Monday, March 12, 2007

Policy, security and computers

Ed Felten has been explaining how he got entangled in policymaking.

"When I started out in research, I had no idea public policy would become a focus of my work. The switch wasn’t so much a conscious decision as a gradual realization that events and curiosity had led me into a new area. This kind of thing happens all the time in research: we stumble around until we reach an interesting result and then, with the benefit of hindsight, we construct a just-so story explaining why that result was natural and inevitable. If the result is really good, then the just-so story is right, in a sense — it justifies the result and it explains how we would have gotten there if only we hadn’t been so clueless at the start.

My just-so story has me figuring out three things. (1) Policy is deep and interesting. (2) Policy affects me directly. (3) Policy and computer security are deeply connected...

The third realization, that policy and computer security are joined at the hip, can’t be tied to any one experience but dawned on me slowly. I used to tell people at cocktail parties, after I had said I work on computer security and they had asked what in the world that meant, that computer security is “the study of who can do what to whom online.” This would trigger either an interesting conversation or an abrupt change of topic. What I didn’t know until somebody pointed it out was that Lenin had postulated “who can do what to whom” (and the shorthand “who-whom”) as the key question to ask in politics. And Lenin, though a terrible role model, did know a thing or two about political power struggles."

Ed's categorisation has parallel's with the central ethos of the Technology Faculty at the Open University where my colleagues Dick Morris and John Naughton were the chief culprits in shaping the platform of ideas and opportunities that underpin my perspectives on technology and leading to my just-so story that (1) Technology is deep and interesting. (2) Technology affects me directly. (3) Technology and society are deeply connected...

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