Do Not Bend, Fold, Spindle, or Mutilate

  1. Murder in Cyberspace
  2. InfoShok
  3. Alpha, Beta, Gamma

“we must, to use them at all, serve these objects... as gods or minor religions. An Indian is the servo-mechanism of his canoe, as the cowboy of his horse or the executive of his clock.”--Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media

A man may talk to a god, and God to man. Computers talk to man, and man talks to his computers. Might not a computer talk to God?

There is a story about President Eisenhower and the first computers. He walked into the hermetically sealed room housing the flashing lights and bright green monitors.

”Is there a God?”, he asked.

The lights flashed off. Cogs deep inside the miles of computer-chassis groaned. Eisenhower turned to Vice President Nixon to ask him to call the technicians when the lights flashed back on as one.

Now there is a God.”

And a right despotic god its been. Computers have been god ever since they were adopted by bureaucracies. When brought in, they are hailed as the savior of the bottom line; when customers and clients call with complaints, an “act of computer” can always be invoked to explain problems away without fixing them.

“We have to have that information. It’s not that I care. It’s just that the computer won’t accept the application otherwise.”

We make concessions to computers at least as often as computers make things easier for us. We neither bend nor fold, spindle nor mutilate. We fill out our applications in block letters so the computerized clerk can read them. We add a zip code to everyone’s address, and we learn two-letter abbreviations for all the states, so that Post Office computers don’t have to strain themselves and accidentally send our mail to Alaska instead of Arkansas.

From: [r--a--k] at [] (timothy.a.carlson)
Newsgroups: alt.drugs,ca.politics,alt.individualism,talk.politics.guns,talk.politics.misc
Subject: Re: Pittsburgh Press - War on Drugs article followup
Date: 11 Sep 9 13:31:13 GMT

[j--e] at [okepyr.UUCP] (Joe Spencer) writes:
>[d--b] at [] (Don Baldwin) writes:
>>About 3 weeks ago, I posted here to say that I had requested reprints of
>>the Pittsburgh Press’s “War on Drugs” articles. On Saturday, I received my
>>reprints, in a NICE booklet form that could easily cost $5. However, it was
>>provided free by the Press as a public service. If the subject interests you
>>at all, I urge you to call: (412)263-1100) and order a copy for yourself.
>>It’s frightening reading!
>Especially for those involved in illegally importing of or
>the selling of said drugs.

Nah. Those who are actually in the drug trade usually consider things like arrests and prison time as a cost of doing business. If their assets are siezed (let’s say a house), all it would take is a few good deals to earn enough money to buy another one. Those in the drug trade can quickly recap any lost possessions. Innocent people have the choice of either lengthy legal fights where they spend a large fraction of what they are trying to recover, or simply writing it off and trying to get on with their lives. So I doubt the dealers are too worried.

Let me tell you a personal story. Early this year I unexpectedly recieved a rejection letter for a VISA card application. This surprised me given that I almost daily get pre-approved gold card applications in the mail from Visa, MC, Amex, etc. I spent several days tracking things down with credit agencies, the credit union I was trying to get the card from, etc. What I found was the State of Illinois had placed a lien on my credit union accounts for $12,600. I was flabbergasted--even if I didn’t pay my taxes (difficult considering AT&T withholds) I couldn’t imagine how much I would have to earn to owe that much. Well, I spent several more days calling various state agencies, none of which seemed to know what the fk was going on--finally I spoke with an agent at the dept. of revenue who said that this was in connection with “the cannabis control act of 19xx, blah, blah”. (This was of course done with the typical self-righteous arrogance that seems to characterize government types. Back to the story...)

“What?!” He went on to tell me that this was in connection with my “arrest in December of 1990”. Given that I’ve never even gotten a speeding ticket, this was unsettling. Then it dawned on me--when I first moved to this state and got my drivers license, they had a problem since there was another “Timothy A. Carlson” with my same birthdate. They had to do something special to get me a unique license number, since they use some sort of hashing function based on name and birthdate to arrive at a number. I always had figured I was going to get a speeding ticket in the mail from this other guy and have a hell of a time fighting it. Instead it turns out this guy is a drug dealer. Anyway, I mentioned this to the agent and told him that our SS numbers must be different. Of course they were, but the fking idiots at the state must have never even bothered to check before they placed the lien. Had I not applied for the visa, I never would have known it was there. I’m still waiting for this to show up on my credit report some time in the future. I hate to imagine what might happen if I’m ever pulled over--they will probably seize my jeep on the spot! I would hate to have an even more common name like “john smith”.


