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A couple of weeks ago, I posted a blog entry here about the thin line between a security researcher and “cracker”. About how the difference between “good guy” and “bad guy” gets blurred by things like corporate bounties for zero day exploits and law enforcement’s ideas on criminal prosecution. There’s another element to be considered as well.
Here’s the thing. Whomsoever gets their story out there first has some lead time to shape hearts and minds. The “Feds” are never EVER going to be first at this. They don’t GAF about hearts and minds, they care about facts and evidence. So when they finally speak up, it means they have something that will hold up in court. This can take months, possibly even years and by the time they finally DO speak up, there’s going to be a sh*tstorm of public opinion to deal with. So nobody will believe them, because they didn’t put the time in on the PR side. Because their job is to enforce the laws, not to make you feel all warm and fuzzy while they do it.
But as observers in the court of opinion, we don’t really *know*, do we? Anyone who has been in a tight moral spot can empathize with the researcher, can understand that they might have been stepping outside the box in order to get a security issue taken seriously. But on the other hand, we have the authorities eventually speaking up and saying “Well, actually…” Could both sides be lying? Absolutely. Could both sides be telling the truth? After a fashion (once you start getting terminology clarified).
And when we run into a disconnect like this one, this is where our trust breaks down. This is where we have a step across the line that might be a bit too much too far. A “white hat” hacker trying to ensure a security hole is fixed, possibly trying to do the “right thing”, but the story as it continues to unfold suggests that the “right thing” put lives in danger. Not in the “I’m going to take you all down with me Mouhouhahaha” kind of danger, but the “Hey Ma, look, no hands!” kind of danger, where a situation itself is high-risk even if the intentions are benign.
And in the meantime it serves to reinforce the idea that hackers of any color hat are dangerous. They can lay hands on the keys to the city and cannot wholly be trusted not to use them. Their own moral compass (or thirst for knowledge, or love of puzzle-solving) may drive them to act for the greater good, circumventing much slower corporate processes but endangering lives (or personal information, or your nest egg) in the process.
There needs to be a place for whimsy, even in our food. It would be an easy thing to reduce all of our nutritional needs to a foil-pack of slightly gluey nutrients (in-fact, Soylent has done just that). But for many people now, and in the future, there is a connection with the physicality of food that satisfies almost as much as the contents of the food itself.
Will this kind of delicate confectionery construction take over your supermarket shelves? Will everything we consume be reduced to frippery? Just like some people like their sandwich meat thin sliced and others thick, the 3d printed food will be a delight to a portion of the market, and a pain-in-the-ass to the rest.
I’m intimately familiar with programmed responses and how changing the technology that trained them can f*ck you up. When I started driving, the standard practice was never to slam on your brakes when you got into trouble. You pumped your brakes. It kept them from locking up, it made your taillights flash to warn the car behind you. It helped keep you from locking up all over so that you could continue to react as you slid, in the unstoppable grip of physics, down the roadway to your certain doom.
Then the technology got better. Cars have computers that take care of the brake management for you (usually) so pumping the brake in most modern cars has become counter intuitive. It f*ucks up the computer, throws it’s braking off sync. So now, after decades of pumping the brake, I now have to do the opposite. I have to stomp ont he brake and hope the computer is smarter than I am (let me point out, I work with computers, so I am intimately familiar with “smart” machines and the misconceptions that go with them).
What they describe here in the Ars Technica article is one step further. They are discussing systems to handle the braking for the the driver, which means no foot-stomping at all. That’s an even more drastic change than the one we went through from pump to stomp.
It occurs to me that this point in time is a bit on the unusual side. Now, I have no real expertise in this matter other than that fact that I read too d*mn much, and have a fascination with the history of medicine, but it seems to me that humans, as a species, have been self-medicating in one fashion or another for many thousands of years now. Beer has been consumed by all ages as an alternative to water in many places where the water has been problematic to drink, over the counter remedies contained a host of addictive and what are now considered “recreational” substances from alcohol to opium to cocaine to radioactive bone shavings, you name it, we have consumed it, sometimes for fun, sometimes for necessity, sometimes to cure what ails us.
So it seems that this oft lamented tendency, this pursuit of this pill or that pill to change the way that we think, our anxieties, our inability to sit still or our unrelenting anger or any number of other issues, may not be a “new” tendency. We have always been medicated. The difference is that now we are medicated with a backstory, with chemicals that we can track and control and mix to precise doses. We know what these chemicals will do and why, as opposed to just getting us “feeling better”.
So what if this new “neurotic” norm that keeps getting lamented in media and on mommy blogs and educational sites, what is this has always been the norm? What if we’ve just been covering up our true “normal”. What if what we think of as “normal” was just the medicated version of humanity? Now that we are medicating less in search of a “healthy norm” we are finding that what we thought was normal, stable, mellow, reasonable is just the by-product of our own need to feel better?
I’m not sure we will ever go to hard-core implantable/bionic tech without medical cause. I’ll be honest about that. I think the number of people who would be willing to lop off a limb or a leg to get better traction on a mountain, or a more perfect baseball swing, I think those people are going to exist, but as a small percentage, especially the way our current culture thinks and breathes. It would take a major cultural shift to get bionics and bionic replacements in non-medical circumstances, to become commonplace. (But since I write science fiction, I can imagine a world where exactly that has happened).
That said, I think that smaller implantable elements like these, ones that can simply be injected under the skin are going to become commonplace. Right now one of my parents has no fewer than four separate “dongles” for work, each of which generates a unique, rotating passcode. That parent also has keychain tabs for various reward accounts at specialty stores, a coded key for their car and an NFC tag for their office building. Basically it’s about as awkward as trying to shove a baseball in your pocket.
Now imagine, if you will, a single chip, implanted under the skin, that can handle all of those. You have an app on your phone that can generate the pass-codes if and only if the NFC chip agrees, pass your hand over the NFC reader at work and voila, the door opens for you.
The problem with these scenarios lies in the software, not the hardware. Everyone who needs security also insists on proprietary setups. This is why you need four different dongles, each custom dongle is from a different manufacturer and links to a different system of software. Every company, every provider of security has their own tech, their own solution, so at the end of the day, you either need an all-in-one solution (like Mint does for your banking/investments, or ICQ used to do for your social media communications) or you’re going to end up riddled with tiny holes as each and every one of these companies injects you with their own (probably difficult to remove) custom NFC implantable.