The Regrettes

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Major Open Source Project Revokes Access to Companies That Work with ICE

"Apologies to any contributors who aren't employees of Palantir, but to those who are, please find jobs elsewhere and stop helping Palantir do horrible things"

On Tuesday, the developers behind a widely used open source code-management software called Lerna modified the terms and conditions of its use to prohibit any organization that collaborates with ICE from using the software. Among the companies and organizations that were specifically banned were Palantir, Microsoft, Amazon, Northeastern University, Motorola, Dell, UPS, and Johns Hopkins University. [...]

"Recently, it has come to my attention that many of these companies which are being paid millions of dollars by ICE are also using some of the open source software that I helped build," Jamie Kyle, an open source developer and one of the lead programmers on the Lerna project, wrote in a statement. "It's not news to me that people can use open source for evil, that's part of the whole deal. But it's really hard for me to sit back and ignore what these companies are doing with my code." [...]

Before he changed the license, Kyle left a comment on Palantir's Github asking the company to stop using the software. "Apologies to any contributors who aren't employees of Palantir, but to those who are, please find jobs elsewhere and stop helping Palantir do horrible things," Kyle wrote last week, linking to an article in The Intercept about the company's collaboration with ICE. "Also, stop using my tools. I don't support you and I don't want my work to benefit your awful company." [...]

After Kyle discussed his concerns with some of the other lead developers on the Lerna project, they assented to a change to the Lerna license that would effectively bar any organization that collaborates with ICE from continuing to use the software. This led to some developers calling the change illegitimate and lamenting that it technically meant the project was no longer open source. [...]

"I've been around the block enough to know how every company affected is going to respond," Kyle told me. "They're not going to try and find a loophole. I kinda hope they do try to keep using my tools though -- I'm really excited about the idea of actually getting to take Microsoft, Palantir or Amazon to court."

As for the hate he has received online about how open source projects shouldn't be politicized, Kyle said this misses the point.

"I believe that all technology is political, especially open source," he told me. "I believe that the technology industry should have a code of ethics like science or medicine. Working with ICE in any capacity is accepting money in exchange for morality. I am under no obligation to have a rigid code of ethics allowing everyone to use my open source software when the people using it follow no such code of ethics."

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U.S. Senator Bans Funding for Beerbots That Don't Exist

Senator Flake of Arizona introduced the following amendment to the U.S. Department of Defense appropriations bill currently in Congress:

None of the amounts appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be obligated or expended for the development of a beerbot or other robot bartender.

The issue here is that Senator Flake is conflating a student demonstration of how research could potentially be applied (delivering beer) with the fundamental objective of the research (in this case, multi-robot planning under uncertainty). Senator Flake also does not make any reference to what the objective of the research actually was: solving real-world logistics challenges. Instead, he seems to think that MIT was using government funding to develop a commercial robotic bartender, and his solution is to amend the DoD budget to prevent something that wasn't even happening in the first place, from happening again. [...]

"This is unlikely to actually be a 'misunderstanding'." Instead, Levitan says, Senator Flake is most likely using this research as an opportunity to take on supposedly wasteful spending, by finding perfectly reasonable government funded research projects that can, says Levitan, "be made to sound ridiculous when put a certain way. He almost certainly does it on purpose, ignoring the true value of the research and counting on the public to not be well enough informed to push back. And no fact-checking happened because that would have ruined the bit."

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