Bay Area SDR Hackfest Kicks-Off

Today, we officially kicked-off the DARPA Bay Area SDR Hackfest at NASA Ames. Over 130 members of the SDR community came together on Day One to engage, interact, and innovate around the future of SDR technology and its relevance to national security. Attendees descended on the Hacker Space to open dialogues about current and future SDR challenges, while our eight teams dove head first into the Hackfest Missions – white boarding, vetting concepts, and testing our fleet of UAVs from early in the day to late in the evening.

Attendees and teams took a break from the action midday to listen to our first two keynote speakers of the Hackfest. The presentations challenged us to think about responsible and ethical technology development, use, and access, and the role we play in this important discussion. As we look to examine and innovate around the cyber-physical intersection of drones and SDR this week, their ethical calls to action helped us become more mindful of the implications of our innovations today and in the future.

The science fiction novelist, blogger, and technical activist Cory Doctorow was our first keynote speaker. Cory brought to the forefront issues surrounding the evolution of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and the impact it’s having on our ability to develop fair and open Internet access and associated technologies. Under the guise of the DCMA, Cory has witnessed companies limiting their disclosure of tech security flaws, charging fees to access basic functionality on devices, and finding other ways to essentially turn tech on the user in order to drive up profits. To avoid the spread of digital feudalism where access and fair use decisions that affect many are driven by a few, Cory urged the audience to adopt what he calls the “Ulysses Pact”, which pushes for the development of devices that always obey their owners and mandates that security defects are always legal to disclose.

Keeping with the theme of responsible tech use and policy, our second speaker’s presentation focused on privacy and human rights in the context of tech and tech innovation. Amie Stepanovich is the U.S. policy manager at Access Now where she manages and develops global projects at the intersection of human rights and government surveillance. During her keynote presentation, Amie discussed the freedom vs. control dichotomy that exists with tech innovation and the responsibility of tech developers to thoughtfully analyze benefits and risks of new creations. To help ensure we’re building a better future, Amie proposed four key questions all tech innovators need to consider, including what are we building? Where is it vulnerable? How is it being built? And who is it talking to?

Today was an exciting kick-off to our event. Between the immediate attendee engagement and collaboration we witnessed, the thought provoking keynotes, and the obvious energy radiating from our Hackfest Mission teams, our Day One is a promising indication of the week to come.