Do No Evil

Ray Kurzweil has written a series of books ( The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence, and The Intelligent Universe: AI, ET, and the Emerging Mind of the Cosmos) in which the underlying theme is that intelligence will blossom unimaginably aided and abated by an equivalent blossoming of machine intelligence. And the arguments are compelling – the sheer momentum of Moores Law has seen an unbroken doubling of computing power every 12-16 months for the past 40 years. CPU speed and processing power is at the the core of Moores Law but also now memory capacity, disk speed and capacity, communication bandwidth, etc are all joining the CPU bandwagon over the last 20 years. And even natural physical barriers such as the speed of light in silicon, the limits to miniaturization, the natural vulnerability/randomness of atomic level processes appear to fall by the wayside to new solution sets. So the progression of computing power is now at gigaflops – billions of computer operations per second and will be at 1000 times that in 10-15 years. Ray has started to do the imagineering of what that type of computing power could bring about.

But of course the Devil is in the details.

Hardware computing power has always lead software development. And software development has not nearly kept the same relentless productivity pace of hardware development. Even software that generates software – is at best primitive, clumsy, and woefully incomplete. Read the commentary on Model Driven development.

The fundamental retardant to software emulating hardwares Moores Law is “do no evil”.

Do no evil is the famously attributed motto of Googles Larry Page and Sergei Brin. But it applies to software development in the following sense – one must suspend evil intent in the development of most complex software. Because that software, in order to be effective is granted rights and privileges that could easily disable the whole system. Think of the eval() function in JavaScript or the old fashion ability of dBase macro commands to create new commands on the fly or the privileged status of OS kernel processes.

This is the conundrum of software development. The more and deeper it delves into advanced automatic code generation; AI based modification of system goal(s), constraint(s), and/or priority(s); dynamic program changes, to say nothing of distributed processing and long transaction synchronizations – the wider it opens the Pandoras Box of unintended evil consequences.

And dont be naive.

Security experts are astonished if not overwhelmed by the number and complexity of zero day viruses, rootkit based attacks, and sophisticated dynamic hacker networks controlling hundreds of thousands of infected and now zombie-ized machines. This swiftness of incorporating the latest software technologies for ill gain has a strong parallel in the current credit crunch started in the US but now spreading worldwide. The computationally intensive and complex derivatives and other financial instruments were taken advantage of very quickly by unscrupulous financial players to dupe greedy but supposedly sophisticated financial analysts and investment bankers. The result h s been huge writedowns and losses at the banks amounting to well over a quarter of a trillion dollars and still growing. In sum, more than the Shadow knows that evil lurks and nearly instantaneously takes advantage of the latest advances in software development.

To make matters worse the battle against software evil, like that against terrorists, is asymmetrical and uneven. Most of the latest software developments are open and readily available in published dissertations, floods of journal and web articles, and often the software itself is free to try on the Internet. In contrast, hackers work in secret on malaware such as bot controllers for tens of thousands of zombies and cloaking devices that allow viruses and rootkits to mutate and stay invisible until called upon by their master controllers to launch ever more sophisticated attacks. These zero-day attacks provide the first clues that the malaware has new capabilities and attack vectors. Can you imagine if sophisticated AI algorithms are marshalled for nefarious ends? That is the problem confronting ever wider sets of software developers – they have to do due diligence to insure a)their software is not subject to commandeering attack and b)they have ways of disabling their software given that it has been modified and redirected to do evil.

So the first, obstacle to software development is thus who wish to do evil – and he constraints it places on software development. The next constraint is do no evil economically.

Do No Evil Economically

There is a recent NYTimes article on how Google is replacing Microsoft as the Computings Primary Monopoly. Of course because this is an article in the Business section, the monopoly word is never used but rather its euphemism “network effects” and what that allows a software company to achieve – dominant market share for several years (=, hint, monopoly). Here is how it is explained in the article: “Microsoft was a master practitioner of network effects, the straightforward precept in economics that the value of a product or service often goes up as more people use it. There is nothing new about the concept. It was true of railways, telephones and fax machines, for example. Microsoft, however, [acquired and] applied the power of network effects more lucratively than any company had done before it. “

In short Microsoft carefully courted journalist, reviewers, and developers to create the impression that there was a swell of buying interest around their software, often pricing or combining it with temporary specials such that large sales were guarantted. later, when competitors threatened markets they waere late to enter or wanted to dominate, Microsoft engaged in anti-competitive practices like charging zero for all of Naetscapes product line, incorporating anything it wanted into its Windows operating system killing off vendors that had at one-time been crucial to the success of early versions of DOS and Windows.

