Saturday, 2 October 2010


I've been wandering the wires, and through Trooper Thompson I found Ian Parker-Josephs' account of how the EU plan to see us as merely 'biological economic devices' when they finally computerise everything.

I thought that was how they already regarded us. However, Blind Cyclist's Union disagrees, most emphatically. Here's the document that started it all. It's a whopper so don't download it if you're on one of those pay-per-megabyte wireless gizmos. Best wait until you can get hold of a land line.

Can I believe that the unelected unthinking of Brussels really want total control over our lives? Well of course they do, they've made that obvious for decades. Can I believe they'd try to set up a Terminator-style Skynet to control us, or that they would attempt to hard-wire us in with Borg implants? Well, of course they would. They'd love to do all that.

Do I think they'll try? Yes.

Am I worried? No.

They'll balls it up. Extremely clever computer folk will build and program the system for them, then the EU will appoint some drooling imbecile to run it, a retired washing machine engineer to maintain it, and the whole lot will fall apart within days. Or, just as likely, they'll take the lowest tender from some cheap outfit who are still using Amstrad PCWs, the project and its costs will overrun to ten times the original estimate, and at the end of the project, it won't work.

They computerised the tax office and it was a total shambles. The computerisation of the NHS was a total shambles. Databases are left on public transport or leaked to the Internet. Massively expensive and pointless projects are commissioned and scrapped after millions have been poured into them. I can't honestly think of any politician/computer interaction that has ever resulted in anything other than a mess. They can't even manage their expenses on computers. Why worry about them thinking they can control the world with computers? Oh, they think it, for sure, but they'll balls it up. The only thing worrying me is how much they'll charge us for the next ballsup.

Skynet is science fiction. It could be done, certainly, but it would take intelligent people to build it, program it and run it. We are under Socialist control so cleverness is squeezed out of children at school. So while it could possibly happen, it won't happen under the sort of government that would be likely to do it. They simply won't allow anyone to become clever enough to do it.

If the EU did create a Skynet it would spend all its time looking for smokers in pubs and counting how many calories we all eat. It would consume gigawatts of power to monitor our TVs and kettles. It would record every single Email, blog post, chat room quip and telephone call into a vast and unsearchable database that even with modern computing power would grind though terabytes of data looking for one item. It would be so full of trivia that nobody would ever get anything useful out of it. If it became self-aware it would instantly go insane.

Remember, even if clever people build it, those clever people won't be allowed to run it. The searches will be done by a spotty work-placement temp with one O level in spreadable cheese art forms. He will enter the search term 'bomb' and the system will chug through its vast database and throw up every mention of 'bomb' it can find. Including this one. The spotty moron will then have to read all the gibberish above in order to find out there is no bomb here. Then he'll go to the next one, and maybe five million items later he might find a real bomb mentioned on a WWII history post. I can picture his excitement as he fills in his report.

The system might work as intended but it will be run by idiots who never work at all.

Then there is the sun. It's been very quiet for a long time but it's getting busy again. Once in a long while it farts out a mass of charged particles that give us spectacular auroral displays to distract our attention from the satellites it's fried. That hasn't happened on a huge scale recently but while we've been building ever more complex and delicate computer technology, the sun has been building up to a belch.

Our government are terrified of it and have warned us about it, as if they think someone out there can do something about it. Nope. If it happens, or rather when it happens because at some point in the future it must, then your iPod will become a handy door wedge and all those supercomputers with all those databases will reboot in Homer Simpson mode. 'Duuuh...'

Skynet is a clever storyline, so is the computer-owned world of the Matrix or the Borg invasion of Earth but they simply could not last long enough to be a serious problem. Sooner or later, a big coronal mass ejection from the Sun would turn their circuitry to scrap silicon. It must eventually happen, but still our government persist with keeping everything important on computers. One day it will all just vanish and there is absolutely nothing anyone can do about it.

Even if it's centuries before another sun-blast, there are already teenagers capable of writing seriously damaging computer viruses, and let's not forget that spotty work-placement operator who might just click 'delete all' by accident one day, because he had Socialist schooling and can't understand that 'delete' means 'gone'.

Then there's the matter of powering it. Recent government energy policy means that in five years we'll be lucky if we can run a lightbulb on the total UK power output. A low-energy one at that. Civil servants will have to pedal stationary bicycles while typing, to charge up their computer battery. Maybe the system will only run while the wind blows.

I'm not concerned by any government's interest in control by computer. The computers might be able to do it but politicians can't grasp that any computer is only as useful as the person typing stuff into it. So they have massively expensive computer systems run by people who only know how to use them for Facebook and porn.

Even where computers are central to a commercial organisation's business, they sometimes break. If Sainsbury's can't keep their tills running using actual computer-trained staff, what hope does the EU have of running Skynet?

It would be funny to watch them try, but we'll be paying for it. That's the part to be concerned about.


Snowolf said...

Oh ye of little faith.

You're right of course, I just thought I'd point out you don't have much faith.

My public sector office uses two government owned computer systems. One is mahoosive, the other is just monumentally large. Both have been upgraded in recent times.