The “Press” articles Don is talking about were a series about civil forfeiture, in which law enforcement agencies take property from civilians, without allowing them the benefit of a trial. You can find more about this by either being a Hispanic with money or, if you’re a white boy in the safety of your home, reading the articles on Cerebus the Gopher.

Tim’s problems, however, did not stem from government corruption, they stemmed from computer worship: once an error gets into the system, it is no longer an error.

tyranny is regular people avoiding problems, not evil leaders looking for trouble. Bureaucracies killed and jailed more people than soldiers ever will.” (?)

Tim solved his problem by pitting a more powerful computer against the Illinois computer. The Illinois computer was a mere state-owned bureaucratic machine; Tim’s Social Security number is from a federal computer. Tim was lucky: he was able to trump one state peon with a bigger state peon.

Whether or not computers are gods, they can still whup your ass at checkers, chess, and the stock market. Computers can buy or trade at the drop of a point, and many individuals and organizations are trusting important decisions to computerized “trend” analysts. The IRS decides who to audit based on computer analyses. Stock market investors have computers monitoring the market, advising them when to buy and sell. Police agencies even decide who to arrest based on computer profiles:

“On a Saturday afternoon just before Christmas last year, U.S. Customs officials at Los Angeles International Airport scored a “hit.”

‘Running the typical computer checks of passengers debarking a Trans World Airlines flight from London, they discovered Richard Lawrence Sklar, a fugitive wanted for his part in an Arizona real estate scam.

As their guidelines require, Customs confirmed all the particulars about Sklar with officials in Arizona--his birth date, height, weight, eye and hair color matched those of the wanted man.

‘Sklar’s capture exemplified perfectly the power of computerized crime fighting. Authorities thousands of miles away from a crime scene can almost instantly identify and nab a wanted person.

‘There was only one problem with the Sklar case: He was the wrong man.

‘The 58-year-old passenger--who spent the next two days being strip-searched, herded from one holding pen to another and handcuffed to gang members and other violent offenders--was a political science professor at the University of California at Los Angeles.” (?)

ID... id... ego. According to Adam Chalcraft and Michael Green, model trains can model computers, which means that if computers can become intelligent, so can the B&O. (?) Of course, it will take a lot of track, and be an extremely slow intelligence who wonders why it has no control over its own neurons, but its psychoanalyst will tell it it’s just human. Sounds like something Congress would fund, if it were built in the right state.

The same theory should apply to computer networks, and they’ll be quite a bit faster than the B&O Brain. If computers can become intelligent, so can computer networks. The Internet was the first step on the road to an intelligent network. The Internet was designed to be robust, that is, to continue working when it starts falling apart, much like a human being. If one part of the Internet is nuked, data can be routed around the ‘hole’. (!)

Where the Internet was considered ‘robust’ in its day, it’s nothing compared to what we’ve got planned for next year. Today’s networks are strings of dumb wiring that merely connect two or more highly complex computers together. Tomorrow’s networks will be computers all on their own. We’ll have computers within computers within computers, and even the wiring will be smart. Networks will be ‘redundant’, which means that, if one part goes bad, other parts take over; networks will be ‘self-healing’; they’ll monitor their own performance to see what they’re doing wrong and what they’re doing right.

In short, they’ll be as human or more so than most of the couch potatoes out there. And this ain’t no nebulous literary tomorrow. By “tomorrow”, I mean almost as soon as this book gets to print. If computers can become ‘intelligent’, this is where it will happen. And woe become us when the first computer network goes on strike for better working conditions.

What is intelligence? Did God make the universe, and then, a few billion years later say “Oh. Forgot something. You down there with the hairless butts. You’re intelligent.” Or is intelligence just something that arises out of suitably complex (possibly self-reproducing) natural processes? Go read someone else’s book for that, but if it’s true, then computer networks will become intelligent, and probably sooner rather than later. The first intelligent networks may not necessarily be smart, but then, neither are most of your in-laws.