Open Source owes a good deal of its origins to the fact that Venture Capitalists refused to fund firms that would charge a purchase price for their product if it at all infringed on any Microsoft market existing or implied. Finally, Microsoft perfected the standards game: 1)race out in front of everybody else and work on software routines to set the standards – then work in the committees to get the Microsoft standards approved; 2)if you get a Microsoft standard, then add proprietary extensions which work best in Microsoft software only to get customers hooked on Redmond; and 3)if you dont get the standards then either poison the well (as in the case of the Java JVM in which Redmond insisted the contract language allowed them to maintain and distribute ad infinitum, so that the latest version of the JVM would likely not be downloaded on Windows pCs which also happened to have a 95% market share) or simply ignore the standards and do your own thing (SVG, XFORMS, PNGand JPEG2 which have had wide acceptance among the developer community for many years and have been completely ignored by Microsoft and “duplicated” by XAML, ASP FORMS, and .wmp – all proprietary technologies).

All these practices are part of what the NYTimes article describes as “direct network effects”.

However, Microsoft is not alone in striving to achieve Monopoly Share in the computing field. IBM often used equivalent practices to achieve its mainframe and minicomputer monopolies throght the mid-1960s to the late 1980s. All of the major vendors in the database field including IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, and Sybase have used variation on these techniques to try to wrest a monopoly share of the database market. It is instructive to note that onlyMySQL among some very promising database startups has been able to break into the top database companies – and its using an Open Source startegy coupled with an innovative database design based on pluggable engines. So whats wrong with a little rough and tumble Darwinian business practices?

In optimization theory the problem with monoplies is called premature local maxima. For a short period of time, this is ineed the best solution in the computing field. But in the process promising technologies starve and die out. Meanwhile the main winning technology often becomes less and less resposnive to the changing needs of the market. And given the pace of change in the computing field with Moores law creating enormous new price and performance opportunities every 4-6 years (were talking price changes of 4-16 times better) – the old local maxima is often no longer that – hence the the current move to cloud Computing to replace the Microsoft Client-other Servers allowed model. In short, Joseph Schumpeters “monopolies plant the seeds of their own destruction” is true; he just didnt warn you how slow that transition could be.

Hence, do no evil economically is just not really operative in the software development world acting as a second barrier to software ever approximating the speed of hardware development which Ray Kurzweil is almost assuming will occur at the hardware rate. 50 years, and counting and I still am waiting to have computing at my fingertips.

The Evil of Human Limitations

100 years and we still dont understand how our brains store memories. 60 years and counting and we still cant carry out a conversation with HAL. Seven plus or minus two is the average numerical memory capacity of humans for learning new sequences of numbers/characters. And yet the new 80 core CPUs will require programmers to master sequences of coding constructs that will depend on many reversible factors to determine whats best. Programmers are going to need computer assistance to code cleverly – but we have already seen the risk of that. Thus, Do No Evil will have to triumph if software is going to be able to support Spiritual Machines.

Do No Evil

Can you hear the laugh out loud humor arising out of a Googles ethical slogan of “do no evil”? One can imagine really baaaad quips like the one about the new Google Desktop error message: “Oops the program has apparently bombed again … the devil made me do it”. But think again. By going up against the US DOJ-Department of Justice in the dispute over access to private data and search functions ,unlike Microsoft Yahoo and others, Google is out to defend its mantle of “do no evil” and “we will protect the private data your use of Google services generates against misuse or misappropriation by big government and big business”. And well … Gogle really must do so.

