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Defense Department Funds High School “Hackerspaces”

A new $10 million federal program is bringing “hackerspaces” to high schools, the New York Times reports. Hackerspaces are community groups for hackers to build and invent technology (and take things apart). They are considered incubators for innovation and a major part of the DIY movement—but the high school program has sparked some controversy. These experimental workshops are funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa), and many fear that the Defense Department’s role will steer young hackers toward military projects.

But Darpa funding has already contributed to the development of the Internet and GPS, proponents point out, and it plays an essential role in keeping the U.S. at the forefront of computer science and engineering. Darpa also awarded a $3.5 million grant to Techonomy favorite TechShop. (See TechShop’s Mark Hatch talk about the DIY economy at Techonomy Detroit here.) The partnership will enable TechShop to open two new locations, and it gives Darpa employees access to TechShop equipment after the workshop closes to the public at midnight. As depicted in Erick Schonfeld’s recent article for Techonomy, TechShop is a space where gearheads and techies can build their most whimsical inventions—hardly a breeding ground for the military industrial complex.

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2 Responses to “Defense Department Funds High School “Hackerspaces””

  1. Chris says:

    So long as it stays in a somewhat virtualized and administerable manner, wheres the harm? We had an old linux server at the Univ of TN that each year gained the assignment of getting hacked. We also wrote scripts for the OS further along to better the environment. It was a lot of fun poking around playing with friends on it … it was like WOW or Second Life, but for study purposes

    • sarahharvey23 says:

      I definitely agree that there is great value in teaching all aspects of computer science, including hacking. Innovation will come from the breaking down of existing technology. At Techonomy Detroit, Jack Dorsey admitted to getting his first job by hacking into the email server of a dispatch company — if it wasn’t for that, we wouldn’t have Twitter! And some security research companies teach students how to break into cars so they can improve their systems (http://go.bloomberg.com/tech-blog/2012-08-22-students-get-an-education-on-how-to-break-into-latest-automobiles/). But in the case of this particular Darpa program, it seems like opponents wonder whether the Defense Dept.’s end goal is military expansion rather than tech innovation.

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