Technical Solutions to Amok Runs

3. August, 2016

Every now and then, an idiot realizes that his life isn’t exciting enough and decides to do something about it. Note: I apply humor to horror.

Some people (I think of them as idiots as well, just a different flavor) think that arming everyone is the best solution to this problem. Maybe these people probably never get angry.

Anyway. Here is my attempt at a solution: Data contracts.

A data contract is a contract which is attached to data.

Example: I could attach a contract to data which my cell phone produces, for example, “code looking for the signature of gunshots can access data which the microphone produces.” Similarly, I could attach “code looking symptoms of mass panic can access data from my mobile’s acceleration sensors.” And lastly, “code which detected mass panic or gunshots is allowed to access location data on my mobile.”

To build such a system, all data needs to be signed (so it can be attributed to someone) and it needs to contain the hash code of the contract. Big data services can then look up people by their signature (which would also allow to create a public / shared signature for an anonymous entity) and from there, get the data contracts.

Now that in itself doesn’t protect against abuse of data by greedy / evil corporations. The solution here is the same as in the “real” world: Auditing. People applying for access to this system need to undergo an audit where test data is fed into the system and auditors (which can be humans or bots or both) validate the operation. This results in a digital document signed by the auditors which will then allow them to access the data feeds.

This approach would then protect my privacy from people wanting my movement profiles to annoy me with adverts while safety services could still use the data to automatically detect disasters and dispatch help without me having to fumble for my phone while running for my life.

On the downside, attackers will start to shoot mobile phones.

If we look into the future, unstable people could be sentenced to share some of their data with automated systems which monitor their mental state – I’m positive that several companies are working on systems to determine the mental state of a person by looking at sensor data from their phones or fitness sensors as you read this. Of course, we’d need an improved justice system (our current one is too busy with things like patent lawsuits or copyright violations) with careful balance and checks to prevent another kind of idiot (the one which doesn’t believe in “everything has a cost”) to run amok with this (i.e. putting “unwanted” people into virtual jails).

There is a certain amount of “bad things happening” that we have to accept as inevitable. Everyone who disagrees is invited to move to North Korea where they have … ah … “solved” this already.

For everyone else, this idea has a few holes. It needs computer readable contracts, a way to negotiate contracts between computers (with and without human interaction), it needs technology for auditors where they can feed test data into complex systems and see where it goes.

I think the computer readable contracts will happen in the next few years; negotiating contracts and knowing what contracts you have is a big issue with companies. Their needs will drive this technology. Eventually, you’ll be able to set up a meeting with a lawyer who will configure a “contract matching app” your mobile. When some service wants your data, the app will automatically approve the parts of the contract which you already agree, and reject those which you’ll never accept. If the service still wants to do business with you, then you’ll get a short list of points which are undecided, yet. A few swipes later, you’ll be in business or you’ll know why not.

The test data problem can be implemented by adding new features to the big data processing frameworks. Many of these already have ways to describe data processing graphs which the framework will then turn into actual data processing. For documentation purposes, you can already examine those graphs. Adding signature tracking (when you already have to process the signatures anyway to read the data) isn’t a big deal. Auditing then means to check those signature tracks.

It’s not perfect but perfect doesn’t exist.


Hero Of Today: Armin Köhli

25. March, 2012

The news are full of tragic mishaps, violence and sadness. Many people believe that the world today is worse when it isn’t. Mortality is way down, we have fewer wars with fewer casualties, illiteracy is going down and access to clean water and healthy food is becoming better. We just don’t know because that’s not news, it’s boring.

So in an attempt to be different, I’d like to tell you about a hero. Someone not afraid to talk to terrorists – at least not enough to not talk to them. This man is Armin Köhli.

He’s disabled – both his lower legs are missing. And like many of his kind, he’s extraordinary in some way: He makes the world a better place. Not only by giving an example or thinking about it, he actually does. How?

He talks to terrorists.

Sounds stupid? Maybe. But I can’t fail to notice that the “War on Terrorisn’t such a huge success so far. A lot of people died, a lot of money was spent, a lot of ammunition was fired. The situation in the Near East has changed but to the better? Not according to the news I see every evening. If it was funny, I’d say Facebook had more of an impact on the situation.

But this isn’t about failures, this is about success. So Armin talks to the “bad guys”. Does he threaten them? No. Buy them? Nope. Arrest them? Not at all. So what does he do?

He asks questions. Like this one: What can you do to improve the situation for the civilians in your area?

No threat, accusation or guilt.

I believe that a terrorist is a person who has (or thinks he has) been mistreated. Basically, they want justice – sounds familiar. Not many bad people are born, most are made by abusing them, torturing them, killing their loved ones and denying them any kind of retaliation. In the western world, we don’t have to car bomb because we have a justice system. We can sue. We can complain.

It’s silly to approach a terrorist and say: “Stand down, you’re a criminal.” If your brother was killed, no one cared, and then the police came to arrest you, because you just wouldn’t stop complaining, what would you do?

But if they have been the victim of injustice, you can ask them the question above. Terrorists, driven by a deep sense of justice, simply can’t say no to such a question.

