Speaker notes from my keynote at linux.conf.au 2020
Who is watching?
Why are they watching?
Why does it matter?
Why does it matter to you?
Why does it matter to us ?
And why might it matter to me?
Who am I? I’m Donna Benjamin, and I'd like to acknowledge the Yugembeh people, their elders, past, present and emerging, and thank them for their generous welcome to country on Monday.
These days, I'm an Engagement Lead in the Open Innovation Labs at Red Hat where I help teams change the future.
Over the years, I've been involved with all these different organisations
in one way or another:
Victorian Cancer Council's Human Research Ethics Committee,
Open Invention Network
Linux Users of Victoria
linux.conf.au 2008 Mel8ourne
Open Source Industry Australia
VITTA, ICTEV, DLTV
but I'm not here today to talk about them, or me.
When I first heard the conference theme for linux.conf.au 2020 would be "Who is watching?" Immediately, I thought about mass surveillance, and the increasing threat to our collective privacy. So, why does this question "who is watching?" matter to me?
Let me tell you a story...
In 1938 my Grandmother got married to a young chap who offered her an adventure.
She and her newly wed Husband boarded the Jervis Bay and sailed to Australia. Not for a honeymoon, as you might be thinking, but to escape Nazi Germany. They were incredibly lucky. You see? This was before world war 2. She'd been arrested and put in solitary confinement in a local prison, before being transferred to Moringen concentration camp.
Somewhat ironically, she was eventually released by the Gestapo because as a jew, they thought she was no good for breeding stock. Later, during the war, her mother, and my grandpas mother and sister all died in death camps in europe. So, who is watching? Why are they watching? It really matters.
In the past surveillance involved spy craft and tricky devices. Think James Bond, Think Q, and every spy movie ever. I love spy movies! Does anyone else like spy movies?
But now? Weellll.... What's your wake word of choice? Is there a virtual assistant by your side today?
CCTV is everywhere to help "Keep us safe"
I asked people to send me pix of camera's they encountered in every day life...
We're making it too easy. Too easy in two ways.
Firstly, many of us willingly, mindlessly throw our data around, like confetti at a wedding. paying no heed to how it will be cleaned up, or by who. I know, many of you don't do that. Some of you are hyper conscious of your digital footprints, and tread very carefully to minimise traces you might leave in the sand. I'm not. I know I should be, but I'm not.
It's not that I have nothing to hide. I'm not really sure why I don't take more care. Perhaps it's just all too hard? Perhaps I'm lazy? Maybe the threat or consequences don't seem that big a deal? I dunno.
But what if my government decides I'm a threat? What then?
This is the front page of my Dad's ASIO file. ASIO for those who don't know stands for Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. Why does my dad have an ASIO file? Well, he was seen as a bit of a troublemaker in the late 1960's and early 70's.
He was involved in things like, campaigning against capital punishment, and getting Indigenous people counted in the census.
He was photographed attending meetings and conferences. His phone was tapped.
Is mine? Who cares? Siri is listening. I like asking her about the weather, what time it is. I like telling Google where I'm going so I can get directions on how to get there. Willingly.
Secondly... We makers of Free and Open Source Software are surveillance arms dealers.
Our Free operating systems, web servers, databases, libraries, and other tools are being used by the persuasion industry whether we like it or not. So... Here's an uncomfortable question. Are we responsible for that? Are we accountable for the acts
enabled by the tools we make, support and sell?
Privacy, Security, Identity, Surveillance Control, Shame, Oppression, Repression, Suppression, Censorship, Dignity, Diversity, Fear, Panic, Freedom, Agency, Observation, Monitoring, Sensing, Listening, Measurement, Intensive Care, Public Health, Climate, Compliance, Epidemic & Pandemic response, Search & Rescue.
Well that's a complicated question with even more complicated answers. I'm looking forward to Nicola's session tomorrow on Practical Ethics to learn how to build some ethical muscle. Yesterday, Lana gave a powerful talk about this too.
Who saw it? Catch the video if you missed it.
Maybe one way to think through this is
to ask ourselves a leading question.
What's the intent? What's the big "Why?"
The "Why" matters.
Privacy, Security, Identity, Surveillance Control, Shame, Suppression, Repression, Oppression, Censorship, Dignity, Diversity, Fear, Panic, Freedom, Agency, Observation, Monitoring, Sensing, Listening, Measurement, Intensive Care, Public Health, Climate, Compliance, Epidemic & Pandemic response, Search & Rescue.
Search and Rescue is one very good reason for watching.
