F__Working_4_4285_OpenGov - Perspectives on the Central...

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Perspectives on the Central Role of Open Source Code for Participatory Governance Page 1 of 3 Perspectives on the Central Role of Open Source Code for Participatory Governance: Human Laws / Coded Conditionals The social, legal, political and economic ramifications of using Open Source Code as the basis for the Participatory Governance Environment are profound. At core – “self governance” is about a community taking responsibility for ownership and control of that community. In the foundational book City of Bits, William Mitchell, Dean of the MIT School of Architecture and Planning (and Patron Saint of the MIT eCommerce Architecture Program) was the first scholar to reveal and describe the interplay between computer code and the laws by which we govern ourselves. In the aptly named section “ Human Laws / Coded Conditionals Dean Mitchell sets out the challenge in four seminal paragraphs: Out there on the electronic frontier, code is the law. The rules governing any computer- constructed microworld-of a video game, your personal computer desktop, a word processor window, an automated teller machine, or a chat room on the network-are precisely and rigorously defined in the text of the program that constructs it on your screen. Just as Aristotle , in Politics , contemplated alternative constitutions for city-states (those proposed by the theorists Plato , Phaleas, and Hippodamos, and the actual Lacedaemonian, Cretan, and Carthaginian ones), so denizens of the digital world should pay the closest of critical attention to programmed polity. Is it just and humane? Does it protect our privacy, our property, and our freedoms? Does it constrain us unnecessarily or does it allow us to act as we may wish? At a technical level, it's all a matter of the software's conditionals -those coded rules that specify if some condition holds, then some action follows. Consider, for example, the familiar ritual of withdrawing some cash from an ATM. The software running the machine has some gatekeeper conditionals; if you have an account and if you enter the correct PIN number (the one that matches up, in a database somewhere, with the information magnetically encoded on your ATM card), then you can enter the virtual bank. (Otherwise you are stopped at the door. You may have your card confiscated as well.) Next the program presents you with a menu of possible actions -just as a more traditional bank building might present you with an array of appropriately labeled teller windows or (on a larger scale) a directory pointing you to different rooms: if you indicate that you want to make a withdrawal, then it asks you to specify the amount; if you want to check your balance, then it prints out a slip with the amount; if you want to make a deposit, then yet another sequence of actions is initiated. Finally, the program applies a banker's rule; if the balance of your account is sufficient (determined by checking a database), then it physically dispenses the cash and appropriately debits the account. To enter the space constructed by the ATM system's software you have to submit to a
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F__Working_4_4285_OpenGov - Perspectives on the Central...

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