Why two kay?


    Happy New World !!!

    Reading your editorial in the Dec. 24 The Malibu Times prompts me to demystify both the cultural problem you have highlighted, as well as my own technological design work that may sound somewhat mystifying, but actually addresses these issues. Here at the Turn of the Millennium, we suddenly find that we have been Screwed. The unparalleled and exponential economic expansion opportunities represented by the Internet now stand side-beside with the extraordinary prospect of global economic melt-down triggered by the same technology industry. So Happy New World!

    I want to start by stating categorically that the global bugs, like “Y2K” which will be in the news all year, and the common susceptibility to viruses found in computers today, are not (repeat, not!) required by the laws of mathematics or by any of the principles of science. No, they are simply damn stupid errors, trivial, dumb-ass, goofy, and theoretically avoidable mistakes — but mistakes rendered virtually inevitable by the culture and economics surrounding the computer software industry as it exists in contemporary society. In other words, the industry is selling us defective products, which are now going to cost us Hundreds-of-Billions (perhaps trillions) of dollars, and may actually kill quite a few people in the process. Like the arms merchants who dominated most of the 20th Century, an enormous industrial complex is currently mass-producing our futures without the benefit of any foresight, insight or oversight.

    I was not among the first-out on the subject of the Y2K bug, since some experts have warned of it for over 30 years now, and in fact I did not begin speaking about it on television until October of 1997, when I alerted Los Angeles on the Bill Rosendahl show. And Bill Clinton was a bit slower to get it than me, telling his Cabinet they faced “unparalleled disaster” over Y2K, even on that very day in January 1998 when the Monica story broke. However, based on decades of experience with the seamy underbelly and entrails of software technology, I have for some years now been on a seemingly “quixotic” quest for a programming medium that will not turn around and kill all of us in the long run — or perhaps even in the short run.

    Remember HAL? Although merely a movie-land simulacrum of his true self as he will exist in the future, his personality as it appeared in the movie and book “2001” was the product of one of the most productive geniuses of the now-rapidly-fading 20th Century.

    Arthur C. Clarke, writing back in the 1960s foresaw a computer technology that would become so sophisticated, so human-like, that it could turn paranoid-psychotic and begin coolly murdering people. Now the irony is that to achieve this perverse result does not in reality require such penultimate sophistication as Sir Arthur projected in “2001”, but merely sufficient complication, messiness, incomprehensibility and opacity –provided it is in a technology that is sufficiently wide-spread and upon which we are dependent for the necessities of our live. That condition has now come to pass. Witness Y2K, the so-called “Year 2000 Bug” or “Millennial Error”– which is a real No-Brainer — a stupid little error, formed under relatively mild economic pressures some 35 years ago, that is now costing the US Economy an estimated $650-Billion (Wall Street’s consensus estimate), even assuming it does not set off a couple stray nukes, a global recession, or crash a 747 into Hollywood. Now supposing we all survive January 1, year [20]00 as I expect most of us will, plus the ensuing 3-to-5 horribly inconvenient years it will take to clean up the global software backlog: What then? What awaits us in terms of new, as yet undetected or unannounced, bugs and viruses?? By 2005 we will be far more deeply in the grip of a global digital fur ball that is snowballing exponentially with no foresight except for short-term profitability and monopolistic control. What evils and flubs may lurk in secret tunnels of the software culture that are more recent and devious than the milder, older generation which generated the original, simple-minded, Y2K goof?

    (Today CNN began large-scale coverage of Y2K. Only last week, the Social Security System crowed that it has successfully repaired 30,000,000 lines of computer code, and CNN reported that AT&T is now looking forward to fixing the 3000 distinct programs that run the long-distance telephone systems of half the world. Departments of the U.S. Government are now rated “A” through “F” on Y2K preparedness; some do not project being prepared until 2020!

    Businesses are rated as “compliant or non-compliant”, but in reality “compliant” means only 95% OK. Meanwhile, software containing the Y2K bug is still being mass-produced and sold in the US and around the world, and in some cases is right now being installed into crucial points in the global communication network.)

    Rather than obsessing on apocalypse now and then, I prefer to see a gigantic opportunity amid the mess of a world in which the sins of the current and old software paradigm will be glowingly exposed in terms of immediate megabuck losses and gigantic inconveniences. Herein looms an historic opportunity — indeed an historic necessity — to shift to a software technology paradigm that is lucid, manageable, consistent, published and — perhaps most importantly–one that clearly shows us the big picture of the artificial world we are now creating for ourselves. Let us try to glimpse how it can, must, shall be done — done, that is, if the world is not to be doomed to crash again and again and again. Crash, from man-made errors — bugs and virus vulnerabilities, holes and security backdoors — given the power to grow and reproduce themselves in this new artificial life form powered by ever-faster computers, and driven ever-onward by short-view economic incentives. For this purpose, I’ve convened the first annual Malibu symposium, “Radical Connectionism and the Visualization of Network Programs,” opening on the Pepperdine campus at noon on 16 January 1999 — combining ethicists, futurists and digital technologists — including keynote speakers Rabbi Dr. Benjamin Herson, Dr. Jerry Pournelle and Professor Mark Pesce, and symposium chairperson, Dr. Fiorella Terenzi.

    Happy New World!

    Francis Jeffrey