We decided on 8 transversal topics to encourage a broad variety of submissions that are inscribed in the different sectors where free software operates. The public can discover and question the importance of stakes often unknown beyond concerned circles, and solutions to these issues brought forward by the Libre Movement.
See confirmed speakers.
Security: Between Transparency and Opacity
A major theme at FSM, a carrier of societal stakes all the more so important as they unfold in the world in ever-invasive form, computer security concerns not only nation-states, institutions, and the bigger economic players, but also small businesses and citizens, savvy or not. From virus to ransomware, from attacks perpetrated by organized crime or secret services, to vulnerabilities in software and hardware, from general incomprehension to oppressive laws and threats to security practioners themselves, whether you want it or not, whether you get it or not, security is a critical place in contemporary society. Security articulates a fragile balance between the need for systems transparency and the opacity required to protect privacy and to preserve collective institutions.
What are the issues facing engineers and hackers, what tools are available to discover, report, and correct vulnerabilities, and how free software can favor a safer world when the machine that comes with us becomes our enemy?
Science and Learning: Situation and perspectives
With the explosion of knowledge and scientific disciplines, its financial, ethical, and environmental stakes, science cannot anymore claim 'neutrality' that it boasted before the Holocaust, the atomic bomb, or the Zika virus. Long ago, with the Encyclopaedists, a bearer of a will to share knowledge, science is now eroded by economic interests, invaded by competitivity, and put under pressure to solve all of the world's problems, as it is addressed as one would address God to claim protection from His wrath.
Facing such issues, what role can free software play and what practices develop to give back to science the taste of sharing and wonder to which knowledge can bring us?
User Side: Diversity of Usage
Computers are now omnipresent, but technology production seems to have reduced usage to a simple consumption to which format one should conform since production mostly remains in other people's hands. The ethics of fundamental freedoms of free software and libre technologies give users the possibility to affect technological production and give it back to citizens and the collective, through dialogue with developers and a recognition of usage specificity that big promoters of proprietary technologies seem to ignore when they impose their 'global vision'. Be it customizing a program, adapt it to a different usage, make it accessible to all or respectful of cultures (deaf or ethnical), free software offers new perspectives unavailable to its competitors captured by the imperative of profitability and a racket mentality. However if free software conquered the servers, it remains weak in the dialogue with related disciplines of design, ergonomy, etc., and above all in its relative absence from daily life professions (architecture, craft, trade, accounting, fiscality, etc.) suitable for engaging users more in the Libre Movement.
What are then the advantages of free software to engage in a fruitful dialogue between these 'minorities' that indeed form the majority of our fellow citizens?
Server Side: Complexity of Stakes
The amplification of computer networks gave birth to giants who today capture the majority of traffic and the world's data. The energy necessary to satisfy the growing needs of the "digital economy" rises ceaselessly, creating data centers that consume as much as entire cities. Data transiting over the network range from banal to shocking, from entertainment to critical, in a back and forth movement ruled by technical, ethical, legal, and economic constraints whose scope largely exceed the capacity of human and institutional groups to grasp them. At the heart of this monster pulsate the bits of free software, a major instrument of this 'digital revolution'. And behind closed doors, savvy sysadmins make the world go round and remain invisible, or break things and get all the blame.
How system administration evolved with new techniques and greater scales? What does the Internet look like? What techniques are deployed to make it intelligible and better its functioning? What resources are necessary to its production? To what extent can free software contribute to the evolution of this public infrastructure, to which access is recognized as a fundamental right by the UN?
