FOR OVER 30 years, computing has been pursued in an envi- ronment of trust with com- puting research advances and publications shared openly
within a truly integrated international
community. At the heart is the explosive
20-year rise of open source softwarea—
shared touchstones sufficient to build
enterprise-scale software systems and
giving rise to multibillion-dollar companies and entire new service sectors.
The bounty of open sharing is the
rapid advance of computing technologies—the Internet, WWW, and a wide
variety of Internet and cloud services.
Equally important, open source sharing
has been a boon for education, building
an open international community that
included developed countries in Europe
and North America as well as developing
countries such as Brazil, Russia, India,
and China. All have contributed and
benefitted tremendously in return.
The global backdrop for computing’s open sharing was an environment
of international trust and secular trend
toward global integration of economy
and society. We are manifestly in a new
era of international relations—”An Age
of Distrust”—where the trend toward
increased trade and integration has
stalled, if not reversed. And, a new superpower competition between the U.S.
and China for global scientific, eco-
nomic, and other forms of leadership
is reshaping perspective and strategy.b
It is time for the computing commu-
nity to begin thinking and discussing
a S. Phipps. Open source software: 20 years and
counting, (Feb. 3, 2018), opensource.com
b China v America: The end of engagement, how
the world’s two superpowers have become ri-
vals. Economist, (Oct. 18, 2018); J. Perlez. U.S.-
China clash at Asian summit was over more
than words. N Y Times, (Nov. 19, 2018).
what it means to engage in open collab-
oration in an Age of Distrust. Why must
the computing community change?
While computing has supported
military technology (design) and tactics
(gunnery tables) from its earliest days,c
they were not the direct tools of aggression. The evidence is undeniable that
computing is now a dual-use technology with capability for direct aggression.
˲ Cybersecurity technologies are used
extensively as instruments of aggression
by governments and non-governmental
organizations for industrial espionage,
sabotage, and subversion of elections,d
and even entire countries’ infrastructure. Cybersecurity technology is used
for asymmetric attacks on the wealthy
and powerful—nations, companies,
CEO’s, but can also be turned on the
poor, weak, and individuals.
˲ Artificial intelligence technologies
have growing capabilities for surveillance, espionage, and more intimidating potential to create autonomous and
robotic systems. So serious are these
concerns that leading AI researchers
have called for a ban on development
of autonomous weapons,e and others have protested and prevented their
company’s participation in military
applications.f Most countries believe AI
is not only commercially important, but
also strategic for intelligence and warfare cyberspace and the physical world.
c History of Computing Hardware;
d M.S. Schmidt and D.E. Sanger. 5 in China army
face U.S. charges of cyberattack. NY Times, (May
19, 2014). A. Greenberg. How an entire nation
became Russia’s test lab for cyberwar. WIRED,
(June 20, 2017); The untold story of NOTPET YA,
the most devastating cyberattack in history.
WIRED, (Aug. 22, 2018).
e Autonomous weapons: An open letter from
AI & robotics researchers; https://futureoflife.
Furthermore, computing’s unique
capability for instantaneous translation
from commercial to military use—down-
load, build, and incorporate—make tra-
ditional notions of controlg irrelevant.
Companies face increasing assertion
of national sovereignty and control—
government access to data, citizen
data privacy rights, even information
control.h Universities and research institutes face increasing questions about
whom to collaborate with, to share information with, and to allow to work on
projects. At issue is the ethical and moral implications of research. Export control regulations proliferate, “deemed
export” is increasingly challenging, and
new regulations controlling information sharing and research seem likely.
Within science, the physics community has faced these concerns for much
of the 20th century, and recently so has
the biology community. Within computing, the cryptography community
is no stranger to these concerns. We
should seek to learn from them.
Let me be clear, I am not advocating
banning, control, or classification of research topics. The computing community is too large and international for any
single country or organization to limit
the progress in computing technologies.
However, such efforts will inevitably arise,
so we, as computing professionals, must
begin the difficult conversations of how
to shape the development and use of
technologies so that they can be a responsible and accountable force in society.
Let’s begin the conversation!
Andrew A. Chien, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
f D. Wakabayashi and S. Shane. Google will not
renew Pentagon contract that upset employees. N Y Times, (June 1, 2018).
g UN Office for Disarmament Affairs. Treaty
on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons;
h E.C. Economy. The great firewall of China: Xi Jin-
ping’s Internet shutdown, The Guardian, (June
29, 2018) and European Union: General data
protection regulation; https://gdpr-info.eu/
Open Collaboration in
an Age of Distrust
DOI: 10.1145/3162391 Andrew A. Chien