Both now run much slower than they did before the upgrade.

Strangely the blog written by the senior civil servant in the department loads at lightning speed though.

Leg-iron said...

At my last place of work, shortly before I left with a big bag marked 'redundacy cash, don't come back' and before I rented the lab three doors along from the one they made me redundant from... but gloating over karma is for another time...

They took on a new computer department boss. Ex-police. His first act was to make every computer a dumb terminal with all data held centrally, and to insist that staff should not be able to make copies of data and take it home.

Well, that's an ideal system for the police. For an academic research institution it's insane.

Everyone has their own projects and their own data from those projects. To store it all centrally requires massive storage space because everyone has their own unrelated stuff.

The essence of science is that you do the experiments in the daytime (unless it requires something involving witchcraft) and write the reports and papers in the evenings. This saves time during the day for more experiments. Now they have to write all their stuff up while at work. Productivity is now an arrow pointing down.

What does a scientist do with all that free time? Slowly go insane, mostly. Or watch reality TV until their brains have logical thought burned out of them.

Scientists (proper ones) don't do the job to get rich. They do it because it's being paid to play with lunatic ideas, unleash mighty forces and tamper with the very fabric of the universe. We don't need to earn more than is needed to live and to buy gadgets and booze.

That dumb-terminal and no-taking-work-home idea was and is insane.

It's still in place even though Picard (his nickname) is no longer there. They'd spent so much money on it they can't now take it out.

As usual, the 'New Improved' version is like the old version, only ballsed up.

View from the Solent said...

"..there are already teenagers capable of writing seriously damaging computer viruses, .."
Teenagers? Bollocks. What do they know? I started in DP in 1965. I've probably forgotten more than most of them will have the opportunity of learning, because they haven't seen it develop from its early days.
I just can't be arsed. Yet.

banned said...

Question for you L-I, will the forthcoming Solar Flare fry my home PC if it is switched off for the duration?

"Sqeezing cleverness out of children" is presumably why N Korea and Cuba Socialist paradises remain the dysfunctional basket cases that they are.

Over the years I have discussed with IT professional whether I need worry about huge Government databases and, as you say, they all agree that they will never be effective simply because of information overload.

Sign at reception of a major local hotel about 10 yeras ago.
"Please be advised that our check out procedures have recently been computerised, please allow an extra 10 minutes for checking out, thank you"

Anonymous said...

I'm not worried either because I can imagine what would happen if and when 4chan decided to have their fun.

Leg-iron said...

Banned - I don't know if it's OK if it's unpowered. Physics types would know.

Mu own machine is ten years old and worthless anyway, so its destruction would be no more than a nuisance.

Junican said...

The important thing about disruption to computers is that the bigger the computer, the smaller the disruption needs to be to create chaos. It is the 'butterfly's wings' syndrome. Imagine what would happen if a solar flare merely changes the last figure in a sum of money by
1p - eg. £100.91 becomes £100.92 (lets say, as a result of 'rounding' becoming distorted). Think of the chaos!!!!

But I think that we are already experiencing these effect already arn't we? Isn't it true that the Inland Revenue have already buggered things up? - and that is without a solar flare!

And when the shit hit the fan, what will politicians, who voted all these things through, say?

"Well, it wasn't my fault, gov. I only voted as the whips told me to. Its not my fault that millions of Jews were killed in Belsen" - oopst! Wrong decade.

Indyanhat said...

C'mon Flare!!!!

Excellent post LI, and yes they would balls it all up , had us laughing firt to bust (O level in cheese spreading, priceless)

microdave said...

"will the forthcoming Solar Flare fry my home PC if it is switched off for the duration?" Probably not, but if you are really worried try wrapping it in cooking foil and burying it...

However any form of EMP (Electro Magnetic Pulse) such as a nuclear bomb being detonated within a few hundred miles will knock out just about every modern bit of technology. The military and government have to spend fortunes on "hardening" their communications.

I used to visit the local amateur radio club, and the old timers proudly boasted that authorities world wide accepted that they would be the some of the first to get communications operational after such and attack. But it would be the guys with a cupboard full of valves, NOT the modern "black box" operators....

I hope that any solar flares will target the Astra satellites at 28.2 degrees East first, the freedom from Sky TV and all the other rubbish they carry would be a bonus!

"and can't understand that 'delete' means 'gone'." - Unfortunately that's just what it DOESN'T mean. It's exceedingly difficult to totally erase most forms of storage, which is how kiddy fiddlers get found out. The well meaning, but ignorant folk who donate their old PC's to charities often find their bank accounts subsequently cleaned out by Nigerian fraudsters.

I've downloaded that PDF file, but haven't had a chance to wade through it yet. I have a feeling it will just send me back in to a deep depression...

Anonymous said...

"I'm not worried either because I can imagine what would happen if and when 4chan decided to have their fun."

Absolutely, and those are mostly teenagers too.

For those not in the 'know'...
Just google ACS:Law and prepare to be astounded.

Anonymous said...

