(Source: arstechnica.com)

SAN FRANCISCO—Speaking at the Noisebridge hackerspace Tuesday evening, Chelsea Manning implored a crowd of makers, nerds, and developers to be ethical coders.

“As a coder, I know that you can build a system and it works, but you’re thinking about the immediate result, you’re not thinking about that this particular code could be misused, or it could be used in a different manner,” she said, as part of a conversation with Noisebridge co-founder Mitch Altman.

Altman began the conversation by asking about artificial intelligence and underscoring some of the risks in that field.

“We’re now using huge datasets with all kinds of personal data, that we don’t even know what information we’re putting out there and what it’s getting collected for,” Manning said. “Our AI systems are getting better and better and better, and we don’t know what the social consequences of that are. The code that we write, the bias that you see in some of the systems that you see, we don’t know if we’re causing feedback loops with those kinds of bias.”

Manning also said that during her time in the military, she wondered if the US military was doing more harm than good in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, where she served.

“We’re making assumptions about this particular threat group, but we’re boxing them into a threat group to begin with—so they’re treated as a threat group,” she said. “It was always unclear to me whether we were helping or if we were perpetuating at violence in a particular part of the country.”

Further Reading

Chelsea Manning, who served more prison time than any US leaker, is freedDressed in all black and a metallic necklace with a # sign, Manning said she had just acquired a coffee table after being released from prison and was “catching up.” She also admitted that she’d been eating a lot of pizza and Tex-Mex as comfort foods.

“The tools that you make for marketing can also be used to kill people,” Manning continued. “We have an obligation to think of the tools that we’re making and how we’re using them and not just churn out code for whatever reason. You want to think about how your end-user could misuse your code.”

Altman, who is perhaps most well-known for creating the TV-B-Gone universal television off switch that debuted in 2004, led the freewheeling discussion that often had more open-ended statements than clear-cut questions.

She told Altman that she didn’t even know that her coming out as a trans woman would resonate with America as much as it did when she first reported to prison in 2013.

“I’m tired of pretending to be somebody else, so here I am,” she said. “I didn’t sign up to be a role model; I’m just a street kid and a coder.”

Activism abounds

Further Reading

Chelsea Manning’s 35-year sentence commuted by ObamaThe talk was one of Manning’s first public appearances since being released from the Military Corrections Complex at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas in May 2017 after President Barack Obama commuted her sentence in January. She had been convicted of leaking a huge trove of classified military documents to WikiLeaks and was subsequently sentenced to 35 years in military prison.

The former Army intelligence analyst, whom President Donald Trump has called a “TRAITOR” on Twitter, had been imprisoned longer than any other US leaker convicted under the Espionage Act.

The event was not announced in advance, save for a cryptic tweet a few days ago, possibly as a way to ward off uninvited guests. Manning is in the Bay Area as one of the 2017 recipients of the Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer Award on September 14. She is also scheduled to speak at the New Yorker Festival in early October.

During her talk to a packed room of well over 100 people, Manning also touched on various political themes, including building community. Altman asked specifically how technology can be used for good.

“That’s the key. We need to talk to each other, communicate with each other. Every person has a responsibility to be engaged with the political system,” she said. “Voting is not the only political act you can do in this country.”

Altman also asked about one of Manning’s recent tweets, which asked readers to “imagine a world without standing armies.” Manning responded by lamenting the current “police state” of some American cities.

“Especially because I lived in Iraq for a year, in an occupied country, and I’ve been in New York and DC, and now I’ve been in San Francisco and Philadelphia, as well, and that’s how I feel, is that some of the neighborhoods in our cities look like an occupied nation,” she said.

During the question-and-answer portion at the end of the talk, Manning addressed a question that was likely on everyone’s mind: if given the chance, would she have leaked the files to WikiLeaks again?

“I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t like to go back in time and second guess myself.”

“You make the decision that you make and you live with that,” she added.

Another person asked how he should think of the Obama administration’s commutation of her sentence, but also [how this administration is] cracking down on journalists.

“Of course I’m thankful to be let out of prison, but it’s not a magic wand that makes everything better,” she said, admitting also that she had “no idea” why the then-president showed mercy toward her.

More Info: arstechnica.com

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