Archive Page 2
As the V-1s and V-2s started flying off from Pennemuende to London, fire control systems were confronted with a new kind of threat. The flight of the rockets was highly predictable, and the control systems quickly adapted, or learned, how to deal with them.
A different case was the Kamikaze fighters. Apart from patriots they were the response of the human mind to the confrontation with the machine: to introduce the element of unpredictability.
In the Pacific the fight was between fire control systems and humans that were finding ways to exploit the weaknesses. One can see the flying object as an integral part of the system, as the element that is trained, measured and subject to prediction. The Kamikaze pilots were part of the system, but they modified their role to be saboteurs. Saboteurs tend to emerge within systems that become complex and unfathomable.
Hackers used the Captain Crunch whistle to trick the telephone system. Sabotage can turn out to be more than just pranks. The emergence of computer viruses understands the computing system as an organism, and exploits its weaknesses in control and self-preservation for self-reproduction and propagation. SPAMers do the same with the e-mail system. Social Networks experience the “tragedy of the commons” when its controls are abused and turned against them.
It is telling that interactive game-like applications are developed to model complex systems with real-world analogies. In the graphic environment human operators take the role of supervision and security. Threats are represented by an unfamiliar entity with an odd behavior, which allows the operator to react quickly to sabotage.
The shooter-game is merged with complex systems to leverage the capacity of the human to react to unpredictable behavior in anyone of its components. But at the same time sabotage is a process that makes systems more resilient and purposeful. It is the venom that brings the cure.
Sabotage is the intentional introduction of noise into the system, and human participation in feedback is the most effective way to regain control.
Tags: collaboration, Commons, digital citizenship, LOW
We digital citizens are sometimes described as a herd. We follow leaders, gather at certain places to exchange information, roam. The herd can muster collective action, very much like swarms, using the most basic signals and feedback. The herd is also a New Commons and its social capital is digital information. We can just feed on it, like at the social networking sites, or we can take action, like at the crucial time of the Orange Revolution. The idea is the collective, the possible aggregation of information to make sense.
Following a part of the herd, I registered at Herdict.org a couple of weeks ago. I became member number 58. Herdict.org is a website designed and managed by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society @ Harvard University. The name comes from the fusion of “Herd” and “Verdict”. The site aims to collect the verdict of the herd on various issues. The first two are PC Health and Network Health. Using a piece of software installed on every herd member’s PC, reports are sent back to Herdict.org with information about its characteristics, installed software and apparent problems.
Given a large enough number of herd members active in the system, it could be a good source of information about which applications are causing trouble, which malware is extending and giving the herd a though time. But it could also signal problems with the Network itself. Problems that go beyond the merely technical. For example, it could spot areas or countries where Internet access is being cut off, or filtering and blocking of sites is being practiced. This could make it easier for digital citizens to by-pass restrictions on Internet access and censorship by using tools like Psiphon. As such it could become a valuable tool for ICT4D and the movement for an open Internet.
But also other possibilities arise. These are not at once evident, but Herdict.org could be a call for collaboration of a very different sort. In one Gedankenexperiment, herd members could put to use their healthy computers to assist and clean up infected computers or “zombies”. In this way a user that has advanced knowledge on how to fight off malicious software could help many users worldwide that don’t have the skills or that don’t know that their PCs have been sequestered. Herdict.org could very well become a place to start such actions and measure success.
See an article in MIT Technology Review: The Web’s Dark Energy: Community policing can make the Web safe, by J. Zittrain.