It’s slow work. It takes someone with backbone and determination to do it.

Thanks, Armin and thanks to Geneva Call, the organization who makes this happen and more.

If you want to know more, visit their website. If you want to know more how evil is created and corrupts man, read this book: The Lucifer Effect (blog post).


Last Thoughts on 9/11

11. September, 2011

Who knows the truth? No one.

There seems to be a lot of convincing evidence that the “official truth” about the Twin Tower attack is not correct. Well, I know for sure that the “official truth” is not 100% correct for these reasons:

  1. The people who planned the attack haven’t stepped forward and explained them in detail to us so far. Anyone else is just an outside observer at best, so how are they supposed to know “the truth”?
  2. Anyone planning a big project knows that there is always a gap between the goals and the result. So even if there wasn’t a huge pressure on the people writing the official report, the official report has to be incomplete or wrong in some respect. The pressure just made it worse. Which means the report isn’t as correct as it could have been. And even if it was, that still wouldn’t be the truth.
  3. There is a part in your brain that filters anything “unimportant” out before the information can reach your consciousness (see “The Invisible Gorilla” for an example). That means for you, this information never existed in the first place. This and other factors make eyewitnesses so unreliable. The same is true for the victims of the attack and the people who wrote the report.

So we have two sides, the US government and “the terrorists” (whoever that might be). We suspect that the government is lying but we ignore the fact that huge bodies a) sometimes make huge mistakes, b) there is always political agenda (like Bush wanting Bin Laden dead for any reason, so why waste more effort in a deeper investigation?) and c) the people writing the official report didn’t have all the facts (for many reasons).

For me, 9/11 just gave a bunch of people a perfect excuse to create more terrorists, for example by killing more than 100’000 civilians (irritating thought: Do you believe this number after reading the above?).

Remember: If you want to make a situation worse, you send an army – they are trained to conquer and destroy. To contain a situation, you send the police – they are trained to contain and deescalate.


Israel Added to List Of Countries That Tend To ‘Promote, Produce, or Protect’ Terrorists

4. July, 2011

A couple of days ago, “U.S. Designates Israel as Country That Tends ‘To Promote, Produce, or Protect’ Terrorists; Also Calls Israel Anti-Terror Partner

Well … keeping more than two million people in the world’s largest prison was bound to “pay off” one day.

Makes me wonder: When will the US add itself to this list? Illegal prisons like Guantanamo are a perfect excuse to turn some frustrated soul into a terrorist.

I wish the fools in government would have let Obama close this revolting institution. But as usual, they hope the mess will explode in someone else’s face.


Security is nothing without trust and respect

17. December, 2010

Little Brother” got me thinking. When the DHS tries to make the city more safe and secure, they just make it worse. Why?

Because they ignore one of the most fundamental principles without which society cannot work: Trust and respect.

That doesn’t mean you need to trust someone completely or respect them in every way. It means: Know how much you can and should trust someone. Then treat them politely, without second thoughts. Surprise: Our brains have been trained for the millions of years before we had speech to read body language. And we’re really good at it.

You don’t have to be nice to a terrorist, bow your head to them or grovel. Not at all. But just imaging how kicking you around, killing your family, relatives, friends, would make you feel.

Now, I imagine that terrorists aren’t exactly lenient or forgiving. So if you would become mad at such a treatment, what will they do? Go on a killing spree? Gee, I think that’s exactly what they do. How surprising.

Which puts us into a delicate position. We can only be safe when we start treating everyone else on the planet with respect. Respect can mean to drive your car for another year, even if it sucks. Or to sell it to someone poor way under price because they deserve it — just as a human. It doesn’t mean we should all convert to the Islam or anything.

It just means that: Show some basic respect (as in polite).

It probably doesn’t mean to go to a poor country, “help” them fight against terrorism and then “suddenly” discover that there are billions of dollars buried in the ground. These people might not have spent a lot of time in school, but they spend an awful lot of time haggling at the bazaar. They see you lie.

Imagine if all the terrorists in the world believed that there were better ways to make them as happy as us. Wouldn’t that be better than strip searches at airports, constant fear of an attack, ever more complicated and even debasing security laws? What’s security without respect?

If we were 100% secure, no one could go anywhere (they might be infected), talk to anyone (they might spill secrets), do anything (they might make mistakes). In computer sciences, you learn early that a secure computer is one which is switched off, without any data or use. Secure but useless.

That’s why security measurements in companies work out so badly: If they were really enforced, the company couldn’t do business anymore. So you have to trust your workers. You have to treat them with respect or else you get the very problems that your dream of “security” pretended to solve.


Terrorists won

16. October, 2010

In one of my (non-published) stories, a young man is badly beaten up. When asked whether he wants revenge, he says “No.” They ask why. “Because I already gave them enough of my life.”

That’s what America needs to learn. Otherwise, they have already lost the war on terrorism. Like in “The terrorists win a comic victory.”

PS: My favorite Non Sequitur comic is the table top catapult. Anyone got a link?