Hacker ethic

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Hacker ethic is the generic phrase which describes the values and philosophy that are standard in the hacker community. The early hacker culture and resulting philosophy originated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the 1950s and 1960s. The term 'hacker ethic' is attributed to journalist Steven Levy as described in his book titled Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution, written in 1984. The guidelines of the hacker ethic make it easy to see how computers have evolved into the personal devices we know and rely upon today. The key points within this ethic are access, free information, and improvement to quality of life.

While some tenets of hacker ethic were described in other texts like Computer Lib/Dream Machines (1974) by Theodor Nelson, Levy appears to have been the first to document and historicize both the philosophy and the founders of the philosophy.

Levy explains that MIT housed an early IBM 704 computer inside the Electronic Accounting Machinery (EAM) room in 1959. This room became the staging grounds for early hackers as MIT students from the Tech Model Railroad Club stole inside the EAM room after hours to attempt programming the 30 tonne, 9-foot-tall (2.7 m) computer.

The boys defined a hack as a project undertaken or a product built not solely to fulfil some constructive goal, but with some wild pleasure taken in mere involvement.[1] The term “hack” arose from MIT lingo as the word had long been used to describe college pranks that MIT students would regularly devise. Hackers push programs beyond what they are designed to do. Levy notes that, at other universities, professors were making public proclamations that computers would never be able to beat a human being in chess. Hackers knew better. They would be the ones who would guide computers to greater heights than anyone expected.[2]

The Hacker Ethic was a “new way of life, with a philosophy, an ethic and a dream”. However, the elements of the Hacker Ethic were not openly debated and discussed, rather they were accepted and silently agreed upon.[3]

Free and open source software is the descendant of the hacker ethics that Levy described. The hackers who hold true to this hacker ethics—especially the Hands-On Imperative—are usually supporters of free software and/or open source software. This is because free and open source software allows hackers to access the code used to create the software to improve or reuse it. In effect the free and open source software movements embody all of the hacker ethics.[citation needed] However, Levy's hacker ethic also has often been quoted out of context and misunderstood to refer to hacking as in breaking into computers, and so many sources incorrectly imply that it is describing the ideals of white-hat hackers. What Levy is talking about, however, does not have anything to do with computer security.


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