07 October 2015

Stallman - “Being a hacker means appreciating playful cleverness”

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A chat about freedom, hacker spirit and the sharing economy with Richard Stallman, the programmer who invented the GNU software licenses and the GNU/Linux operating system. 

Richard Stallman, 62 years, is that kind of man who you could just think is a genuine down-to-earth dreamer. We met in quite a jarring location for a computer scientist, a seventeenth-century room in the town hall of Turin, a city in Northern Italy, where he came to talk with local authorities about moving from proprietary to free software.

It has been 30 years since you created the Free Software Foundation: how do you see the free software movement in 10 years' time?
I can't see the future because it depends on you. We have a big fight ahead. Nowadays most mobile computers are made in a way that you can't put free software on them. We have to come up with another way of making mobile computers as new kind of devices that are made for freedom.

Apple started selling the iPhone 6S and made a record 13 million pieces sold. Do you ever feel that your idea of free software has failed?
You're right that the genius of Steve Jobs was evil configuring computers as a jail for users and making them so attractive that people wait in line to be jailed. I think we'll take a long time to take out what Steve Jobs did to the world, but there are already a lot of people that have rejected this. So we haven't totally failed.

Last month Aeon published a piece entitled “The hacker hacked”, saying that nowadays we call a “hacker” anyone who codes. What does the term mean in your opinion?
Being a programmer doesn't mean being a hacker: it means appreciating playful cleverness. Now, you can program without being playfully clever and you can be playfully clever in other fields without programming. For instance, there is a beautiful piece of music by Ingram Marshall, who is a great composer. It's called “My end is my beginning”: the music in itself is palindrome, the score and the words are about being a palindrome. So this music is a joke, but it also sounds good. This is a true hack.

What do you think about Ashley Madison scandal?
People who hacked into Ashley Madison and published users’ personal data did a nasty thing. This injustice also brought to light that Ashley Madison was also cheating people. Customers, who were doing nothing particularly wrong in my opinion because I don't believe in monogamy as a principle, were perhaps being foolish in trusting such a company! I don't trust websites that ask me who I am and I never oblige, except in special cases where I am collaborating in their work.

What about the hacking of Xcode, the software used to create iOS apps: do you think in this case hacking is acceptable?
Well, I would say they attack users. And it's not good. Those people mistreat users in the same way as Apple does. The solution is to design mobile devices to run free software only and to give users the option of saying which program can run on their computer, asking permission for any exceptions. You can't benefit from having someone who checks software for you.

What do you think about the sharing economy?
That term is meaningless: sharing is when you're giving someone else something you have got. One of the main political issues today is to eliminate plutocracy and restore democracy, and one little piece of this is getting free from companies like “Guber”. I call it “G-Uber” because goober means peanuts and they pay drivers peanuts. What you are talking about is a trick for pushing down wages and continuing impoverishment of people who work for such companies. However, in addition, you have to identify yourself to use its own services, and why that if I can use an ordinary taxi without showing my identity while not paying cash? 

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