Mitchell Baker, the co-founder of the Mozilla Foundation — who currently serves as its chairwoman — visited Cornell on Wednesday to speak about the importance of the relationship between STEM and the humanities.
The Mozilla Foundation is an “open-source nonprofit public benefit organization” that values healthy global communities, diversity, tolerance and technology for the greater good and social benefit, according to Prof. Amy Villarejo, director of the Milstein program.
Open-source software is software whose code is available online for free to allow modification and editing by anyone.
This talk was sponsored by the new Milstein program, which focuses on fostering interconnectivity between technology and humanities, and the Department of Science and Technology Studies.
Baker received both her B.S. in Asian Studies and a law degree from the University of California, Berkeley. Previously employed at Sun Microsoft Systems and NetScape, Baker used her experience to create the Mozilla Foundation.
Additionally, she has been named to Time’s Global List of the 100 Most Influential People in the World under “Scientists and Thinkers” in 2005.
Villarejo began the event with remarks noting how students in STEM and liberal arts each need the other discipline.
“Students in tech and STEM disciplines need broad understandings about who we are as students and what values guide us. In turn, students in the liberal arts need to understand tech deeply enough to be agents and not just users of its resources,” Villarejo said.
The event centered around a discussion lead by Department Chair of Science and Technology Studies Prof. Bruce Lewenstein, communication, and Villarejo.
Baker discussed the importance of the history of technology and how the meaning of the open-source internet has evolved over time. She also pointed out that there is no universal standard of ethics, which would require a sociological and anthropological lens to gauge a better understanding.
“I am not a believer of adding tons of humanities courses into a STEM education. They have to be integrated,” Baker said.
Open-source changed the playing field of how people accessed the internet. “Because the corporate concentration claimed ownership of everything, the idea that sharing ideas were radical,” said Baker, who declared herself a strong advocate for open-source internet.
In a democratic society, the internet wrestles with the public benefit that is cohesive and the individual liberty.
Katie Rencricca ’22, one of the first 14 students enrolled in the Milstein Program, commented on how Baker shined a new light on the impact of technology and humanity on society.
Rencricca praised Baker for her fresh perspective on perceptions of open-source, coming from a major non-profit at the forefront of the industry.
“She made me think about technology [and] the way it interacts with society and how humans will respond to that [relationship] individually and on a larger scale, especially the idea of accountability,” Rencricca said.
Villajero is excited to continue to engage students with conversations with figures working in fields similar to Baker, as an extension of The Milstein Program.
“If you immerse herself in her vision, she is somebody who is able to embrace change, to argue passionately and eloquently for a humane and just future and to imagine new paths for tech, education and practice that will take us there,” Villarejo said.