Viruses and Caring about Code

The discussion led by Professor Michael in class was a lot more about politics than I expected.  Nonetheless, it was a very insightful discussion about the flaws of our government when it comes to dealing with issues involving technology.  Although the momentum was slow in the beginning, it started to really pick up in the middle as we began to talk more about the potential threat of cyber warfare.

Today’s post will not be long, but it will be focused on two things: viruses and how politics is an impediment to progress.  Both will be informative, but will lean more towards a small rant.  

For some reason, computer viruses really interest me.  I have not programmed any viruses nor lost any computers to one, but the fact that lines of code can be created to conduct some activity without immediate commands from the creator is fascinating.  It reminds me a lot of the viruses we have in the real world.  They are just protein shells that have RNA stored inside them, which makes us question whether or not to classify them as a lifeforms.  Despite their simplicity, they are extremely effective at taking over a cell to create more of themselves.  Taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture, one can begin to see how much in common biology is with computers.  Our habits are like if-else conditions.  We view our routines as loops, and we represent ideas through language, just like variables represent data.  It is both fascinating and frightening to think that a human can be modeled by binary bits.  This makes me think that when we are able to fully utilize quantum computers, there is a huge possibility that we could simulate nature perfectly, considering the fact that nature is basically quantum mechanics at its fundamental level.

Moving on to the discussion about politics, most of the time, I view it as an impediment to progress.  A lot of people will disagree with me, but politics has hindered the development of the sciences and technology.  Take a look at the Trump administration.  Frankly, it is a shame that the head of the EPA is a climate change skeptic.  Even for the sake of the greater good, they refuse to cast of their “facts.”  They turn the facts of science into opinions, all to benefit themselves and their benefactors.

How can we trust government that does not know about technology to protect us in a technological manner?  We might be advanced with what we have, but it appears that we are not using it to it’s fullest extent.  It was really frustrating to hear from Professor Michael that despite multiple pleas to Congress to improve the security of critical infrastructure, such as emergency services and power production, Congress did not do anything to improve it, simply because they did not see the profits.  

However, this reveals a greater issue with caring about technology.  How do we get people to actually care about technology and the potential issues?  To be fair, it is hard to care about something that you know little to nothing about and you do not feel its immediate impact on your life.  The workings of modern technology is complicated and one does not physically feel the impacts of lines of code.  Nonetheless, we need to be aware of the fact that software is to society as oxygen is to us humans.  Software is becoming so embedded into our lives that is becoming impossible to live without it.  Google is a part of our vernacular, and according to the UN, having Internet access is a universal human right.  If our infrastructure is so reliant on software is not well-secured, society is digging it’s own grave.  

1 Comment »

  1. profsmith

    November 16, 2017 @ 2:25 pm


    You snuck in a lot of philosophy and not just politics in your post this week! I enjoyed your statement, “software is to society as oxygen is to us humans … [it] is becoming impossible to live without it.” As you probably know, unfortunately software development didn’t grow up with such an essential view. Software was something that you created to accomplish a task; the criticality of that production was considered only later. We have a lot of catching up to do.

    On viruses and other such beasts, I too find it fascinating to think about getting software systems to do something that they were never intended to do. Of course, I followed this passion in a productive way (this was the basis of my software security company).

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