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Software is a Doomsday Device

Hal 9000
2001: A Space Odyssey, HAL (Heuristically Programmed ALgorithmic Computer)

How did we get to this point?

Augusta Ada King can be considered the first person to recognize the potential of computers. She envisioned that they were not merely calculation machines. Her work laid the path to what we call software today. She wrote the first algorithm for a machine to execute, namely the Analytical Engine. She was born in 1815. Fast forward a century, another woman takes the stage: Grace Hopper. Most people know her as the creator of the language COBOL. She revolutionized the computers by removing the punch cards from the equation which were fundamentally used to feed data/instructions to machines. In 1952 she created the first compiler for the A-0 programming language. That was how a new era for humanity began. They simply wanted to streamline the process in a business-centric way.

Analytical Engine
Analytical Engine

All computers and machines except for the quantum computers can only interpret the language of binary, in other words, if electricity exists or not. This is handy because we want computers to be precise and whats more precise than confirming if something is there or not. Compilers help computers do just that; they take the code written in a higher language and translate it to a lower one (Lower meaning closer to binary or machine language in this case). It goes without saying that all languages end up being translated to binary (except for quantum computers, we will get to that later).

It is Complicated

Stephen Richard Lyster Clark is a professor retired from Liverpool University, he emphasized that our circumstances were unique in terms of technology, he believed that our era is of great importance because until recently most people; deemed they wanted to invest in some time could understand a great deal of the technology being used in everyday appliances; be it cars, electricity, household machinery you name it. This is becoming exponentially less true day by day.

We will end up in a state that, we will have no idea how the technology around us works and we couldn’t figure them out no matter how hard we try. It is similar to the point made by Dieter Rams, a renowned industrial designer prominent with his designs for Braun who believed that design must convey the information about the purpose of the object or at least hint at it. Nowadays it is all about black screens and not much there to convey in the first place.

Apparently, we are moving past the hardware. You won’t wrap your head around how web security works, how Facebook encrypts your data, or how anything in your device works at all. If it’s your social media account that is at stake, it might not bother you much. You don’t have to know how it operates but when it is your bank account, when it is your car when it is your life’s work or your privacy is at stake you deserve to know how these systems work and a vague warning (Look for the SSL, make sure your wifi is safe, etc.) which exonerates the software supplier and falls into the category of “This is technology, shit happens” won’t cut it. Cybersecurity is just like a wide spectrum antibiotic, you swallow it and hope for the best.

Software Security is Vague

You must have heard it already and you should by now have accepted it as a natural part of the tech business that no software can be 100% secure but they are secure “enough”. We are pushing everything out of the reach of the ordinary man; money is being digitalized, our memories, every aspect of our lives are being digitalized, everything we own even our couch will soon be running some form of software and despite all the tech, fancy words, abbreviations floating around; scientists, universities being heavily involved in this we are just stuck with the “secure enough”. Nowadays it is relatively easy to just send a Telugu or Sindhi text to a person running iOS and completely block them out of their devices or hack their e-mails without even them opening the malicious mail itself thanks to a bug affecting iOS running phones and tablets. I will not even mention the infamous Facebook API disaster. We are running all our crucial operations on these devices, although these may seem just exceptional events and don’t account to much; consider that a world leader or some the head of a community being targeted and their “approved accounts” are used for malicious purposes. According to the self-fulfilling prophecy phenomenon, hypothetically if a highly respected financial figure were to act in a certain way it has the potential to cause a financial crisis. This would be the least of our worries though.

Nowadays you can just search the web to find ways to hack a military drone by intercepting GPS signals. It is called GPS spoofing, here is a pdf link. It is public after all. The problem with software security in this sense is that provided there is an input expected by the software, you can hack it, and a military drone require GPS inputs to operate. The military soon figured this out, since they are already using different languages on different modules such as C for GPS, ADA for weapons system, etc. following the discovery of this possibility they have switched to building up their own language, I guess.

UAV, Drones are hacked via gps spoof
Not an actual representation or is it?

This brings us to security by obscurity, a concept devised in the 1800s for locks. It basically boils down to obscurity alone not being effective in securing whatever needs securing. This applies to software as well and let me break it to you again; any software that allows input can be hacked. Even if you were to build your own syntax from the ground up with no similarities whatsoever to other existing languages it can be hacked because it needs to be compiled and translated to binary.

What about non-binary though? What about quantum computers you might ask. Quantum computers are not magical devices, they can not do more than what your own computer can do. Quantum computers excel at one thing and that is the time they take to complete a task. Which renders cryptography of today useless. Because our most beloved security systems are reliant on the fact that too many characters being involved to decipher in the first place. Your conventional computer may take until the end of the world to crack a 128bit encryption but a quantum computer, in theory, can do it in seconds. This is not some classified information, that is exactly why a thing called post-quantum cryptography exists. You can also search for topics such as Shor’s algorithm be advised though, you will be going down the rabbit hole.

