The history of computing has been a sequence of accelerating paradigm shifts. As capacities have improved new applications have become possible and new perspectives necessary. It seems safe to say, however, that the capabilities have long since outstripped generalized meaningful understanding and therefore appropriate societal behavior. This week's lecture notes (Laureate Online Education, 2009) reference access, capture, speed and permanence of storage as capabilities that require re-evaluation of “current norms, regulations and laws” (Ibid). I would add encryption, identity management and cognitive simulation as a capacity encompassing most of what is often referred to as AI and the obverse of analyzing the mind as software.
Accepting UofL's definitions of access as data availability, capture as the attainment of heretofore unobtainable information and speed and permanence of storage basically as self-defined (Ibid.), we can see that every one of them has implications as regards the concepts of privacy, control, ownership, accuracy and security. However rather than approach security simply as a concern to be evaluated in reference to other capabilities, I assert that it can be described a capability in and of itself. One of the earliest applications of 'modern' computing machinery was encryption (Bletchley, 2010). One of its most crucial applications today is identity management (Aisien, 2006). I also believe that cognitive simulation, both as the attempt to run minds on computers and trying to understand organic minds as software, is an incredibly important application. However as the chances of Vinge's (1993) or Kurzweil's (2010) singularities occurring in some form, provided the environment can continue to support sufficient numbers of human beings (Stafford, 2010) to create the initial platform(s), seem eminently possible I wonder if current human ideas of privacy, ownership, control, accuracy or security will be relevant.
Subra Suresh (2009) asserts that some human accomplishments of the twentieth century “brought social and technological changes on a broad scale – but engineering did not generally include social sciences and long-term societal impact”. I believe he is correct. There are psychological reasons, some perhaps having to do with challenges appreciating 'soft' sciences due to difficulties in benchmarking, economic reasons, some probably stemming from the perceived importance of making a profit, and social and governmental reasons, many stemming from combinations of the aforementioned as well as from issues of control, both real and desired. But the results are what matter now. The environment appears to be collapsing (Antilla, 2010), not least because of the toxins produced in the manufacture (Ying et al, 2009) of and the energy required by all this technology. Privacy is threatened by governments and commercial entities with heretofore unheard of access. The concept and enforcement of ownership requires rethinking as digital copying and relatively unlimited permanent storage becomes a reality. Control appears to be consolidated with those who can afford the latest and greatest technologies. Accuracy in the digital realm continues to progress beyond the wildest dreams of a decade ago. Understanding, defining and implementing encryption and identity management might help tie some of this together. If one can visualize the desired outcome and describe it with clarity it may be possible to maintain the benefits of what we value while still allowing progress to accelerate as it will.
Combining encryption and identity management offers privacy. If you know who you are talking to and your communications are impervious to eavesdropping you are effectively in private. Strong identity management can support contentions of ownership. Again, the ease of copying material and the inexpensiveness of storing massive amounts of it continues to challenge our definitions of ownership, but identity management at least offers to make clear what is owned and by whom if we can agree on why. Control is very much a case by case concept. In reference to communications it is protected by encryption. If the concern is control over hardware or other material this is enhanced by identity management. If the desired control is over intellectual property I offer, again, that we need to think very carefully about how that can be achieved, if it should be. Accuracy is likewise best evaluated specific to the application. Encryption can be part of maintaining it with hashes and checksums, for example. Identity management can be part of it too if a crucial part of the message is to be certain of its origin and destination.
None of this occurs in a vacuum. And there is a feedback loop with such technologies as social networking, online learning and messaging: from SMS through twitter and the like to email. When technical people communicate we explore the potentials of the media through which we do so, occasionally visualizing, discussing or even implementing new applications. Governments are deeply embroiled in all the issues mentioned in this paper: trying to obviate privacy, legislate ownership, maintain control, define accuracy and maintain monopolies on security. I cannot dispute Chomsky's assertion that “power is always illegitimate, unless it proves itself” otherwise (Kreisler, 2002). The private sector may continue becoming more and more dominated by corporations which evince the same sort of coercive behavior as governments without even their limited accountability. Non-governmental organizations may represent some hope. If there do exist institutions that are motivated by neither power or profit I would submit that they represent a path to a more equitable and possibly sustainable future. This is where I am currently trying to focus my efforts and where I encourage others who are concerned about societal and environmental issues but disillusioned with the public and private sectors to explore.
Technology now offers us an opportunity to organize on a direct interpersonal level, bypassing such institutions as government, corporations and even academia. Access, capture, speed, permanence of storage, encryption, identity management and cognitive simulation continue to interplay in myriad complex ways. But I believe that it is how they affect and are affected by security that will determine if anything resembling liberty exists in the future. If anything we recognize as human society can continue. So I propose that this positions encryption and identity management as especially sensitive capabilities since they may define what security means through privacy, accuracy, ownership and control, and in so doing help determine availability of information, problem-solving paradigms and even quality of life.
Aisien, J. (2006) 'An Identity Management Primer', Security: For Buyers of Products, Systems & Services, Vol. 43 Issue 3, p60-61 [Online]. Available from: http://search.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.liv.ac.uk/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=20081145&site=ehost-live&scope=site (Accessed: 7 April, 2010)
Antilla, L. (2010) 'Self-censorship and science: a geographical review of
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Bletchley Park (2010) The Machines [Online]. Available from: http://www.bletchleypark.org.uk/content/machines.rhtm (Accessed: 5 April, 2010)
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Laureate Online Education (2009) Professional Issues in Computing, Week 1 Lecture notes [Online]. Available from: https://elearning.uol.ohecampus.com/webapps/portal (Accessed 4 April, 2010)
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Stafford, S. Environmental Science at the Tipping Point http://caliber.ucpress.net/doi/pdf/10.1525/bio.2010.60.2.2 (Accessed 5 April, 2010)
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