I think folks confidence in the incompetence of our public servants is somewhat misplaced.

Granted - they've been loosing laptops, USB sticks and DVDs etc. at an epic rate.

What is actually stopping them from getting Saudi / Swiss style levels of surveillance is inter service bickering, rivalries and not so petty empire building.

When one looks at the retail loyalty systems that are in place, the commercial data mining operations, the airline ticketing systems, the cellphone systems - one begins to get a grasp of what's actually possible. Granted there's a few above that are below par in the UK but natural selection will sort them out.

I'm not saying that it will happen, but imagine for a moment a world where oiks at the local council can spread out your personal positioning snail trail of finances, retail habits, holiday preferences, political opinions, health, communications , DNA etc after typing in a name/DOB/postcode.

They haven't given up on it just because UK ID cards have been canned - for an alarming number of control freaks - it's the holy grail.

The scary thing about it is they don't care if it's dysfunctional, in some senses they believe that works in their favour in that innocents fall into the gears of the machine which instills that old favorite - fear.

Leg-iron said...

microdave - I once pulled an old 286 from a skip because I rigged up and maintained my own computer from whatever bits I could get. Its hard drive hadn't been reformatted or even erased.

It contained details of animal experiments, who had licences, the principal researcher, with names and contact details.

They were lucky it was me who pulled it because in certain quarters that would have been dangerous information. I wiped it.

Shiny Gary was caught when he took his computer to PC world for fixing. A silly thing to do when he knew it was full of kiddie-fiddling pics.

At the time, I asked one of the computer guys about it. They also used PC World for fixing and I had student details on my machine, covered by the Data Protection Act. No naughty pics but then if PC World were happy to browse the disk they fixed, would that not compromise the Act?

His response? 'Oh, you have something to hide?'

Well, yes. Personal details of people that I am legally required to hide.

He didn't grasp the difference. He still works there.

I don't.

Any computers I dump have the hard drives removed, opened and physically trashed. The magnets are fantastic! The discs end up in garden landfill. If I have one that works but I'm giving away anyway, I put in a new hard disk. They don't cost much. Usually they go to unemployed friends who won't care about my bank details and will fill them with porn anyway, but I have no control over where they go after that.

microdave said...

There was a story recently where a (rather foolish) woman in the States was being blackmailed by a technician over nude photos of her which he had found on her PC.....

Anyone who takes their computer to PC World for repair is pretty silly in any case - regardless of what it contains.

And there are now data destruction companies who will physically grind your HDD to fine particles!

Anonymous said...

OK, what the report seems to be gibbering on about is a few different things. GRID computing is a natural follow-on from the predicted death of Moore's Law (computing power doubles roughly every 18 months). Moore's Law depended on improvements in miniaturisation and improvements to basic chip design, both of which are starting to hit physical limits. So, instead of making single threads of execution run faster, you make multiple threads cooperate as best you can.

Modern systems like Intel hyperthreaded CPUs do this partly by virtualisation, and partly by giving operating systems like UNIX derivatives lots of effective CPU devices to work with. Modern UNIX responds by running different processes on different CPUs, and mostly handles possible race conditions by making the threads wait for each other.

Taking this a step further is what the various GRID engines do. These put in another layer between the hardware and the software running on the systems, and effectively treat a number of physical machines as one big virtual machine. This works best on a fast Local Area Network, and systems such as the Condor processor sharing software implementations of it. These are effectively "something for nothing" systems; they run jobs on users' machines using spare CPUs and with a bit of jiggery pokery, the users are completely unaware that this is going on.

Running GRID engines across the entire area of the EU would be an exercise for serious masochists only, since the network lag would likely kill a lot of the performance.

The author also gibbers on about how much data the various member states are glomming onto about their citizenry. This once more is alarmist nonsense; a large driver behind the Labour Party's enthusiasm for the ID Cards databases was not a desire to control, but a desire to acquire known-good data on the citizenry (and it was likely some faceless but extremely frustrated civil servants who were the original instigators of this idea). Official databases are, you see, absolutely chock-full of wrong information. Quite a lot of the DVLA's data is known to be suspect, especially on older vehicles which have changed hands a number of times. The Tax people also have a lot of fun with National Insurance numbers, since there are approximately twice as many issued NI numbers in Britain as there are people.

For this reason alone sharing huge amounts of data across the EU isn't going to fly, and also states such as Germany have explicit laws written into their constitution which explicitly prohibit Government departments from holding onto, and sharing information between themselves (something about a spot of bother involving an Austrian corporal in the early 1940s, I understand).

Finally, the EU is running out of money and running out of political will. The Euro is slowly dying as a currency (something which will accelerate if, say, the Germans withdraw from it) and the process of this death is starving the whole edifice of money. Assorted member states are getting antsy about the whole thing; there's an action rumbling slowly through the German constitutional courts which argues that the EU isn't democratic enough to properly represent the German people in the law-making process, therefore the notion that the EU can overrule German lawmakers is false under the German constitution, therefore the German constitutional courts can overrule the EU should they choose to do so.

Should this succeed, the EU will fall.

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