Computer Science

Better Technology via Hacking

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Science  16 Jun 2006:
Vol. 312, Issue 5780, pp. 1574
DOI: 10.1126/science.312.5780.1574c

In the public mind, the term “hacker” has nothing but negative connotations, conjuring up images of subversive outcasts writing illicit computer viruses, breaking into bank accounts, or scrambling Pentagon databases. But the epithet originally meant someone adept at taking technology intended for one purpose and retooling it, often in startlingly creative and unexpected ways; and the global community of information technologists who tweak software and hardware outside normal channels still exists.

Conti, a professor of computer science at the United States Military Academy, takes the position that mainstream computer scientists could learn some lessons from the unconventional thinking in the hacker community. In a special issue on hacking and innovation, he points out that hackers are passionate about technology, unconstrained by traditional methods, and often years ahead of their academic and corporate counterparts. Hackers publish journals and present their work at well-attended technical conferences, but live in a parallel universe apart from better-known professionals. Other articles in the issue explore how hackers help pinpoint security flaws in wireless networks and identify Internet vulnerabilities, and discuss some of the legal issues surrounding nontraditional technology experimentation. — DV

Commun. ACM 49, 33 (2006).

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