July 8, 2012
The re-set button
We learned this week that a Reddit user, named Lompolo, had discovered rogue apps bearing DroidDream onto pre-Gingerbread Android platforms - viral botnet malware that exports handset ID and other sensitive data, enabling a remote server, via known exploits bypassing security controls, to install code partly beyond the reach of Google's remote kill switch, which it was anyway hesitating to launch pending reference to the Android Police.

Gentle reader may have to examine the preceding sentence twice, to make any sense of it. Those approaching my age (and I am pushing toward 60) may require three or four tries. Those older may find it beyond their comprehension.

They're the lucky ones.

Let us not say that the world has become incomprehensible, for it was always so. The discovery, or rather, apparent confirmation this week of the existence of the Higgs boson, is a reminder that the frontiers of physics may shift at any moment.

This should not be alarming, however. Most of us get by with only an instinctive grasp of mere classical mechanics. And I know people who have survived childhood without even that.

But can we survive our own technology? This is a question the Android Police probably cannot answer, and I'm not sure the philosophers can help us much.

Consider: the user-friendlier technology becomes on the surface, the greater the complexity beneath; and the more open that "beneath" is to creative interaction, the more open to criminal invasion, too. It may well be in the nature of advanced technology to blow up in our faces.

And while "guns don't kill people, people kill people," guns are a more efficient way than most, and nuclear-tipped cruise missiles are more efficient still. I have been preaching humility a lot lately, against the "how to" focus of modern enterprise, and I have observed that, at the edge of innovation, enthusiasm for the "how to" tends to defeat humility entirely.

Nevertheless, humans come with moral "software" pre-installed, without which our "hardware" cannot function. And if you re-read the opening sentence, you may discover that the outwardly facile jargon is loaded with unqualified moral assertions, known as "value judgements" to the elect. (Why do you think it is called "malware"?)

Strange as the terminology may be, we have no difficulty sussing out who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. How to beat them is only a tactical question.

There is something I rather like about techies - not all of them, but most that I meet. In the course of their study of electronic engineering, which takes up most of their time, ethical studies are often ignored or omitted.

Paradoxically, this makes them "gooder" people. Great sophistication in the craft is combined with shocking innocence about matters outside it.

I observed the same thing at the Rose Dinner in Ottawa this year, among many young people who had earlier marched in the huge national "pro-life" demonstration. They exhibited real innocence on several planes.

The schools they'd attended had taught them nothing, and their teachers, overwhelmingly "pro-choice," but constrained by the pro-life party line at least in Catholic schools, had simply avoided the topic of abortion. This left the young people to think for themselves, unguided; and all by themselves they had come to the notion that "killing babies is wrong."

It's that pre-installed moral software again. It is amazing what "value judgements" it can come up with, when the operation isn't interfered with in some way.

Ditto with the more innocent techies: they just "know" some things are bad, and must be resisted. They don't need a diagram.

Even for life on Earth, I am encouraged by this. It takes a great deal of propaganda and indoctrination to make people into moral sophists, capable of sabotaging their own innate sense of right and wrong, and thereby becoming politically "progressive."

For two generations or more, the vanguard of the Left have been working tirelessly, through every government department or other agency they've been able to infect, on re-coding our moral software.

They hope to replace the old, backward, out-of-date human, through social engineering, with what we might call "the new Soviet man" - collectivist, feminist, multiculturalist, homophile, and so on.

This has been, in one sense, an heroic endeavour, and on the surface remarkable things have been achieved, such that the world we live in today would be in large part morally incomprehensible, even to a very "liberal" person who had just stepped out of 1962.

Warren's first principle of aerodynamics has long been: "Put enough power under anything, and it will fly." There is a corollary, however: "When the power runs out, it crashes."

It is sad that we have persisted in developing the technical means to exterminate ourselves. And it could be said that the more innocent - from children to my favourite techies - may be lambs to the slaughter that evil men contrive. For it takes some moral sophistication ("shrewd as serpents, harmless as doves") to battle evil directly.

Yet when the indoctrination ceases, and the dust settles after the technology implodes, the moral order simply re-sets. In a blink it will be as if nothing ever happened.

David Warren