“Let’s honor Alan Turing not with a code of conduct, but with our code”

This morning, John Graham-Cumming delivered a stirring keynote at the Open Source Conference (OSCON) in Portland, Oregon. He challenged the open source community to honor computing pioneer Alan Turing not simply with a code of conduct but with the software they build. The five minute video is well worth your time.

Graham-Cumming also shared the story of how he leveraged the power of social media, open source software and the Internet to honor his petition to apologize for the treatment of Turing. For those who follow the path of e-democracy, this is fascinating stuff:

In 2009, I petitioned the UK to government to apologize for the treatment of Alan Turing. To my surprise over 32,000 people in the UK signed the petition and on September 10 of that year then Prime Minister Gordon Brown called me at home to tell me that the apology text was being issued that night.

I harnessed this great crowd of ordinary people and celebrities by myself. Using a mixture of Twitter and Facebook and old fashioned press and television the word spread quickly. I have written about how I achieved this on O’Reilly Radar. The campaign grew slowly at first as only a small number of people in the computer world, who already knew about the Turing story, signed. But a big break came when The Independent newspaper wrote about the campaign and shortly after Richard Dawkins lent his name. As Twitter amplified stories in the press more and more people signed until the BBC decided to cover the story first on its web siteand then on television.

With the weighty BBC story to tweet the petition quickly grew and got the attention of Downing Street. The petition itself was all managed electronically through open source software created by the British non-profit My Society. With an open source petition platform the British government has enabled direct, electronic democracy.

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