Security and Safety

There’s something on my mind that’s been going on for a while. Well, another something going on in y mind.
And it’s about security and/or safety and how those concepts are used today. Or how they’ve been twisted. So, let’s start with what I mean by those terms. They’re often used as synonym for each other, but I keep thinking that they’re not meant to be.

Security, as I see it – at least in the uncountable use – is a concept related to peace of mind (even the latin form securitas is about peace of mind). It means it’s something you do not have to pay attention because it cannot hurt you. I think it’s linked to avoiding accident and incident, to put the potential cause of accident away. That’s the reason we have more and more automated features in cars, like ABS or ESC, who tries to manage traction for you to not care about traction loss (and control loss). They’re meant to avoid accident. Or to significantly reduce your exposure to the risk of an accident. Those are called securities for a reason, they make you able to feel secure while you drive half a ton of metal and plastic at high speed along other people doing the same thing while hopping no-one will fail to avoid collision with each others.
Peace of mind requires to reduce or negates the perceived risks to work. You must been aware that you were exposed to risk and then to be aware of something which allow you to think that perceived risk has been acted upon and that you’re now able to stop being worried about it. Feeling secure is something deeply rooted in most of animals, it meant to have certainty about the fact that you can eat, drink, and not being killed by something while your asleep. It means taking step to ensure that you’ll have that tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that, until your death.
Security is being addressed in our communities by laws and regulations. Whether they’re explicit or implicit doesn’t really matters. They’re made to ensure that, at the end of the day, all member of the community can stop thinking about the daily threats they’re facing daily. Security implies rules which purpose is to control behaviors that the community perceive as an existential risk, it also implies active measure to protect one self from them which leads to either individual arming themselves to defend themselves, or giving this power to a group of people devoted to maintain security and to control behavior. And this group of people must display that the rules are enforced, because if they’re not, then they’re not devices for peace of mind. To elaborate more on this, there’s whole segment of philosophy dedicated to it (Foucault’s “Surveiller et punir” being one of them, but 1984 by Orwell or Best of Worlds by Huxley do address this).

Safety is, on the other end, everything that exist to reduce harm done. It’s the plan B, it’s what happens when shit finally hit the fan. To stay on the car analogy, safety are safety belts and airbags. They exists only because there’s a risk of accident that have not been nullified by security measures (laws and regulations). And that is why self-driving cars is such a hard problem to solve, because you can’t have a null risk’s probability.
Safety is what allows Security measures to fail without doing much harm to everyone. It’s not really peace of mind systems, because they only exists because you’re exposed to a risk. When you put a helmet on before riding through whatever traffic with your bike, you become aware of the risks you take, and you try to reduce the harm you’ll suffer when someone you’ll eventually be thrown on the ground in the middle of a street because someone didn’t looked before opening their car door. Safety is knowing that if someone enter your house while you’re in it, you’ll have a place and space to recover and people to provides you what you’re missing.
Safety is not about control of behavior, it is about caring for others. Is is not peace of mind but it is acknowledging that you cannot achieve perfect security, and that you need to accept some harm. It is about recovering, learning, growing up.

Why do I talk about this? Because I hear a lot about (cyber)security, and not about (cyber)safety. Security being about perceived risk, and applying behavior control in a way that will be perceived as a reduction of this risk, leads to the current regime of mass-surveillance we live under.
I’ve red a Story about Jessica a while back. And I think it address the fact that we do not have (cyber)safety, that the infosec community have no clue about safety and what it means. The security focused industry means more surveillance (logging) and behavior control (don’t click on links, upgrade, choose a stronger password, don’t publish your key, and many of the do and don’t prevalent in the infosec community).
In computer science, the safety of the software an entity have to manage is, however, quite pregnant. You’ll have backup of the data, backups of the infrastructure, disaster recovery plans, etc. But this is only about the safety of the software. It is not about safety of users or the people who maintain it. If you cannot achieve software security for your company, you’ll probably end up fired at some point. All the on-calls procedures are just means of maintaining a software in a safe state (alive and running, or at least partly running after a crash).
However, users of the software are not protected by those technical safety solution. What will happens when users data will be leaked? What steps are you taking to reduce the arm being done to them? You must be able to answer this question. It could be providing legal counseling, or collaborating with law enforcement (not that I’m a big fan of cops). It could be being proactive and warn them as soon as you find out something bad happened to their data, and try to provide them assistance in recovering access to your software for instance.