Quantum War

PICNIC project developed by Microsoft is racing to find a feasible security solution for quantum computers being developed by for example Google and god knows whoever else ( This is akin to tobacco companies also owning the largest research labs regarding the diseases of lungs. When you do the math, quantum computers will not contribute to our lives substantially but they MUST be invented because someone else can and their countermeasures also MUST be invented simultaneously. China and US are already at war and these all sound awfully similar to nuclear proliferation.

You will not see it coming

Mission Critical

Ever wondered which language in the hell all the avionics, missile launchers, satellites, etc. all the tech which need to have bulletproof code use? They use mostly ADA and C and similar low-level programming languages. Satellites, aircraft, UAVs all need their software to be able to execute commands on the fly and without errors and within narrow margins. Thing is, the software is complicated and these machines are not some Goldberg inventions. They do not have unlimited resources and they have serious limitations; You don’t want your avionics to malfunction or misinterpret data either, so in most cases, they also use an algorithm checking software called TLA+(

Software Practices are Primitive

Our computers are evolved, we have ten-folded our processor power, we are in the era of quantum computers but we are still using the same old software practices devised in the 1950s. The biggest problem programmers face is they need to be able to visualize what their code is going to do because unlike a word processor software, an IDE will not provide you with a live representation of the code you write. No matter how experienced of a programmer you are unless you are creating something very basic your program is going to contain bugs. Which is okay that is why we got people whose expertise is just testing these programs.

Chris Newcombe worked for Amazon Web Services (Yes Amazon is a software company as well) for years and eventually became a principal engineer. He took the responsibility of critical systems and infrastructure of the AWS which is used by the giants such as Netflix, Pinterest, Reddit you name it and before this, he was involved in building “Steam” a prominent gaming network.

He wrote in a paper;

“Human intuition is poor at estimating the true probability of supposedly ‘extremely rare’ combinations of events in systems operating at a scale of millions of requests per second,”, “That human fallibility means that some of the more subtle, dangerous bugs turn out to be errors in design; the code faithfully implements the intended design, but the design fails to correctly handle a particular ‘rare’ scenario.”

It is obvious Mr. Newcombe worried that a single bug could cause an apocalypse especially if critical software is at the stake.

This brings us to TLA+ which stands for Temporal Logic of Actions.

TLA+ is created by Leslie Lamport, who is a Turing Award-winning scientist. His contributions helped form many of today’s web applications and more. His idea was that software developers should not straight skip to the coding part without laying out the plans for the project just like an architect would. He believes coding and programming could limit your ability to devise solutions.

“Code makes you miss the forest for the trees: It draws your attention to the working of individual pieces, rather than to the bigger picture of how your program fits together, or what it’s supposed to do — and whether it actually does what you think “

That is why he was an advocate of structuring first instead of skipping to coding.

“In the 15th century,” he said, “people used to build cathedrals without knowing calculus, and nowadays I don’t think you’d allow anyone to build a cathedral without knowing calculus. And I would hope that after some suitably long period of time, people won’t be allowed to write programs if they don’t understand these simple things.”

He basically argues that many hyped high-level coding practices are “kind of” the culprit here. My interpretation: High-level code simply exists so that average Joe can have a slight chance of understanding at least “some” of the tech he will using every day so he won’t be frustrated, which is why children are being taught syntax but not computer science per se. Not every architect is out there designing skyscrapers.

Your Data is Your Currency

Ever wondered why Android devices are so cheap and all the tech Google offers come free of charge? I wondered that too, and it turned out we are literally paying in data. It is not news that our data is being distributed and GDPR just helps legitimize it; but do we have a say in how this data is employed? Sadly we do not and we will never have. Amid Covid-19 it is now even more apparent that our privacy and our data are really juicy monetary instruments. History is recurring itself and people are asked to once again trade their privacy for the sake of their security.

Google hires

The two big tech companies namely Google and Apple are rolling out updates ( to their software to include some option to be able to trace the Covid-19. They said they are going to include an option to toggle it on and off. I do not doubt that they will but I doubt that it will stay that way. I can foresee some airlines, companies, or countries forcing their citizens, employees, customers into keeping this toggle on. I can even foresee people being denied entry to some services because this switch is toggled off.

Software Invasion

I have argued that everyday objects should not be unnecessarily turned into software running hulls making it impossible for the average man to figure out how they operate in the first place. I am not talking about machinery anymore I am talking about money, refrigerators, everything.

