Our role as technologists has changed
3 min read

Our role as technologists has changed

what are ur thoughts on cyber defense against big data collecting all of our personal info // defense against profound biases of AI that will eventually be used to enforce a police state

The text came in late at night from my friend who had left my apartment only an hour previously. Sensing a larger conversation at hand, I responded with details on my latest project, which would be rooting a Pixel 3a and replacing its OS with CalyxOS.

She responded with relief and followed up with,

Just thinking a lot about the post capitalist apocolypse lately
And the inevitable rise of authoritarianism
esp in the US
I mean china is already there
W regard to surveillance

She was not the first person to mention these thoughts to me. In fact, I had only recently conveyed similar ones to another friend of mine who was a big supporter of free, open-source software (FOSS) and went through great lengths himself to keep his life digitally minimal. This person had also introduced me to Scuttlebutt - which is a story for another day.

And just this evening, I got off the phone with yet another friend who spent almost two hours walking me through an assessment done by an independent party on our town's police force. The assessment was equal parts damning and terrifying.

However, a good portion of our conversation was about the ephemeral quality of important current events on social media. In this case, how quickly the topics of police reform and its relationship to the BLM movement disappeared from people's feeds on Facebook and other prominent sites almost as soon as they appeared - and how this affected our efforts to create lasting change in the community.

I relay these prosaic interactions because it highlights a role that people who work in technology need to fill.

And fast.

When I first started as a software developer in 2017, the focus was on creating apps that would help people simplify their lives - and in a lot of ways improve them by giving them less overhead to get through their day-to-day tasks.

In the last year and a half, though, things have taken a sharp turn, and a dangerous one at that. The pandemic pulled back the fading, threadbare curtain of modern society (namely capitalism) and revealed a monstrous being underneath.

Data rights and privacy are more at risk than ever. As my friend pointed out, there are profound biases in artificial intelligence and its applications. On top of it all there is very little stopping those who have power over all of it to quell whatever dissent to current policies enacted in the coming years.

I think of the law Texas recently passed on abortion as an immediate example of this, where the reporting of violations to said law can lie in the hands of citizens (or, perhaps, those who have access to personal data or surveillance footage).

I also think of a recent piece a fellow Mastodon user, Aral Balkan, wrote regarding Apple and the way it's manipulating the definition of personal privacy violation.

Technology and the way we wield it is not safe anymore.

The problem is, the ones who know how to get around this are the very ones who helped get it to that unsafe spot in the first place. (Myself included.)

So where does that leave us? What does this mean?

Our role is no longer just to keep contributing and creating software - even if it's FOSS.

Our role is to show others how to get around the potholes existing in modern technology so it can't be used against them in the future.

What does that look like?

It might mean getting people organizing anti-police, anti-capitalist, anti-state events off of Facebook and onto their own Mastodon server, run by someone who knows how to manage a server and won't sell their data to the feds.

It might mean teaching others what the Fediverse is and why it's better for their digital longevity than using YouTube and other Google-controlled products.

It also could be showing others how to flash their phones with software not owned by Apple or Google.

Or getting their laptop running a Linux distro instead of Microsoft's Windows.

There are a lot of options, but it all starts with empowerment.

Right now, the global population's future is volatile and authoritarianism is quickly becoming the go-to for a lot of prominent countries as a safety mechanism (including the U.S. if we can't get our act together in the Very Near Term). There is absolutely nothing stopping Apple, Google, Microsoft, and other companies that have a monopoly on our data - be it biometrics, birth dates, latest posts - from giving it to the highest bidder.

Or to someone who puts a boot to their neck, threatening their bottom lines.

And we must quickly get people off of these platforms, or at least educate them about what these platforms have on them, to keep them safe - especially those who are looking to enact change in our society.

I cannot express enough just how important this is and how immediate the need is for us to start thinking this way. It is vital that those who contribute to our technical world understand that creation and maintenance is no longer our only role here. If we want to continue to be able to be creative in this sphere, and to have ways to digitally express ourselves, we need to take on education and community safety as well.

Not just safety from the trolls and bots - but from the very states in which we live.