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MIT President Tells Grads To 'Hack the World' 86

Posted by timothy
from the but-gently dept.
theodp writes "On Friday, MIT President L. Rafael Reif exhorted grads to 'hack the world until you make the world a little more like MIT'. A rather ironic choice of words, since 'hack the world' is precisely what others said Aaron Swartz was trying to do in his fateful run-in with MIT. President Reif presumably received an 'Incomplete' this semester for the promised time-is-of-the-essence review of MIT's involvement in the events that preceded Swartz's suicide last January. By the way, it wasn't so long ago that 2013 commencement speaker Drew Houston and Aaron Swartz were both welcome speakers at MIT."
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MIT President Tells Grads To 'Hack the World'

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  • MIT Hacks (Score:5, Informative)

    by e4liberty (537089) on Saturday June 08, 2013 @06:48PM (#43948449)
    At MIT, the word "hack" means something very specific, and not criminal or unethical. It is a impressive, creative, and clever achievement. From [] The word hack at MIT usually refers to a clever, benign, and "ethical" prank or practical joke, which is both challenging for the perpetrators and amusing to the MIT community (and sometimes even the rest of the world!). Note that this has nothing to do with computer (or phone) hacking (which we call "cracking").
  • Re:MIT Hacks (Score:2, Informative)

    by AthanasiusKircher (1333179) on Saturday June 08, 2013 @10:57PM (#43949819)

    So, the president of MIT was urging MIT students to pull clever practical jokes?

    Umm, no.

    That's stupid or he meant something different. Presumably he meant "hack" in the same way that people who have been actually involved with computers understand it: exploring the possibilities of a system (often including some that the inventor never intended) for the sake of discovery and in some cases using those discoveries to create unique and innovative outcomes.

    Yep. That's actually what it means at MIT too, except the origin isn't necessarily only in computers. A "hacker" at MIT is one who explores in general -- often finding ways into the deep tunnels of the sub-basements in campus buildings or on the roofs and domes, seeking what goes on in the bowels and secret places of MIT.

    The famous "hacks" at MIT are merely a side-effect of that exploring culture. It's only because hackers have such intimate knowledge of the buildings and systems on campus that they could manage to put a police car on the great dome, etc.

    At MIT, "hacking" has the exact connotation of positive exploration that you describe. On the other hand, when the term became known to a wider culture at a point where computers were still mysterious and somewhat scary, a "hacker" was seen primarily in a negative light -- someone who knew "too much" about things he wasn't "supposed to."

    So, the broader culture saw hackers as criminals. Technically, at MIT, they are too. (Last time I heard, students get fined if found on the roofs of buildings, for example.) But the cardinal rule of the MIT movement is non-destructive exploration for the sake of knowledge.

    That's what the MIT president was talking about.

  • Re:MIT Hacks (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 09, 2013 @01:08AM (#43950415)

    Yes, they have. Most MIT "hackers" are very respectful of property and equipment, we just like to play with it.

    For example: when visiting various MIT buildings and roofs somewhat illicitly one evening, we noticed that some very clumsy fools had damaged the lock leading to one of the MIT rooftops. The next week, we showed up with tools and parts and repaired the lock, so that there was no sign of damage.

    MIT authorities, in turn, treated our hacks fairly kindly. When we turned the "assembled underwater to practice space manufacture" cube hanging in the lobby of MIT's main entrance into a six-sided die late one night, we took much longer than planned. And when we scurried off for a celebratory drink at the allnight coffeehouse, someone realized they'd left the blueprints in the lobby. When they retrieved the blueprints, it was apparent the campus police had found them and had previously been leaving us alone while we worked, because they had an added signature from the head of the head of campus police.

    We were *very* careful about hacking. The points of good hacks were technological accomplishment, and *surprise*, not theft or destruction. A hack that left someone glad you'd done it was considered ideal, such as the police car or telephone booths on the Great Dome.

This place just isn't big enough for all of us. We've got to find a way off this planet.