“We can fix that with software.”

During the late 1970s I lead Air Force operational testing of then-new F-15 fighter avionics. Frequently the representatives of MacDonnell-Douglas, the aircraft manufacturer, and Hughes Aircraft Company, designer of the radar system, responded to discovered flaws with “We can fix that with software.” Sometimes they could; sometimes they couldn’t. Often the next round of testing revealed the “fix” introduced new problems.

Fast forward four decades. Wall Street, Main Street and Pennsylvania Avenue are learning that “To err is human, but to really screw things up requires a computer.”

Welcome to the 21st century. Current revelations about Volkswagen malfeasance with automotive software promise recurrence. Soon that web-connected, camera-equipped television in your living room or your hand will surveil everything you say and do. “We can fix that with software” becomes as menacing as “we’re from the government, and we’re here to help you.”

Governments foreign and domestic already probe each other’s deepest secrets with software. Despite your best efforts and the assurance of the Great Experts, your personal, financial, medical records, where you go and who you’re with will be exposed to the world.

Ben Franklin’s adage “Three can keep a secret only if two are dead” is obsolete. We long ago lost control over the very records which are most vital and sensitive. Forget privacy. Google and Amazon already knows who you really are and can guess what you want next. Forget security. We have only the word of the NSA and China that they don’t have a spreadsheet on each of us detailed enough to facilitate either rewards or punishment. The very people you look to for protection are part of the problem. Forget Big Brother. Soon artificial intelligence software embedded in nearly every computer-controlled appliance will decide who to spy on and how deeply to delve or even to “correct” what it finds. And those who think they control where that data goes and who has access to it may be the biggest fools of all.

Building better mousetraps breeds better mice. The possibilities read like dystopian science fiction.

I have a medical appliance which sends daily reports of the frequency and conditions of its use. I just plugged it in; it found a wireless node (or whatever) and set itself up. Our car has dozens of computers. Our TVs and telephones are computers. Our washing machine updates and troubleshoots itself independently. I investigated a product on line and have since been flooded with ads for it.

What do you have in your house reporting on you? How many devices have you set updates to automatic? No matter what privacy level you set on social media, that data is being collected. If not shared. Would it matter, seeing how you have no idea who is updating it with what? What’s in your software?

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