Computing Applications News

Gary Chapman, Technologist: 1952 – 2010

He raised important public issues, such as the impact of computers and the Internet on society, and encouraged social responsibility for computer professionals.
  1. Article
  2. Author
  3. Footnotes
Gary Chapman

Gary Chapman, an American technologist, Internet expert, and ethicist, died Dec. 14, 2010, at the age of 58. He suffered a massive heart attack while on a kayaking trip in Guatemala.

Over the last two decades, Chapman established himself as an international authority on Internet and technology policy. He was among the first technologists to draw public attention to the issues that computing technology, including the Internet, presents to society. Chapman helped to insert ethics and human values into the world of computing by focusing on a mélange of issues, including how to address the digital divide in society, preventing the misuse of technology by government agencies, especially the military, and encouraging young people to use the Internet responsibly.

At the time of his death, Chapman was a senior lecturer at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. He began teaching at the school in 1994. He also served as director of the 21st Century Project, a research and education resource for policymakers and the public.

In addition, Chapman lectured internationally and wrote for many prominent publications, including The New York Times, Technology Review, and The New Republic. His syndicated Digital Nation column, which appeared in more than 200 newspapers and Web sites, ran from 1995 to 2001.

Chapman's big break came in 1984 when, while a graduate student in political science at Stanford University, he learned the newly formed Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR) was hiring its first executive director. Chapman contacted CPSR cofounder Severo Ornstein for a job interview, but was told he was too late. Ornstein had already decided on a candidate. Chapman insisted, and got an interview. "When we heard him speak, we knew he was the perfect person for the job," Ornstein recalls. "Everyone on the board agreed that we had to hire him."

"Gary was a real pioneer in linking the lives and careers of computer professionals to the social impact of the work they do and calling for us to take responsibility for the fruits of our labors," Mitch Kapor, the founder of Lotus Development Corp., said in an email interview.

Chapman helped bring ethics and human values to the world of computing.

Chapman served as CPSR executive director from 1984 to 1991. Under Chapman's leadership, CPSR flourished and grew, and emerged as an outspoken critic of the use of technology by the military. "With Gary at the helm, CPSR raised serious questions in public forums about the Strategic Defense Initiative [Star Wars]," Ornstein says. "Gary and I shared the notion that too much technology was being developed for military purposes. We felt strongly that it would have been better if technology funding came through the National Science Foundation rather than the Department of Defense."

However, after the defeat of Star Wars and the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the threat of nuclear war diminished, and Chapman became more concerned about the effects of computers and, later, the Internet on society.

Born on Aug. 8, 1952 in Los Angeles, Chapman served as a medic in the U.S. Army Special Forces during the Vietnam War. He earned a B.A. in political science from Occidental College in 1979 and attended Stanford University's political science Ph.D. program. He left Stanford in 1984 to lead CPSR.

"Gary was deeply concerned about society plunging ahead with technology without giving adequate thought to the social implications," Ornstein says. "He helped provide much-needed direction, and he has left behind students and others who will continue to monitor and analyze technology policy."

Join the Discussion (0)

Become a Member or Sign In to Post a Comment

The Latest from CACM

Shape the Future of Computing

ACM encourages its members to take a direct hand in shaping the future of the association. There are more ways than ever to get involved.

Get Involved

Communications of the ACM (CACM) is now a fully Open Access publication.

By opening CACM to the world, we hope to increase engagement among the broader computer science community and encourage non-members to discover the rich resources ACM has to offer.

Learn More