Holistic security goes a deep further into control. It is based on the fact that achieving full security requires you to have a specific mindset, and that you must take care of you in order to achieve security. I find it interesting to link way of life to exposure to perceived risks. If you sleep well, you’ll be better at security. Too bad you suffer from depression and insomnia, meaning your last good night sleep was ten days ago, and it was drug induced. Holistic security tends to be, form my point of view, ableist. If you’re not emotionally, physically and socially fit, you can’t hope for security. You cannot get your mind of all the stuff that’s forbidding you to achieve security. It is, in the long run, blaming the victim. You didn’t took care of you, ergo your security has been breached.
I’m not saying that we must get rid of security. It is important to reduce risk exposure. But it has a cost: surveillance and behavior control. I’m saying that we must focus more on safety, on what happens when the cops gt you during a protest with your unlocked phone (or they unlock it using your face). What harm will you be facing when someone is black mailing you over the nudes you got in your Direct Message – or stored on your computer.
This is the question asked in the stroy about Jessica. And I didn’t find a lot of answer since this been published. Facebook tries to help with revenge porn, and there’s a lot of things being done here (go have a look at what BADASSis doing for instance. And this is an issue where technology can’t save you (it is, again, something that provide surveillance and control behavior). Safety means there’s something to take care of people and to help them to recover. It means about caring about people (not software, their just maths, they can’t be in pain), it means trying to make everyone life better (and not easier). For instance, Code of Conducts are security measures. And they’re important because they allow people coming to your community to know that they’re not at risks. Until you do not enforce your own Code of Conduct for instance.
Having a post-harassment process to help the victims, and the harasser (yes, I mean that), to understand what happened, to document it, and to provide support for the victim is safety. That is what safe space should be about. Not space where you won’t be hurt, but space where, when it happens, you’re allowed to take less harm than if you were alone. It is also a space where you’ll be told something you’ve done did hurt someone – not that you broke a rule. It is a space where people will address your behavior and helps you to stop it, not by expelling you, but by a process. It can mean that, for sometime, you cannot come in certain places. It depends on how your community provides safety.

Safety is feeling welcome, feeling belonging to something, knowing that you can make mistakes, own them, and grow out of them. It is not something you can code in your software and, in fact, a lot of the time, your software works against safety.
If your data collection algorithm can be used by cops to identify perpetrators of a crime, it can also allow anti-gay bigots to identify gay people in their surrounding. It can be used by an abusive husband to identify where’s the woman he lived with as fled. It can be used by adults to expose teenagers sexting each others. It can be used to locate where a camgirl lives to stalk her.

And what’s the perceived risks you’re collection of data is protecting users against? You have to wonder if people can conduct drug traffic or do sex wok using your software, and if, by using your data collecting software, they put themselves at risk if you cooperate with cops. Security, in this case, would be to not use your data collecting software. If you value the possibility for law enforcement community to identify sex workers more than you value their safety, it means that you’ve got a political motivation for keeping several years of activity logs.

Keeping data about people is collaborating with cops, harassers and stalkers. It is not about safety of your users, it is about security and control. If you want to do cyberSafety, then it must be impossible for cops to identify anyone with the data you got. It means that you must not be able to identify formally your users. It also means that you must not do ad tracking. It means that the well being of your users is important for you, whatever they do in their life, whoever they are.
Stop logging, start caring.

C10H12N2O

It’s been a while. I mean, my last posts are translations of things I wrote on LQDN website. Since the last post, there’s been some changes (for instance, I finally installed something a little cleaner for people to read here without having too much to do on my side (yes, it means it’s an extremely basic wordpress).

Also I did burn out. And I do not think those word does even starts to explain what it’s been like. It’s not my first burn out. In fact I’ve got one at each places I worked, whether it’s a public administration, a big company, a startup or an association. It’s a constant in my life. I get a new job, and then I burn out.

It’s not sane *insert sarcasm and captain obvious related meme here*. But still, it happened to me at each job I took. Even if it’s for an association. I could say that it’s inherently linked to my professional specialization, but I’ve been working anywhere between an RJ45 cable and a chair. I’ve done architectural systems, Level 1 to 3 helpdesk, tutoring, devops, writing software, writing about technology and society, talked to a lot of different people abut technology, tailored databases, modeled applications. So, either it’s an issue with a whole industry (there’s some issue yeah, nut they’re systemic and related to capitalism), or it’s an issue with me.

Which brings me to this. I’m not sure I want to write more about the way hackers tends to think of themselves as  a Turing machine, but we’re not. Turing machine allows for extremely fast computations and near instant and perfect recall function, while our brains suck at it, but allow us to have insights. But I’ll keep this for another day.

I want to talk about transhumanism. And depression. For two reasons. First, is that I’m sick. I’ve got a severe depression disorder, among other mental health issues – and there’s a 7% probability that this sickness will kill me. Probably a bit more, because my others conditions will raise this (I’ve  been diagnosed with ADD and HQI, and I suspect I’m also borderline but it’s hard to diagnose while depressed so I’ll probably never know).

What transhumanism have to do with depression ? Science. Transhumanism is looking for ways to go beyond our humanities. Nietzche developed the Übermensch figures for it, but basically it’s the same. It’s a concept that transcend morality, as a tool used to divide the self into a good and a bad part (vices and vertues), and opposes nihilism, which states that this life – this world – is useless, since the only important thing is what’s after, becoming a Saint or mythological Hero.

Depression, and a lot of others mental illness, is tied to our experience with society (but this alone is not the only reason for depression, it seems there’s biologic and environmental factors too), it’s tied to stress, which is – basically – failures at communicating something to others or too understand what’s happening. We all faces stress, in different amount, and we probably all have ways to cope with it.

The thing with depression is that your train of thought is hijacked by existential crisis. It’s being in a perpetual state of fight or flight. It’s being unable to handle even the smallest emotion. People says that I’ve got a bad impulse control. It might be true. I’ve always got burst of rage which led me to, for instance, throw a desk at someone in elementary school. Because they cheated at a game. But now I have a way better impulse control. I’ll clamp my fists and probably get outside to walk and hit a wall until physical pain kills the anger. Yes, it explains some scars on my hand.

It requires all my energy, which does not allow me to build happiness. Every single day I wake up, doesn’t recognize me in a mirror, and go through the day while thinking about killing myself. Those are the good days. The worst one is me having daydream, with an excellent precision, of me hitting someone skull repeatedly with a metal bar or whatever I can get my hands on until my rage leaves me. I’ll usually manage to walk away (and yes, it happens regularly, to a point I’m now good at anticipating that and living a place before I end up stuck in a bar fight), pushing those impulse down inside until I can let go without putting anyone at risk. It’s not the impulse control which sucks, it’s the mood systems which are fucked up. And it scares me.

I’ve spend most of my life with this depression. It took me a while, and a lot of drugs, to be able to remember a chronology of episodes. For a while, I’ve pinned it down to my father incarceration, but I think it started before that.  But I know that at least since August ’97 I’ve got depression episodes of different magnitude. We’re in 2018now, so it’s been 21 years. And I’m not 42 years old yet. So yes, it means that most of my existence as an adult have been lived through depression, and hiding it to everyone because you cannot understand what it is.

It’s also, since not a lot of people want to talks about that – especially due to some extremely toxic tropes such as “Boys don’t cry” – you can spend a lot of time wondering if you’re alone, or if everyone feels the existential dread and collapse you feel everyday. You don’t know who, likes you, have to wear a social mask to hide their pain.

Add that to a total absence of bisexuals positives representation in the mainstream medias, especially during the 90’s, or positive gay representation, then you’re quickly lost, wondering if everyone is in pain, or if it’s only you. And if it’s you, why do you feel like that? Where does it come from?

The end of the 90’s, and of the century, was also when I learned that your friends will turn on you for no reason, except the fact that they wanted to have fun at your expense. That’s what boy-scouts taught me. You can spend weekends and a lot of time in a small social cell, supposedly trying to work together, in solidarity, but as soon as the other member of your cell will see a crack in you, they’ll rush into it, blow it open and will left you out to dry.

I’ve been evacuated from a camp, in tears, in 1997. Something like 6 month after my father had been incarcerated (it doesn’t helps when the joke is about family). And probably five days after some boy kissed me for the first time. Not out of love I think, but to check if I was drunk.

It cost me a lot. I’ve always been quite introvert, I’ve basically stopped trying to be friend with people. I’ll do like anyone else, tag along and, as soon as I can, I’ll crush them to get on top of them, since this is how I’m supposed to behave, I’ll become that.

It’s also at this time that I dig a little more into Science Fiction, and especially the Cyberpunk movement. And role playing games (first game of Shadowrun was in 01). Those books, especially the neuromancer, probably helped me a lot and saved me of all the incels tropes. I was in boys only classes, not because it was a non mixity school, but because I was interested in industrial machinery and computers and society teaches us that it’s not what women should do.

The fundamental thing in the CyberPunk movement is two fold. First, there’s a globalized society which provides instantaneous access to all informations, and such information is used by global construct to force humanity in its own view. Then, the stories in CyberPunk are not about heroes, but about marginalized people, ostracized person because they did not fit into the globalized capitalist society, and about how they dwell in society, how they use their environment to augment themselves and to reach capacities beyond their reach.

CyberPunk taught me that, the way our bodies and our mind are seen, generally through the spectrum of vices and virtues, is fundamentally obtrusive of collective freedom and reinforces individualism, you need to be more virtuous and less of a sinner – the vice and virtues being the 10 commandments, the amount of things you own, or what you share on social medias doesn’t really matters. Using vices and virtues to qualify people is flawed in about all the way we can imagine.

For once, because there’s a lot of people who either don’t understand those rules, or can’t abide to them. And then because they drive people to measure themselves on a moral scale, which is neither related to their personal capacities nor to their expectations of life or their experiences.

CyberPunk movement is about existing outside of the society, outside of the narrow definition of what is human. It is questioning what’s defining us and what’s human. In those universe, there’s always people who have been augmented. Either because they needed it – an amputee can get a leg back for instance – or because they wanted it.

Most of them are stigmatized for this. They’re considered as freaks or outlaws and they’re merely tolerated because they can do jobs that no one want to do. They can do that mostly because a lot of them lives at the margin of society, out of this globalized society tightly bound by a social contract (has Hobbes defined it for instance).

And the best part is that most – if not all – of the CyberPunk stories are about the collaboration of different kinds of freak. One CyberPunk character alone can’t survive. They survive because there’s other people at the margin of society, because they have developed the skills which allows them to use what they have to do what they need. It’s the kind of thinking hackers are supposed to have, It’s the ind of thinking that makes you see a bomb in a phone battery, which can be easily detonated which a phone.

It is the kind of thinking which leads you to question identities – individual or collective ones – and to accept people as they are. CyberPunk is not about fiber optics hair or glow in the dark eyes. It’s about the questions raised by those.

What’s a mind?, what’s a body? Can one exists without the other one? Are they tied to the social contract of society? Or does the existence of a free person is enough to destroy this social contract? All those questions are what you need to find in CyberPunk movement. It’s not really about the technology, a lot of this shared information storage has been depicted in a lot of ways (cultural hallucinations, loas who possess bodies, whatever abstraction one can find), it’s about how the technology shape the society and how free individuals can go beyond the morals of the society.

Which is what leads to transhumanism. How do we transcend our humanities to coexists together on this shared amount of resources that’s our environment. Transhumanism question the notion of identity or self. It is a movement which allow us to think beyond our currents mindset and body. It allows for people who can’t communicate with other to find ways to do it which does not involve pain. It allows for people who have a broken body to go around into another one. It allows for you leaving a lot of experiences at the same time, and then integrating them back into one self.

And the thing is, to do what I just described, a lot of people thinks we need some magic nanite stuff. We don’t need that, because we already have them – at least partly. The meds I take to put my mind in a less painfull state are just that. I’m eating carefully crafted proteins made of only 4 elements (Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen and Nitrate) which are shaped in a way that would allow my brain to get out of this fight or flight state he’s in, allowing me to have a wider range of emotions and to be able to enjoy things and explores my memories without rewriting them as painful one.

And doing that changes a lot of things. I’m not used to it, I’ve never really learned how to feel or express those feelings, but now, by using a daily dose of this synthetic pharmaceutical assembly of elements, I can at least have a possibility at that, at understanding where the pain is coming from and to address it.

I’m patching a flawed consciousness processor with what it needs. I’m altering the biofeedback loop which my conscious then use to helps me makes non random choices. And this feedback loop which helps us to not walks blindly in a complex and fragile environment, this feedback loop is what makes a system a cybernetic one.

We’re not Turing machine. We’re something else. Going further implies using cognitive science- which intersect in an elegant ways with mathematics and philosophy.  There is a theory (Information Integration Theory) which defines what a conscious is, and then tries to create a system that could be support consciousness. Just dig up wikipedia or the intertubes if you need more info. But we’re far away of a sentient artificial systems, since the computation complexity required by such a daunting task is crazy. I’m not even sure that we can grasp our own mind around such a concept. Which is kind of fun in some ways.

I’m patching my thought train the same way drug users messed up with their cortical systems. In fact some effect of drug use can emulate temporarily state of depression. Some of the MDMA withdrawal do looks like a depression state. Those of you who experienced it can probably start to grasp what it means to be depressed, but you’re lucky, it stops when your organism find its balance again. MDMA have even been used in therapy before it lands in our raves party, and researcher are still trying to find out if it could helps in treating PTSD.

We’re already augmenting our minds. Either to be more productive (Ohai caffein users) because we have to, or because it’s fun and some of us wants to go beyond their normal thought systems. And those two examples illustrates perfectly the main issues which people see in transhumanism.

When you talk about transhumanism, they think of ElonMusk, Lary Page, Jeff Besos or Eric Schmidt. Multibillionaires who are killing the world trying to make an escape pods for themselves only. It’s true that a lot of the Transhumanism movement is presented as coming from Silicon Valley multi-billionaires liberals, as they wish – like old Egypt Pharaoh’s – to live for eternity, finally overcoming death, allowing them to isolate themselves in gilded sarcophagus, their agents continuing to pillage resources for the sake of (hyper)capitalism, while hopping to be buried next to their god-like masters, or to be elevated to their level.

But this is not about transhumanism. It’s a god complex, born out of the virtues/vices dichotomy which leads most of the humanity to a harsh and violent life in a cybernetics world which only uses wealth (and then promotes greed) as a feedback loop. It’s not transhumanism, it’s dehumanism. It is turning human into simple machine that will maximize the output of the system, granting the immortal hypercapitalist pharaoh more and more power upon our lives

Humans are individual. Society usually tries to bend those humans into a more abstract concept, which can be monitored and acted upon. It allows – and promotes – some variations,  but only to a certain point. The dream of an internet who would – in the end – gives individuals more information about their environment to helps them find a place in the world that would allow them to be freed from pain, has been violently destroyed by the cultural globalization promoted by western capitalists.

And refusing to fut in makes you a freak, a marginal, a danger to society. And now we have to find answers to existential questions, the same way CyberPunk characters have to. We cannot fit in this world, we can only survive at its fringe. And destroy the foundation of it from where we are. This is transhumanism, and the übermensh as theorized by Nietzsche (not the totalitarian eugenic nightmare of the nazis). It is about doing with what you have, it is about taking pleasures in our life, not feel guilt for it. It is about cooperation of different individual for them to go further in the exploration of consciousness and the unknown, not about conforming to a hierarchical caste system as all the singularitionist from the silicon valley dream of.  It is finding strength into the difference, not into uniformity.

And this is why I so much love Queer politics. Because Queer politics is about getting rid of identity, stopping using where we were born and what society forces us to be, to defines us. Or, has FM-2030 said it : “Conventional names define a person’s past: ancestry, ethnicity, nationality, religion. I am not who I was ten years ago and certainly not who I will be in twenty years.”

It is embracing individuals as they are, with what we see as flaws, and give them the capacity to experiment with themselves, to explore what it means to go beyond society and beyond identity. It is about having a space where you can take risk knowing that, in the worst case, there will be harm reduction made. It’s accepting the fact that people need a prosthetic mood system, or leg, or want to have a tail, or the tongue of a snake. Or fork their consciousness to drift into the data flowing all around us.

Transhumanism isn’t about eugenics. It is about life, about making it enjoyable. It is, at its core, anticapitalists. It is queer. Don’t let the neo-liberals uses it against you.

I think I’m done. I just hope it made sense. Kinda. It’s thing that were on my mind since a while now, now it’s there. Hope you have questions and/or comments (hey there is a comment system now :p). Have fun. Go transhumanist.