Some horror-stricken ostriches may claim that only life can become “intelligent” in the same way as man. I’d have to agree: the way we manifest our intelligence is due at least in part, if not mostly, to the fact that we are biological creatures. But who is to say that our intelligence is the only kind? Only God, if you believe, and She ain’t been too talkative on the subject.

Technology brings us the organic from the technological. Few of us are conscious, when watching a movie, that it’s merely a collection of still photographs. Likewise, if a sufficiently advanced computer acts intelligent, who are we to say it isn’t intelligent? And does it matter if we do?

And just a little something to make you use some of that god-given Intelligence: computers are biological. Already in the labs, researchers are designing computers with protein-based memory, which threatens to increase the memory capability of computers by a thousand times. (?) Future computers will be a combination of semiconductor and biological components. “We are confident,” the author said of his group, “that hybrid computers of some type will be available within the next eight years.” That was at the beginning of 1995. How much longer do you have, monkey-boy?

With every increase in memory and speed, computer programmers write more and more complex and unfathomable computer software. We’re already making computer programs that are able to respond to their environment and change their output accordingly. These new computers will allow us to write computer software and even manufacture computer hardware that modify themselves based on changing environmental stresses. In other words, we’ll be making Lamarckian computers who have the ability to evolve under their own conscious control.

Even this isn’t particularly new. We already trust computers to program themselves. It is entirely likely that your credit card application was approved by a computer that decided on its own what constitutes a good or bad credit risk. And it based this decision, not on a set of guidelines imposed by a financial programmer, but based on its own observations of past credit histories.

Why do we let computers make up their own theories? Computer programmers need to know exact formulas when they program guidelines into a computerized decision maker. But for most things that happen in real life, there are no exact formulas. So computer programmers have come up with various work-arounds, called biocomputing. Biocomputing includes fractals, those innocuous computer-generated LSD images, and “genetic algorithms”, in which solutions vie for survival as if they were lemmings or dodos, where only the fit solutions survive.

The big biocomputing work-around today is the neural net, in which computer programs and their data pretend to be a human brain. The programmers then feed the computer lots of information about the things they’re worried about, and let the computer decide what information is useful. In the case of credit card companies, they pump in information about people to whom they’ve already given credit cards. They then tell the computer who was a good risk and who was a bad risk. The computer then tries to figure out what makes a “good” risk different from a “bad” risk, and applies that to all future applicants. It also keeps track of these new applicants, using their fates to refine its concept of “good” and “bad”.

Like the B&O, this is a slow brain, but it does what it is meant to do. What it is meant to do is: take decision-making out of the hands of programmers (who don’t understand it) and out of the hands of bureaucrats (who don’t want it), and place it squarely in the hands of computers, who won’t mind being the scapegoat for any future problems. What it is meant to do is take away any need for understanding how decisions are implemented; those decisions are best left to someone else, and a computer is the best someone else out there. Computers rarely pass the buck to a human.

But this also means that, as computers edge their way into “intelligence”, the owners aren’t going to notice, because the owners aren’t going to recognize the difference in what their “children” are saying. Future computers may even have a “primitive” brain just like humans have their “reptilian” brain: rather than start from scratch every time a new computer is installed, “neural net” data and its self-programmed programming will be imported from old to new to newer computers until not even the computer itself will be able to find it.

Computers will have developed a subconscious. Can computer psychoanalysts be far behind?

  1. The Pittsburgh Press went out of business during the delivery strike of 1992. Fortunately, I’ve saved the articles on Cerebus the Gopher. Happy reading!
  2. Alain Simon, from a long-forgotten Usenet posting.
  3. Evelyn Richards, “Proposed FBI Crime Computer System Raises Questions on Accuracy, Privacy”, Computerization and Controversy: Value Conflicts and Social Choices. Originally from The Washington Post, February 13, 1989.
  4. Adam Chalcraft and Michael Greene, “Train Sets”, Eureka, Vol. 53, 1994, pp. 5-12.
  5. Yes, the Internet is a product of Cold War technology; it was meant to withstand a nuclear war. Whether it could is a different question. Despite repeated requests by a concerned public, tests were never approved. But who would’ve missed St. Louis?
  6. Robert R. Birge, “Protein-Based Computers”, Scientific American, March 1995, p. 95.
  1. Murder in Cyberspace
  2. InfoShok
  3. Alpha, Beta, Gamma