Twenty Years Back, Twenty Years Ahead: The Arc of DEF CON Past and Future

Presented at DEF CON 20 (2012), July 28, 2012, 10 a.m. (50 minutes)

Thieme's keynote at DEF CON 4 for a few hundred people was "Hacking as Practice for Trans-planetary Life in the 21st Century." Mudge recently said, "Some of us knew what you meant, and some of us thought you were nuts." That's likely to be the response to this talk too. Thieme addresses what he said 17 cons ago, why it was true, and illuminates some likely futures for hacking and hackers, anonymous 2.0.1, and the gray space of the noir world in which one is deemed a "criminal," not because of what one does, but according to who one does it for. Identity, in short, is destiny. More than ever, identity is a choice, modular and fluid. Mudge was with the l0pht then, now he's with DARPA. Jeff Moss was an entrepreneurial hacker, now's he's with Homeland Defense. Too many to name work in agencies or stateless names and nameless states, fulfilling the vision of Thieme's first speech. But that was then. What's likely to be next? The more we idealize lone hacker wolves in fiction and films, the more assimilated we nevertheless become into many Borgs, not one. Technologies determine identity, flows of information shape our souls. The forms into which we fit - in thought, word, and deed - are who we think we are. So most humans are flocks of birds in digital cages. Hackers however see the implications of making the cages, create the space in which others live. So the question still is, which pill do you want? But the matrix has morphed. It's malleable, plastic, and biological, infinitely fun to stretch into new shapes. The next twenty years ... the vision of "a deranged old man, wandering around the con," as someone said. But insanity, sainthood, wisdom look the same. The long view of distance, perspective across the years, is worth a million fast twitches. Combine rapid action and perspective, however ... turn context into content ... use both sides of your brain ... and you'll have mastery, a wild trip, and one hell of a good time.


  • Richard Thieme / neuralcowboy - ThiemeWorks   as Richard Thieme
    Richard Thieme is an author and professional s peaker focused on the deeper implications of technology for twenty-first century life. He speaks professionally about the challenges posed by new technologies and the future, how to redesign ourselves to meet these challenges, and creativity in response to radical change. Thieme has spoken for sixteen years for the Black Hat Briefings (intelligence and corporate security) and DEF CON, an annual computer hackers' convention. About a decade ago, a friend at the National Security Agency suggested that he could address the issues they discussed in a context of "ethical considerations for intelligence and security professionals" only if he wrote fiction. "It's the only way you can tell the truth," he was told. Three dozen published short stories and one novel-in-progress later, the result is "Mind Games," published in 2010. Twitter: @neuralcowboy, neuralcowboy@skype, Richard Thieme at LinkedIn