For some time now, Dr Andrew Tridgell, better known to many of you just as Tridge, has been working on an open source autonomous drone program called ardupilot. I believe they're developing flight path algorithms to aid in search and rescue efforts. This is awesome, life-affirming work. This is work that makes a difference. This is work that matters.
Social media is now being monitored by global public health organisations to watch for signs of disease outbreak.
A number of studies around the world have shown that tracking leading indicators for signs and symptoms of influenza, zika virus, and dengue fever on social media has matched that being reported to healthcare providers - but did so much earlier, allowing authorities and providers to prepare, and to stock up on medicine. Or to help track the origin and likely spread of infection, to warn, or quarantine people who may be affected.
Later today Rachel Bunder will talk about smart energy meters. These machines are constantly monitoring our energy usage, and sending that info direct to the energy provider, rather than having someone come and physically read the meter. And Kathy Reid will be talking about sensing in prosthetics, and how important it is to protect the sorts of private and sensitive data they can collect, Good, Better, Breast.
Compliance with road traffic regulations is another "why", another reason, for monitoring and observation.
The very obvious placement of cameras is thought to be a deterrent to unwelcome and criminal behaviour, to the extent that fake cameras are often installed with that aim in mind. So in that case, the intent, that aim to deter, would seem to matter more than capturing and recording evidence of the unwelcome behaviour itself.
The "why" matters.
But when the intent is to supress, repress, or opress.
Then it matters even more.
But we are Freedom Lovers
We are agents of change. We can change the future.
But first, we need to ask and answer some important questions. How do we work together to create the future we want?
Or work to resist apathy? Janis Joplin sang that Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose. But I think freedom's what we make it to be. Let's be makers.
Let's shift our thinking from the scary realm of surveillance, to the somewhat more objective space of observation.
Last year, sitting in hospital beside my Dad who was in intensive care, I noted the professionalism, and attention to detail of the nurse who was taking hourly observations of her patients vital statistics. She monitored blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, respiration, skin tone. She was also paying attention to me, and to mum.
I realised this was also a kind of surveillance, but it was all good. I was grateful she was watching so closely, so carefully.
Observation... isn't always a bad thing. So, what's the real difference between surveillance and observation? Intent.
Surveillance is observation when the subject is under suspicion.
There are very many reasons we have to observe things, observe each other, or observe the world around us. Benign reasons, good reasons, bad reasons.
When the primary intent of observation becomes suspicion, that's surveillance.
This is from police infra red footage of the fires near mallacoota on new years eve. From a nurse's careful observations in intensive care, to public health teams using social media to track the outbreak of disease, to early warning detection for natural hazards, like volcanos, and bushfires, monitoring, sensing, automation, machine learning, are all being used to watch, to learn, and to help us make decisions to act.
We should, and we must use our skills and our smarts to fight fire, with fire.
We should all be watching and learning, so we can make meaningful choices to act.
We should also work to protect our own privacy. My NY's resolution for 2020 is to clean up my own data act, because just as vaccination fosters herd immunity, using VPNs and encryption helps protect our collective privacy. Normalising strong privacy for everyone, protects those who need it most.
These are things we can all do right now, so what about the future? Today, I'd like to take you on journey to the future.
Fast forward to the year 2121. Not 2021, not next year. But 101 years from now.
Can you imagine what the world might be like?
It was William Gibson who said, the future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed.
The telephone was invented well over a hundred years ago. Today, we all have one in our pockets, and if you don't you're probably a conscientious objector.
But also today, there are remote towns in Australia that don't have a phone that works. Comms towers burnt out, power down.
The future is here, it's just not evenly distributed.
One way to help imagine the future, is to study the past.
When we think of the past it's the beautiful things we pick out. We want to believe it was all like that.
Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale
Some people like to think of the past as a golden age. Truth is, humanity is better off right now than it's ever been.
Hans Rosling and his successor Max Roser, advocate for a fact based optimism. If you haven't seen their video animations showing global progress, I urge you to check them out.
Humanity, according to many measures of progress, is actually doing really well. If historical trends continue, it's likely the world will keep on getting better. So, whilst It may seem bleak
right now as we start to really feel the heat of the climate crisis, we're doing well. Some people have said rebuilding after the bushfires will stimulate economic activity.
But others suggest we need to be thinking much more critically about using growth as a measure of progress.
People like Greta Thunberg, Time magazine's person of the year. Scolding our leaders for believing in fairy tales of eternal economic growth.
So... what was I talking about? Oh that's right, the past!
1920 - A hundred years ago this week, our friends in America enacted prohibition, and banned booze! I think it's fair to say that had a few unintended consequences. Ok, fast forward to 1996...
