going though this data can be very expensive (lawyers cost a lot of money).
  • Discovery Defenses – a document retention policy that is enforced, if it does not exist it cannot be discovered; in some cases it is possible to negotiate scope, especially if you control who has access to what data.

BTW, the speaker, who is a lawyer, said that his best tool for going through electronic documents is “grep”.

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