Sharing: Collective Aspects of the Libre Movement
If freedom to run a program (freedom 0) and to study how it works (freedom 1) are well-understood thanks to practical individual appropriation of these notions, collective freedoms of sharing (freedom 2) and contributing (freedom 3) often remain interpreted pragmatically in the sole domain of software. But it's with the interaction between developers and non-developers that the latter two freedom must be considered, as they unfold in the collective, in the affected communities, and meet problems that of course go beyond the technical domain only. It's in the domain of institutions notably that proprietary software find its privileged point of entry, with its captive users. Equally, in the legislative domain are arranged restrictions to the amplification of collaborative techniques, with 'software patents', the prohibition of threats to prohibit usage of free technologies or reverse engineering, etc. All domains that usually find few interest in software producers, or where they feel powerless to act. A child whose school imposes usage of privative software can only be in contact with the free software community through the social network of their fellow pupils or their family, but if themselves are forced to use de facto 'standardized' privative technology, the chances of technological emancipation shrink.
What bridges are available to socially palliate these anti-social lobbies whose pressure augments in our regions?
Hybridization: Uses of Free Software in the City
An element of response to the previous question concerns the recognition of sectors in which free software meets important sucess, for example in health and academic research, (sometimes) in activist networks, and hobbyists (hackerspaces, tinkerers...). Working hand in hand with successful practitioners can help bridge the gap between a population who can't fathom the importance of free technologies since they don't have proper access to them. Getting out of the labs and protected communities of savvy practioners, into the wider society and touch a larger public with examples where they wouldn't expect free software is often problematic since the 'digital divide' between hackers and the ordinary person requires pedagogy from the former and genuine interest on the latter.
What examples can be used to arouse people's interest in free technologies production? What sectors are most frustrated by an absence of alternative or flexibility in their control of the software, and what skills are needed to help things move towards a better response from the Libre Movement to ordinary people's computing needs? What institutional arrangements exist or need to exist in order to facilitate free software production beyond scratching an itch, to solve issues only addressed by proprietary software?
Programming: What Means to What Ends?
Writing software is not only a technical endeavor, it also affects what can be done with it. The art of programming is thus highly political, as the choice of algorithms, licenses, and supporting platforms have real effects on technology production, understood as technique deployed in society. Yet, as with any specialty with a high degree of knowledge, programming requires tools of the trade that facilitate the work. Free software has been creating a large amount of critical tools, languages, and methodologies to advance the craft, that are shared widely across all fields of computer science and the industry. From access to the source code and distributed development practice, to collaborative testing and open data formats, the Libre Movement has been at the forefront of making free technologies possible, in the spirit of science and culture, to share knowledge and advance community practice.
What does it entail for a software project to be free? What languages exist and how to choose them for a specific project? What tools are available to streamline a free software project from idea to production? What techniques are created to chase and solve bugs, or to avoid them entirely? How to deal with undocumented hardware? Which hardware platforms collaborate with free software developers? What methodologies and best practice enhance crafting free software? What new trends are embraced by the developer community and are they worth the adoption?
Libre Aesthetics: Engagement, Participation, Cooperation
Finally, we wish to engage reflexion on art and aesthetical thought. Lawrence Lessig famously wrote that 'code is law'. Increasingly, this means that software implements rules to which users must conform, sometimes without regard to existing law. Yet, programmers are often instruments in the hands of their employers, shaping reality under constraints they hardly choose. If satisfaction of ego (reputation) remains a primary engine for free software development, doesn't it mirror a sense of isolation, of dissociation that perspires all around us? We can define an aesthetics of free software with engagement, participation, and cooperation: engagement with the community, "to help your neighbor", participation of the community, because software developers can't alone devise solutions for cases they don't know about, and cooperation across disciplines, because software is not only a matter of code: it requires many different skills from mathematics and design to human sciences and geography, etc.. An aesthetics of free software is necessarily transdisciplinary and embraces complexity; it revolves around the human communities that decide to hybridize with technologies they choose consciously.
What are the new forms shaping the hybrid human-technology complex?
If you don't know where to place your intervention among the above topics, we welcome you to submit a proposal, do not hesitate. We're especially interested in proposals aiming to gather groups of programmers and their users.
The Road is Long AND the Way is Free
Meet participants from Africa, Asia, Americas, and of course Europe at FSM 2017. They may be prestigious or unknown, programmers, engineers, philosophers, scientists, artists, and citizens.
Thank you for your attention, and see you in Saint-Étienne next July!