In 1996 Australia was on the cusp of becoming a Republic, John Howard was elected Prime Minister, there was a tragic massacre at Port Arthur in Tasmania, Dolly the cloned sheep was born, New Zealand paid some compensation to Maori for loss of land in the 1800s, Koffi Annan becomes Secretary General of the United Nations, and I took part in a futures forum called 2121, and it's been on my mind ever since. 2121. One Hundred and One years from now
So. Let's begin. Let's start now. Let's talk about the future.
Not your personal future. The future of the world.
You can plan for your own future. We all can. It’s called a to-do list.
Planning what to do with our own lives isn't the same as planning the future. I
think future exists beyond our lifetime.
The trouble is, we can't do anything then. We can only act now.
Let's stop for a moment. Let's gaze out beyond our galaxy and just breathe. Let’s take a leaf out of Eckhart Tolle’s book. Quiet all the noise in your head. Breathe n, Breathe out. Feel your breath filling up your lungs. Feel it flow out of your mouth and nose. Take those breaths a little deeper. Just think about the breath. Other thoughts rushing in? They’re just thoughts. You can deal with them later.
Close your eyes. Feel yourself here in this room, how you're sitting, if you're
warm, or cold. Feel the energy in your body. This might sound like woowoo to
some of you, but every blood cell in your body is carrying oxygen from your
lungs, powering your brain. Feel the energy of your breath. Feel that
power. We're all here, joined in this moment.
This one single moment. (pause for a beat) Are you here now?
This is what Eckhart Tolle calls the Power of Now, living in the moment. Once you start living in the moment, you can stop reliving the past, or fretting about the future. The future is coming anyway. You can’t stop it, and you can’t wish it away. Just like you can’t relive the glory days of the past. Don't let the past prevent you from living your life now.
Welcome to 2020 - Here we are now.
Ok, so thinking about next year…
I'm prepared to bet that some of us will meet again at LCA2021.
What about Next century?
Truth is, you probably won’t get to see it, none of us will, well some of us might. Human lives are getting longer!
I'm not as confident I can predict what it will be like?
The picture painted by climate science isn't great.
Can you imagine what the world might be like in 2121? Take a moment, dream a little.
Have you imagined a perfect world? Or can you foresee some issues you could act to prevent?
If the future is a destination… what are we going to do today that will have an impact in 2121?
What do we want to do to impact the future?
Can we work together to prevent the dark dystopia foretold by Orwell? Oon Friday, Esther is speaking about RFC1984, and why we should start worrying about encryption backdoors and mass data collection. I very much hope she'll have some action steps for all of us.
On the other hand perhaps we could we work together to build some perfect Utopia?
How do we avoid sleep walking into a bland future of unfulfilled potential?
How can you make the future happen?
The trick, is not to worry about the future at all, but act now to gather what you need when we get there.
Like, packing for a hiking trip. Take everything you need with you.
You'll need to make some choices about things you want to take, but don't really want to carry along the way.
So what will we need on this journey?
The future isn’t just about technology and innovation. It’s people. It's You and what you do.
It’s also about social change, change in thought. Change in mood. Change in attitude. It’s also about a change in you. In me. What are we learning about ourselves when we make a change?
“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”
― Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness
So if we look to 2121 as our destination, and getting there is a journey, let's ask ourselves, what will we need?
I think this is a useful way to stop feeling powerless about what the future might bring.
You are powerful.
Together we are powerful.
But we need to understand what power is, and how to use it.
So what do you want to do?
What kind of world would you live in, if you could change everything?
You can start making it now.
Another attendee at the 2121 global futures forum twenty four years ago, was my mother, Joan Benjamin. She’s a life-long educator. Working together to tackle poverty in the 1970s, She and her colleague Connie Benn, identified four key sources of power to harness to effect change. They designed and ran a pilot program at the Brotherhood of St Laurence. It was an evidence based approach that rejected case work as the key methodology, because it tended to see people experiencing poverty as cases to be solved, rather than people who simply lacked resources. They lacked more than resources, they lacked power over their own lives, and looking through the lens of power itself, proved to be the key.
So, 4 powers.
One - Power over resources.
Food is a resource. Electricity is a resource. Your internet connection is a resource. Health is a resource. A roof is a resource. How much power do you have over your resources? How much power do the people around you have over the resources they have, and the resources they need?
Is there a sense that resources are scarce? Should they be rationed or restricted, or are they a basic human right?
What resources will we need to forge our future on this journey toward 2121?
2. Power over information. In the past when Joan and Connie were talking about this stuff, information was not as easy to find as it is today.
