Felix Rambles

Another step to taking back control

Not hacker ethics, but human ethics

16 December 2018 — Felix Pleşoianu

Say you're a hacker, and you have this roommate who always locks their room when leaving home. One day they leave without returning an item you need. What do you do?

  1. Pick the lock, recover your item and leave, locking the door again behind you.
  2. Also snoop through their things, but without disturbing or breaking anything.
  3. On top of that, leave them a note pointing out that they need a better lock.

Trick question! The only acceptable answer is, you don't go in even if the door is unlocked. Even if there's a genuine emergency, of the building-on-fire variety, you at least try to call and announce that you were forced to do it by immediate physical danger. Even if you suspect your roommate is a thief who stole your item, you call the police on them. Not because it's what the law says, but because you're a part of society, and society can't function unless we can trust each other at least a little bit. As I was tweeting nearly three weeks ago:

Hey, geeks: if you're at a hacker event and someone next to you leaves their laptop unlocked...

...don't touch it! Would you rifle through their bag, too? After all, they could use a padlock if they wanted privacy.

It's called common courtesy and basic trust. You're welcome.

Which is not a theoretical, but something that happened to me in real life (the laptop part, not the bag part), and contributed to my mistrust in the sort of people who frequent Linux user groups. In particular, their maturity level.

The very concept of "hacker ethics" is a red herring at best, and quite possibly dangerous. Hackers operate in the real world, dealing with real people within a social framework. They're not some special caste exempt from certain rules just because the digital (or virtual if you prefer) is less palpable. If anything, they must be more careful than the rest of us because, much like doctors, they can more easily hurt more people. And there's no Hacker's Oath. Maybe there should be. Then we could talk about a meaningful ethical framework for them.

And please don't serve me the tired excuse that "bad guys don't play by the rules". Precisely! That's part of what makes them bad guys. You can't fight them by becoming one of them any more than you can fight fire with fire.

Rules can and should be broken sometimes. The trick is knowing when not to do it. And too many people who call themselves hackers are just overgrown immature boys, playing with sticks bigger than they can safely control. Let's fix that first.

Tags: society, technology, philosophy

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Technology will not save us

14 November 2018 — Felix Pleşoianu

Lately I've been thinking a lot about an old science-fiction story. Can't remember the title or author (any help would be appreciated), but it follows a typical suburban house through an ordinary day, as it wakes everyone up, reads them the news while making breakfast, and urges the kids not to be late for school. At noon it plays cheerful music while making lunch. By evening time it's preparing a hot bath, when a minor accident in the kitchen starts a fire, and the house burns down while reading poetry to its absent owners. Only at the very end does the story reveal that (spoiler alert!) said owners are right outside, turned into ash on the wall by the blast from a nuclear strike...

Replace tape recorders in the walls with a virtual assistant, the automated kitchen with a delivery drone from a fast food restaurant, and the nuke with death by overwork at a videogame studio. Now tell me it doesn't sound like an increasingly plausible scenario. And did it blow your mind to learn that the concept of a smart home dates not from this century, not from the mid-1980s, but from over fifty years ago at the height of the Cold War? Then hold on tight, because the earliest instance I'm aware of features in a 1909 story by E.M. Forster called The Machine Stops.

At least the latter has a happy ending. Under the present circumstances, I don't really think we're going to get one.

Tags: society, technology

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