On April 11th, 2017, Richard Stallman, the President and Founder of the Free Software Foundation, gave a Quello Lecture at Michigan State University on “A Free Digital Society”. Here is the unedited version of this full talk, which you are free to use for educational purposes. The first hour is focus on ‘free software’, and the second hour moves into the discussion of surveillance, censorship, problems with Internet services, and discussion of electronic voting, and the war on sharing. There is also a short video of an interview with Richard here.
Richard Stallman, perhaps the leading pioneer of Free Software, visited the Quello Center and delivered a Quello Lecture on 11 April 2017 to a standing room only audience. Immediately after his lecture, our Media and Information Masters Student, Irem Gokce Yildirim, did her first interview. She asked Richard to address key issues for the free software movement and related issues over surveillance in a digital society. His responses were clear and give you a sense of his more detailed presentation that is available here.
Irem Gokce Yildirim, a masters student at MSU in my course on media and information policy, interviewed Richard Stallman after his Quello Lecture at MSU. It was her first interview, and she did a great job, with support from her husband, Ustun. Both are from Turkey and both are associated with the Free Software Foundation, for which Richard is the President and Founder.
The back story on how this happened is interesting to me. Ustun, pictured getting an autograph from Stallman, alerted Irem to an early visit by Richard to Michigan. Irem alerted me in class and suggested we invite Richard. This kicked off communications to get Richard Stallman to MSU for a Quello Lecture, and to asking Irem to play an important role in conducting the interview.
Her interview and Richard Stallman’s lecture will be posted on the Quello site in due course, but this is how it all happened. Thanks to Irem and Ustun for enhancing the academic climate at the Quello Center and MSU’s College of Communication Arts & Sciences.
Post Script: Ustun won the GNU in the auction, and the photo is showing Ustun getting rms’s signature on the GNU. First auction at any Quello event, I believe.
Yesterday afternoon, April 11, Richard Stallman, President and Founder of the Free Software Foundation gave a rather comprehensive and critical perspective on the ways in which our digital society is not meeting his definition of a free society. His talk, entitled ‘A Free Digital Society’ began with a focus on free software, meaning software that does not control the user – as users control free software. He developed a set of criteria for the requirements underpinning free software over the first hour of his talk, what he called the four freedoms. To Stallman, free software is a basic human right.
During the second hour, he moved through a litany of other problems with a free digital society, including surveillance, censorship, Internet services, which collect personal data, electronic voting, and the war on sharing around copyright – all of which paint a pretty grim picture of our not so free digital society. I found this to be quite stimulating since we have had decades of discussions about computer-based communication and information technologies like the Internet as ‘technologies of freedom’. It is so important for these widely accepted views to be challenged by critics as sharp as Richard Stallman.
His talk filled our large lecture hall to standing room only, and we had more people lined up for autographs of his book at the end of his two and half hours of his talk and Q&A that attend most lectures. We will post the talk online in due course.
Richard Stallman graduated from Harvard University with a bachelors degree in physics, and went on to work for the AI Lab at MIT before founding the Free Software Foundation. He has won many honors and awards, from honorary doctorates to a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. He has been a pioneer not only in free software, but also in coining the term ‘copyleft’. I had a fascinating discussion with him about Joe Weizenbaum, the author of Computer Power and Human Reason, who wrote about the ‘hackers’ in the AI lab, when the concept of the hacker was defined by their work ethic and not at all by security.