Although, as we’re seeing in this apocalyptic bushfire crisis, incorrect information can be just as powerful as the truth. Eco-anxiety was on the shortlist for Macquarie's word of the year. "climate emergency" was the The Oxford Dictionary's choice.
Today we have info overwhelm. A veritable glut of data. We have more information than we can deal with. So we've started to ask machines to help us make sense of it. We're still developing ways to manage information. To wield power over it. How will we verify increasingly compelling deep fakes?
Number three. Power over decision-making.
The power of decision making is how we are going to make 2121. Think about all of the things in this world were decided for you, by people who have been gone a long time. Things like our system of law, or our road rules. The decisions you make today will have a profound effect on the people your age living in 2121.
Don’t take the power over decision-making for granted. Josh Simmons will be talking about Open Source Citizenship later today today, which should provide some food for thought for the power dynamics of decision-making in and about our communities
Number four. Power over relationships. None of these powers is more important than any other, but some are more equal than others.
Our communities, our voices, our feelings. The way we work together. We’re all so connected now, right across the world. There is huge power in relationships, so how do we nurture them? We need to protect and respect different voices. We need to have the space and the means of communicating with each other, and our institutions. And we need ways of knowing we've been heard and understood. How do we create a future where everybody feels empowered to speak, and everybody can feel their viewpoint is valid? But also do so in a way that respects everyone else's agency, privacy and perspective?
So, now let's take a look at those four powers in relation to each other.
The link between information and relationships is communication.
Resources and decision-making are linked by allocation, and distribution
We need information to help us find and use resources, and help us make decisions. Our relationships with others also help determines how we share and allocate resources. The four powers are connected and interdependent.
So just as the future isn't evenly distributed, the same is true for power.
So. Where do we begin? 2121 is a long way off, and we need to get started. What's something small you can do today, tomorrow, this week, this year? What change can you make?
I'm going to try and improve herd immunity to mass surveillance by cleaning up my act with data. Tomorrow I'm going to Opal's session to learn about "Collecting information with care".
What step will you take? Do you know of any good resources on how we can all improve our herd immunity to mass surveillance, please share!
If you're willing to share, please add it to this etherpad...
Or feel free to tweet, or tell us on IRC, or talk about it here in the hallway track, or even blog about it later.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
So what are you going to do? What step can you take to help more evenly distribute power now? And more evenly distribute the future in 2121? Take a moment. Think about it.
Imagine if the future was like using software, and you found a bug? Could you replicate it? Could you submit a bug report? Could you fix the bug? How might we all take more responsibility, and accountability for what we're making possible?
Open Australia runs a bunch of websites that help us watch the government. One of them is called "Right to Know" and it's a really easy way to submit a "Freedom of Information" request to a government agency. This helps us move from being watched, to being the watchers and take responsibility for what becomes possible.
Theoretical biologist Stuart Kauffman coined the phrase ‘the adjacent possible:’ all the possible combinations of factors that could call something into being. He used it to describe the primordial soup of life, that specific set of circumstances which conspired to ignite a chemical interaction creating life on earth. The idea was popularised...
… popularised by Steven Johnson, in his book ‘Where good ideas come from,’. He used the idea of the adjacent possible to look at the history of innovation. He suggests the idea of the great solitary inventor is a myth. He argues our whole world is more of a result of groupthink. As he puts it “Chance favours the connected mind.” And LCA, this conference, is very much a place to connect with other minds.
So what's coming next? It's hard to know until it happens. But we can work together to foster more positive kinds of observation, work together to achieve fairer distribution of power and guard against the worst excesses of oppressive surveillance.
Finally, I'd like to talk about one more old idea.
If you're not familiar with it, please go and check out the world of appreciative inquiry.
We tend to be problem solvers, so we look for problems to solve, this means we focus much of our time and energy on problems. And that magnifies their importance.
Appreciative inquiry says lets work to Discover the best of what is happening, look at what is working, and do more of that, The next step is to Dream, and imagine what could be possible. Then go ahead and Design a future state that is compelling and desirable, and then we figure out how to Deploy, or Deliver, and implement that future.
By focussing our time, attention, and energy on what's good, and on what we want, perhaps we'll spend less despair and energy on things that can't be fixed.
The Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education in Vancouver is using Appreciative inquiry to facilitate compassionate communities.
I'd like to think we too, here at linux.conf.au, are a compassionate community.
How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.
So who is watching?
All of us.
But we are not voyeurs, not spies, not secret agents...
We are change agents.
We can change the world.
And why are we watching?
To learn how best to leave this place just a little better than we found it.