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Hacking in the Public Interest


There’s usually a financial incentive to develop new technologies, but what about ways to help the public – and ways to prevent the abuse of technologies?  Those are topics the University of Virginia hopes to tackle in a new course called Hacking in the Public Interest

It’s been nearly 17 years since Mark Zuckerberg and his friends at Harvard launched Facebook, and the nation is only now beginning to deal with the problems it has caused – loss of privacy, abuse by corporations, politicians and dictators.  Hoping to anticipate problems new technologies may spawn in the future, a group of 21 universities has formed the Public Interest Technology Network.

“One of the goals is to train students so they can think critically about these technologies and hopefully think ahead,” says  Jack Davidson, a professor of computer science and an expert on cybersecurity at UVA’s school of engineering.  As the only Virginia school in the network, UVA will offer a course this spring – welcoming students from engineering, law and political science to study the impact of cyber systems on society.

“Can we mitigate early or design to avoid those?” Davidson wonders. "Do we need more government oversight? Regulation of these technologies is going to have to be part of the solution.”

Davidson hopes to attract about thirty students to the first class – a diverse group that will be challenged to consider real world problems and technologies that might help.  

Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief