Tag Archives: politics

Not Using Computers is the Hack

John Siracusa is right about electronic voting. People have been trained for years to be skeptical about computers replacing our ancient paper ballot systems. It’s sad for me to hear otherwise intelligent people spew out all the various rote reasons why we could never vote via the Internet from our own laptops or phones.

“It’ll be the end of democracy!” “Hackers will steal elections with a single click!” “Paper systems are so much harder to manipulate!” 

Nonsense, plain and simple. Like fears of Terminator style artificially intelligent machines taking over the human race and enslaving us, fears of electronic voting are just plain illogical. 

First and foremost, it’s important to understand that computers are already involved in tabulating ballots. (You don’t think we add up all the votes from all the counties in all the states with an abacus, do you?) In fact, computers are involved with every part of the vote counting except the part where we actually vote. Eventually, all the numbers from all the little polling places everywhere get fed into a computer, which then is just as easy to “hack” as any other computer. So what we’re really talking about here is the one piece of the process that isn’t already electronic.

But what about those electronic voting machines? Another argument I often hear is “Every electronic voting machine we’ve ever deployed is a piece of crap and easily hackable.” True, but that doesn’t mean a good machine couldn’t be invented. It doesn’t mean that if we put the top computer scientists into a room for a week they couldn’t come up with something a billion times better.

We invented the Atom Bomb. I think we could figure this out.

I may not understand computer security nearly as well as John Siracusa, but I don’t need that knowledge to reason that if we wanted to, we could of course invent a system that was equal to or better than our current paper voting systems in security. A system that was fully transparent, verifiable by disinterested parties, and much harder to hack than the current system. A system where, as he said, individuals could actually log in and verify that their votes were indeed counted. The technology is there. We just need the will and some time.

But will the public ever trust what they don’t understand? 

Let me ask you this: Do you understand the technology behind securing your credit card number on Amazon?

If we trust computers with our money, we can trust computers with our voting. We can cry “democracy” all we want, talk about our inalienable rights until we’re blue in the face, but at the end of the day, nothing is more sacred to people than their money. And we’re doing our banking online, with systems that are frankly subpar when it comes to security and modern standards of transparency. So getting people to trust an electronic voting system is not going to be an obstacle for long. People will distrust, then they’ll talk to friends who had great experiences with it, and then they’ll realize it’s just a hell of a lot more convenient to vote from home than to wait in line for seven hours. Game over. Give it four or five election cycles, and most of the country will come around.

Now, Siracusa rightfully wanted to avoid being political in his discussion, but there is one obvious side effect of a fully-electronic, cryptographically secure system, at least here in the United States: Increased participation. If voting were as easy as ordering something on Amazon, we’d have much higher voter turnout in this country. And much higher voter turnout is definitely not in the best interest of the people in power (and one political party in particular, though I suspect both major parties would fear it). Thus, keeping people scared of electronic voting is paramount to the continuation of the status quo. 

Ironically, many of my smart friends who are most afraid that an electronic system would be “hacked” are in fact making it easier for those they want to keep out of office stay in office longer. Keeping computers out of our electoral process is the hack. It’s a clever form of voter suppression. 

It’ll probably be a few more generations before we see any real reform in this area. That’s unfortunate, because increased convenience in voting, which would cause increased participation, would ultimately make our elected representatives more accountable. Contrary to popular belief, electronic voting would very likely boost our democratic freedoms, and thus ensure a better future for democracy. Because democracy only works when people show up. And with the current system, very few are showing up. 

MIT Student attempts to create “Truth Goggles” for the news

Imagine the possibilities, not just for news consumers but producers. Enhanced spell check for journalists! A suspicious sentence is underlined, offering more factual alternatives. Or maybe Clippy chimes in: “It looks like you’re lying to your readers!” The software could even be extended to email clients to debunk those chain letters from your crazy uncle in Florida.

via Bull beware: Truth goggles sniff out suspicious sentences in news » Nieman Journalism Lab.

I don’t want to rain on this guy’s parade or anything, but the issue here isn’t that politicians lie and journalists often get their facts wrong. It’s that most readers don’t WANT the truth.

These aren’t mistakes that need to be corrected, in other words. The product contains these lies by design.

People who support Michele Bachmann don’t care that every other sentence coming out of her mouth is a complete fabrication, or at the very least, a strong exaggeration of the truth. They want validation for their mistaken beliefs at all costs. Truth is irrelevant. She’s handing them what they want to hear, and that’s far more powerful than the truth.

We’re not educating people here. We’re indoctrinating them.

The only people who want to know about her lies are the people on the Left, who aren’t interested in the truth either, really. They simply want validation for THEIR side of the story.

We all fall victim to this, though some to a larger degree than others.

The time when journalism’s job was to dispossess us of our mistaken beliefs is long gone.  Journalism is big business. They’re selling a product, and ultimately people buy bullshit more than the truth. That’s how it goes.

Politicians know this, which is why they keep spewing out the nonsense, even though they KNOW we have the resources at our fingertips to disprove every word they say. They’re completely comfortable lying about something they said yesterday, even after someone shows them the video of them saying it. Because while there’s always someone on the other side to call them on their lies, the people on their side will never see that. Rachael Maddow could scream her head off all day about Michele Bachmann, but not a single Fox News viewer will ever know. Rush Limbaugh can spend an entire day on a single incorrect statement from President Obama, and no one reading the Nation is going to know.

So while I respect what this guy is doing technologically, thinking it’s going to change anything is sort of silly.

AT&T, T-Mobile, and monopolies • Joshua Topolsky

But that seems unrealistic. I don’t think we can have our cake and eat it too. I don’t think the carriers will work together, and I don’t think we can let 25 different carriers have 25 different spectrums — that’s ultimately bad for business and the end user. I know this is a more complicated idea that requires bigger brains than mine to be tackled, but I also know (or at least strongly feel) that it’s something that needs to happen if we’re going to move forward from a technological standpoint. We need something better, something smarter. But is there any way we can remove politics and greed from this debate and actually do what’s best for human beings for once? I don’t see that on the horizon just yet.

I couldn’t agree with this article more. The current political climate in the US is going to cripple our ability to move forward technologically. We’re in serious danger of losing our ability to innovate, mostly because of low-level infrastructure that the government isn’t stepping in to build, and companies are unwilling to fund.

A company like Apple can’t continue to make the iPad and iPhone better if our connection to the Internet remains at the same speed and limited to the same places. As I’ve told many friends many times, until I can stream a full HD movie with no stuttering wirelessly while sitting in the middle of a corn field in Iowa, the true promise of the “cloud” won’t happen. Apple can’t fix that. AT&T can’t fix that.

There are simply too many situations where people don’t have access.

Some things are too big for any company to do. The government really does need to step in on the big necessities. And the Internet is surely one of those necessities at this point.

AT&T capping desktop Internet access. Cable companies will follow.

How does AT&T defend the move? The company explains it will only impact two percent of consumers who use “a disproportionate amount of bandwidth,” and poses the caps as an alternative to throttling transfer speeds or disconnecting excessive users from the service completely. Customers will be able to check their usage with an online tool, and get notifications when they reach 65 percent, 90 percent and 100 percent of their monthly rates.

This impacts two percent of customers today. What about five years from now? Once we all start streaming all of our television and movies through the Internet at 2160p, how many gigabytes will the average user be downloading a month?

Any sort of bandwidth cap is a huge step backwards for the Internet. It’s a step towards limiting access to only those who have the means to keep paying a premium. It creates, at best, a divided highway; one wide open five-lane autobahn with no speed limit for the rich, and one congested, two-lane, pot-holed mess for everyone else.

But our useless government won’t do anything to stop it.

Who wouldn’t want to visit the Baals Center?

Harry Baals is the runaway favorite in online voting to name the new building in Fort Wayne, about 120 miles northeast of Indianapolis. But Deputy Mayor Beth Malloy said that probably won’t be enough to put the name of the city’s longest-tenured mayor on the center.

The issue is pronunciation. The former mayor pronounced his last name “balls.” His descendants have since changed it to “bales.”

Supporters said it’s unfair that the former mayor can’t be recognized simply because his name makes some people snicker. But opponents fear that naming the center after Baals would make Fort Wayne the target of late-night television jokes.

“We realize that while Harry Baals was a respected mayor, not everyone outside of Fort Wayne will know that,” Malloy said Tuesday in a statement to The Associated Press. “We wanted to pick something that would reflect our pride in our community beyond the boundaries of Fort Wayne.”

These guys are missing the point. If the former mayor’s name sparks late night jokes, that’s tons of free advertising, and a guarantee that the new building will reach a national audience. They’d be stupid NOT to name the building after him.

It never hurts to show the world that you don’t take yourself too seriously, either. I say have a little fun with it.