Nightmare on the Net

According to a recent Philips advertisement their “technology makes everything simple.” Bunkum! Even if the functionality of the technology is simple, it becomes highly complex the moment people get involved.

Don’t think you can use the Internet without getting burned. In this talk Professor Angell warns his audience about problems with the Internet that they don’t even know they’ve got yet – and offering a little help.  Be Afraid. Be very afraid. According to President Pompidou: “There are three roads to ruin: gambling, women and technology. Gambling is the quickest, women the most pleasurable, but technology is the most certain.”

‘Most certain’, because systems always misbehave! You can call it gremlins. When everything’s going well, then you’ve overlooked something. Remember Murphy’s law: If it can go wrong, it will go wrong – and Murphy was an optimist. A reporter on the Chicago Tribune once wrote a story about a gangland ‘enforcer’. The word processor didn’t recognize the word, and replaced it with ‘informer.’ Two days later the gangster was dead.

Angell shows that to avoid such nonsense we must learn to look beyond the functionality of the Net, beyond the good intentions of the designers, towards the inevitable complexity that people always bring, and which triggers unforeseen consequences.

Angell researches the dark side of that complexity. Two decades ago he was predicting that unless we controlled the complexity in our computer systems we would be heading for meltdown. Never in his worst nightmares did he foresee the mix of Microsoft, the Internet, and mobile telephones.

We are plagued by computer viruses, worms, trojans, denial of service attacks etc. Nine months on from the major MSBlaster outbreak, the systems of the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Glasgow was paralyzed for more than 10 hours. Even Internet giants like Microsoft, Google and Yahoo get hit. It must be serious. But far worse is to come.

Join with Angell, laughing at the cockups; but be afraid. Be very afraid.