Here is a glimpse at how the technological oppression operates: Technology provides you with the ability to move from one place to another via a new invention called the car, it is all nice and dandy at first then they start inventing boundaries, regulations, and rules which are hard to argue against, I agree with them too. Then with a not so obvious manner, they start forcing those who do not use that technology to either use it or work around it example being the pedestrian, who has no choice but to walk around the impassable “highway”. A building 100 meters away could be out of reach due to a highway in between.

In the past companies had to pay you a good sum depending on the location of their offices, you couldn’t possibly work in the center of the city but live in cheaper suburbs and commute every day, whichever employer that wanted you, had to provide you with living arrangements close by or pay a hefty sum for you to achieve just that. Then the tech came in and now you are forced to either ride the sub or your vehicle through hell to just get to work and back home. It is the same story with every single piece of populist technology. They make it voluntary first then gradually move to make it mandatory by whatever means necessary. You do not have to have a smartphone but then you will be forced to be physically present in the premises and wait in the line for god knows how many hours to obtain a piece of paper. Most people with a sane mind would prefer to just purchase a mobile device and blend in.

Frustrated, Alienated, Enslaved

We do not own our data, we do not own our devices, we do not know how these all work and we are doing this for the sake of what? Advancement? You do not even get to mess with your own property on the grounds that future software support can be canceled if you do so. They can even block you out of your own computer, the mobile phone even your tractor. You will then realize you are not the owner of anything as the hardware is nothing but a medium for running the software owned by the company. We have seen how it was possible when Google denied Huawei its software. Most of this software is also sealed, you do not get to mess with them and it is prohibited by the manufacturer anyways. I can understand how Steve Jobs seized the opportunity to make computers and consumer electronic more user friendly by simplifying them but it gradually turned into an empire doing exactly the opposite.

Yukihiro Matsumoto, designer and inventor of the software language Ruby, argued that any design and system should be putting the human in the center,

“Often people, especially computer engineers, focus on the machines. They think, “By doing this, the machine will run fast. By doing this, the machine will run more effectively. By doing this, the machine will something something something.” They are focusing on machines. But in fact we need to focus on humans, on how humans care about doing programming or operating the application of the machines. We are the masters. They are the slaves.”

His emphasis is on point, we should not be a slave to our own technology. We should not be slaves of over-complication.

Bill Gates stated that those who can comprehend the “fiendishly difficult”(his words) book Computer Science written by Donald Knuth should definitely send him a résumé. I can understand Computer science being its own well “science” and that average person may not understand the whole scope of the thing but I do not approve of its glorification.

Donald Knuth, Art of Computer Programming
Donald Knuth also hands out checks for those who can find mistakes in these books.

The same Bill Gates also defends that we should ditch the monetary system as it is and switch to digital currency. I hope I am setting a pattern here. Financial lingo is also difficult for the average man and I can not argue against that, but money itself is simple, you exchange it for the good and it is done. You can check if money is genuine on the spot, you can secure it, you can feel it you have a general idea of its contents, etc. . I wonder how many people know how the prominent digital currency Bitcoin works or how the wallet operates at all.

Then there is the tech wonder kid Elon Musk advocating that we should punch some holes into our skulls so we can elevate ourselves to fight AI: He called the invention Neuralink and also admitted that nobody would bore holes into their skulls for improved intelligence but again, I am observing a pattern. A couple of trendsetters going to take the risk and have the neuralink installed. They will show off with it, enjoy all the benefits, and as it becomes widespread you will have no choice but to install it for the sake of not falling behind in the competition.

N1 Implantation

How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love It

We are currently being bombarded with the novelty. We are being funneled into a certain way of living and we are being fed certain information be it on purpose or not. Rule of the game is always adapt and look after your community. The software itself does not represent technology alone. It is just an instrument. Be aware of the intrinsic value of things, make sure you are voting with your money, and make sure whatever it is you are participating has real value.

Sustainability is key and it is vital to acknowledge that technology is empowering the individual not the other way around. The software empowers the disabled, less fortunate, and allows a single man to tackle giants if needs be. Sadly giants and those in control of the mainstream software companies use the same argument in their defense, an example being Bill Gates’ statement regarding the digital currency empowering the poor (poor does not have access to the internet, devices, knowledge of digital currency, etc. which means they will still have to be ruled by someone who does possess these attributes.)

Raise your voice so that systems are not unnecessarily digitalized and cause disasters such as in the case of B737 Max or potential threat of deepfake could have on societies. Also, remember that being a primitivist or a radical will not cut it. You need to be a part of the system to change it in the first place.

Second Amendment supporters sometimes argue that governments nowadays have access to weaponry that is far out of reach for the ordinary man. They must remember that it is not the era of kinetic weapons anymore. All you need is an input device and a screen.



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Passionate about, Creative Writing & Fiction, UI, Software Philosophy. Enthusiastic about Flutter, TLA+, Python, Decentralized systems. /