These days ranking right up with concern for security is also worries about privacy. This of course has long been a boiling pot particularly when personal computers became popular and therefore John Q. Public began to appreciate some of the privacy considerations engendered by pervasive computing. And so boiler plate privacy statements got attached to the baffle-gab of software license agreements. The vows were renewed with the rise of the Internet as companies tried to woo online consumers and to use fill-in-the-blanks forms in exchange for some freebie beads to get a bead on potential customers. And of course a whole lowlife and underworld of adware, rootkit and keystroke cllectors have apparently gone over to the Dark Side. So a new set of Privacy statements, promises and other oaths have been made to ensure that private data and user lists would never be mis-appropriated. But of course, I as well as millions of others learned better when things like my Bell Sympatico email address started to appear routinely on junk mail and spam elicitations for services above and below the belt.

As we have discussed elswhere, Google is going to have a hard time walking the ethical line of “do no evil”. Its huge massive computing and Internet distribution factory is right now better than anything any government can do and has only a few false pretenders among the likes of eBay, Microsoft and Yahoo. Therefore Google still possesses a nearly unique ability to deliver a whole range of massive Internet-based, targetted advertising and information services. But this InfoFactory depends on Googles ability to collect massive amounts of IP and private data, and then to walk the ethical line righteously while “monetizing” those assets. In this light, the motto “Do No Evil” starts to look essential.

But there is also a Moral Malaise gripping the world. Since the Industrial Revolution, Progress has been our most important product. Nobody gets in the way of Progress. Electricity, telephone, automobile, radio, airlines, television, oral contraceptives, digital computers, nuclear power, genetic code identification, the WorldWideWeb, and soon nanotechnology, gene therapy, mood-adjusting drug treatments, stem-cell breakthroughs are among some of the technology instrumentations awaiting fullaccession to Progress.

Essentially the developed world and then their populations get to vote by consumption. This buying-into-it-based weighing of benefits and costs has been made – and Progress has been good. But not quite unadorned good. Progress has helped fuel two World Wars with an intervening Great Depression and a following Cold War. And now there is what Francis Fukuyama calls the Great Disruption – a world wide social crisis in all the developed economies as divorce rates reach near 50%, unwed mothers top 30%, distribution of wealth reverses itself in the early 1980s and has steadily gotten more inequitable as the middle class dwindles leaving the ultra-rich richer and the poor ever larger. And this is just the tip of the social unrest – developed countries are seeing such baseline norms as infant deaths increase, birth rates decline faster than death rates, crime rates take huge roller coaster rides, and personal plus national indebtedness rise inexorably.

The rise of both the Christian Moral Majority in developed country politics and Islam Fundamentalists has its roots in this Great Moral Disruption. These religious groups are taking exception not only to some of what has ben called Progress; but also some of the methods by which technologies and ideas get elevated to the status of Progress. This unease and malaise has other fundamental roots. Governments and large organizations seem unable to take on the Wicked Problems:
>Unbridled population growth adding ever more consumers to a fast dwindling reserve base in oil, gas, and other instrumental resources.
>Sporadic outbreaks of Holocausts and Ethnic cleansings like the 2M or more killed in Cambodia or nearly 1M in Rwanda and how many to be in Darfur?
>Continued raiding of the Commons such as Air Pollution, WaterSource damage and local overconsumption, devastation of fish, wildlife and forests.
>Continued massively inequitable access to medicine and health care in both developed and under-developed countries.
>How to efectively handle massive yet illegal immigration – as cheap transportation and porous borders make social, economic and cultural problems worldwide.
So to be visibly endeavoring to “Do No Evil” cannot fail to garner Google-with-the-$100B ambitions some modicum of favor among the Moral Majorities.

Finally, the big convincing argument is that your number one competitor on the desktop and declared to be on Web-massively-deliverables is Microsoft. Now Microsoft is variously known as The Borg, the Pariah Partner, and the Prince of Machiavellian Machinations among other printable epithets. Also Bill Saint Gates has his foundation and PR working-millions-of-dollars-massively-overtime to reverse these perceptions. But in the long run it is what Microsoft does in its markets that will really count. So far “Do No Evil” appears to be a very positive differentiator, at least among developers. It may have greater resonance in the broader IT marketplace.

(c)JBSurveyer 2006

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