Make, DARPA, and teens: A match made in hackerspace

Making killer geeks.

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  1. Well, well, well... What have we here? How painfully ironic this is. How shocking, in fact. And yet, this bit of news has flown under the radar for the past week. To put it bluntly, Tim O'Reilly's Make magazine and his cohort are working with the Pentagon. More specifically, DIY-zine Make and its folks are taking money from DARPA to create "makerspaces" for teens (aka the "Manufacturing Experimentation and Outreach," or "MENTOR" program). 

    No word on how large the award was. O'Reilly, Make, along with Saul Griffith and Dale Dougherty, have apparently been bought in order to educate the future generation of killer geeks. We hear that the word was out in the hacker community for a while, but the partnership was no walk in the park. (Rumor has it that several other makers turned down money from DARPA for similar military-linked spaces). Now it is real, and here is the official press release:
  2. According to the release, the project involves "workspaces where students may access educational support to gain practical hands-on experience with new technologies and innovative processes to design and build projects." However, there is no word either on where the teaching ends and military recruitment begins. Nor what the experience also delivers in terms of ideological training. The program aims to reach "1000 high schools over four years, starting with a pilot program of 10 high schools in California during the 2012-2013 school year." [NB: California schools. meanwhile, face a $4.8 billion shortfall].

    In addition, DARPA is coming to the popular Maker Faire, (famous for quirky weirdness, not for indoctrination): "Part of the Makerspace program will be to use Maker Faire as a venue for bringing makers and educators together as well as showcasing student projects." How are folks in the DIY community feeling about this new arrangement? Not much chatter out there (yet?), except for this:
  3. Or as said in a comment on the MAKE site itself: 

    "Make is setting up yet another funnel for STEM educated youth into weapons manufacturing.

    "What, exactly, could a kid encounter in “adult” hackerspaces that is more dangerous than the idea that developing murderous machines is ethical?"

  4. Exactly. Part of the problem here is just that: how are young people supposed to even have the room to grow-up to be ethical adults that can differentiate between forms of violence and non-violence under such circumstances? (Or are they not going to be told that the program is funded by the military?) 

    So this is a story to pay attention to—and one that journalists as well as scholars should tackle! It brings forth many troubling issues and provocations. Yes, no shit, it is excruciatingly well known that DARPA initiated what eventually gave us, most famously, the internet itself. Such factoid is often leveraged to justify current work for DARPA, as the case in point might get explained away as. Need it be reminded, though, that now the internet itself has become THE latest battlefield, under fear-mongering rubrics like a "cyber Pearl Harbor," and DARPA is well-involved in next gen cybersecurity? Many people entertain the luxurious idea that scientific research and engineering, paid for by the Department of Defense, can exist in a putative bubble outside of malice or global agression. But that's not the luxury that anyone on the receiving end of Pentagon gizmos has.

    Also, the imbrication of the internet with the military is actually of exact relevance to the point made here. Modern life, as almost anyone reading this can attest to, is so thoroughly embedded in the military's countless affairs—from films to medicine to business—that it is almost impossible to divorce our wars from any form of social progress that does not exact a violent toll on others' bodies. (Where do we draw the line?) And it remains murky how the high school students themselves feel about this creeping militarization in their own schools. But that's not all. DARPA's home, the Pentagon, is also the space, to say this in so many words, of hacker/maker persecution, as emblematized most obviously by the criminalization of Bradley Manning, or several anon's. We wait to hear what O'Reilly et al have to say.
  5. World Maker Faire New York 2011
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