There are about twenty of them, aged between 20 and 35 and they lodge in the province of Calabria which is located in Valle del Crate. For years, they have been strenuously carrying out a battle to spread their word both inside and beyond regional borders. Yes, they are hackers but are far from being dangerous cyber criminals.
The hackers from Cosenza are a group of researchers and students of the University of Calabria, who for nine years has been fighting for their right to knowledge and the right to open source information, as indispensable tools for a social, cultural and economic renaissance. In 2004, following a series of meetings between friends and geeks who had in common the belief in the hacker ethics, they set up Hacklab Cosenza, a Research Center on Technology and Innovation, certified as Cisco Local Academy. Behind their cultural battle, it is not difficult to discern ideological grain. And in a region which ‘boasts’ first place in the ranking of the poorest and most technologically backward in Italy (and, paradoxically, first place for the highest number of graduates at the national level), their struggle has an even deeper value.
“A necessary condition for any form of human knowledge to be a basis for growth and instrument for the improvement of living conditions of all is that it is not enclosed in a narrow field, but it is left free to become a common heritage. Computer science is in fact an essential aspect of today’s culture. Appropriate dissemination of such knowledge and mastery of technologies that derive are of crucial importance for the current direction that takes the development of society, from a scientific, economic, artistic and educational perspective “. So says the Association’s statute.
The philosophy of free software and free movement of knowledge has resulted over the years into a positive commitment to promoting and spreading it, sometimes with little canonical methods. Just as happened when, during a seminar at the University of Calabria organized by ‘Micro$oft’ (the coniage is theirs), a group of Hacklab activists broke into the room, interrupting the speaker and started a lesson on open source intellectual property rights and distributed to the students their association’s journal as well as Cds of Ubuntu, Eclipse and NetBeans.
Raids aside, the list of initiatives and projects that Hacklab has carried on since 2004 is long and rich, and has led the Calabrian laboratory to obtain national recognition within the research and free software environments. In 2006, they had the honor of hosting Richard M. Stallman (founder of the Free Software Foundation and GNU project) for a series of seminars. Since then, a progression of workshops, conferences, trials and annual events, such as the Linux Day, have taken place. Following their example, some more Hacklabs were set up in other Calabrian towns, and all together, in 2007, gave birth to the Italian Conference on Free Software: an annual meeting which picks up businesses, government agencies, universities , developers, researchers and advocates of free software from different regions of Italy.
Questioned about his current activities, Hacklab’s president and Physics researcher at Unical, Vincenzo Bruno, told Wired.it that his team, as well as collaborating on the development of the free software Elgg (a platform for creating social networks), is currently working to build a robot with Arduino microcontroller. The HLRobotX project – which is self-financing – is part of a general study on robotics and analysis of the comparison between robots built with Arduino microcontroller and those which use instead similar proprietary technologies (such as Lego NXT Midstorms).
Some of his former students have started their own business, and the district of Cosenza is today flourishing with small IT companies which are making of this area a ‘technologically happy oasis” in the midst of the general underdevelopment.
Read the article on Wired.it