Consequential threats

Section 2: Threats Get Real Chapter 3: Consequential Threats

Casey had returned home just in time for first hand exposure to the effects of near-future computing calamities. The wonderful synthetic speech that voiced a person’s Whisperer profile and history could be faked into action in acts of public violence. A city could be paralyzed if its communication line with the outside world were broken by vandalism or terrorism.

The public would return to normal life, soon forgetting any scary event, and missing the warnings of disasters ahead. Just as our thoughts about extreme climate events had come to accept the reality of 50 inches of rain, we would soon accept electrical grid, election systems, pandemics, and other natural events that our emergency systems could not handle. Months of planning for mediation required wisdom, adaptation took decades, and the world didn’t have models to guide them.

Casey couldn’t shake the hold of Consequential Reasoning. Had some form of Consequential Programming, such as ParaLog, thrived, end users would now be computing with constrained logic tableaus more powerful than Excel spreadsheets. Inscrutable policies could be computational objects. Serious games would flourish with social rules and resources. Empowered everyday computational thinkers would be less susceptible to surveillance , or so Casey believed.

She felt the powerful tingle of building models with Consequential Reasoning expressed in ParaLog. Those researchers’ resistance to Threat Casting suggested she had a method and experience for salvaging systems from some failures. The Pink Page Rampage displayed how the WWW vulnerability could be exploited by schisms still deranged by The Great Trickster. Her urge to program in ParaLog tugged at that chip on her shoulder from the desecration of Consequential Reasoning. And she worried that she’d outlive her retirement funds leading her into malicious or dangerous detection activities.

Could she combine all these motives into one big, fun, lucrative, socially satisfying project of her very own? Could she adapt Whisperers for Computational Snooping? or maybe she could work with Sally on defenses against Pink Page attacks? Where should she start?

She needed a proof of concept. Picking up her laptop, Casey’s fingers tapped out a few rules for the ultimate social media goal: ‘knows(_Person1, _What, _Person2)’, or ‘who knows what about whom’. Many more rules would model advertising, emotional nudging, tracking, and other necessary sins of surveillance capitalism.

Was Consequential Reasoning the means of transparency, the weapon of self-defense, the question-asker for designs, the policy enforcer, the honest intermediary that could have mitigated the Facebook fiasco revealed in 2017?

A quiet corner of her office held the configuration to begin her ParaLog experiments for computational snooping. It was time to “make her hands dirty”, as once advised by her favorite boss.

Casey had downloaded an interpreter from the now aging ParaLog
.ca web site, offered by a Canadian source she considered trustworthy and unlikely to be tracking her. The language system installed easily on her desktop computer. Up came a shell window, white background and green bordered, with the prompt “ParaLog:Cassandra>>”. She had tested it with a few facts of ‘X-knows-Y’ with the abstract goal asking “Does X know Y?” and got the correct true, false answers.

She unzipped her Whisperer wired cloth case. The Whisperer processor slipped easily into the harness usually occupied by a Raspberry Pi educational kit that helps retain her scripting skills.

Soon appeared a dark blue background, yellow-bordered Shell window — on the attached PC screen, showing only the prompt line “Whisperer:Cassandra>>”. The Whisperer processor was waiting for input.

She held her breath. If the processor ran ParaLog, it would deliver the same results when she duplicated the data and rules on her desktop computer.

This meant Casey could develop experimental ParaLog code in the white-green shell then send that code through the blue-yellow-bordered shell out into the real world of personal data and Whisperers controlled by CumuLinker.

Casey cheered out loud “Welcome back, ParaLog!”.

This discovery was awesome! Some national security agency, together with CumuLinker, had based the security of Whisperers on a fluke of history and human behavior. If few modern software engineers had been trained in, remembered, or researched the Whisperer language, then the device benefited from “security by obscurity”. The momentum of so-called object-oriented programming and also the elegant Structured Query Language had over-ruled a different dialect, ParaLog, and its paradigm, Consequential Reasoning. Moreover, since language shapes thinking, few programmer brains could be switched into the Whisperer paradigm.

The second line of defense would be CumuLinker’s ability to sniff their renegade ParaLog messages as it spied on Whisperer users’ conversations. This might violate the international treaty that regulated how the CumuLinker Trust managed billions of now called Netizens.

Casey could see herself standing on the brink of a unique programming moment, whether to snoop, how much to resist CumuLinker and how to engage again in the fun of programming.

Then she froze. Her knowledge threatened CumuLinker and its mission to protect social media ‘living data’ and provide conversational and life history insights. Would CumuLinker care? Would security agencies come after her? Could she do some good for herself or others by resuscitating ParaLog and Consequential Reasoning?

She thought, “Me, a threat? Who, little old Casey? What would Ada do?”.

Casey laughed at the biographical mentions of Ada’s habit of wagering on horses, even hocking family jewels to pay off the bets. She felt her mind meld with Ada to let the power of computation bend the trajectory of her life. She wondered if Ada even used mathematics in her betting or if Ada was just a bad judge of horse-ware.

Casey chortled her refrain: “I am the Enchantress of Whisperers. What do I do with my awesome powers?”. But now she saw a course of action: “Ready! Set! Goal!”.

Copyright Susan L. Gerhart 2018

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