You will know computers really work when . . .

Posted: 08.31.16

Computer—what’s that?

I kinda’ grew up in the computer era, beginning with punch cards and patch panels. At the time it was exciting, the newest thing. Only super geeks could play with computers, and we (forgive the lack of humility) were not only tolerant of the arcane methods of communications, we actually took delight in them. 

The PC broke new ground by making computers and computing available to everyone—initially the enterprise, small businesses, and finally consumers. Those early adopter consumers shared the mythos of special understandings associated with computing; they were accessories to the crime, rather than fighting it. Still, it gave them an air of superiority, and pride. PCs weren’t cheap, either, in those days and thus emerged the great digital divide. 

And then Apple screwed everything up and gave the masses a simple-to-use, affordable, and comfortable computer—they called it an iPhone. They followed up with a larger-sized version of it, the iPad, and they turned the PC industry on its head. Totally wiped out the low-end, entry-level segment of the PC, and changed the UI for everything. 

Everything but one thing: security. 

As consumers and businesses and governments surrendered their lives, and in some cases their personalities, to the silicon masters, those same users became concerned about their privacy and the security of their information. What started out as college pranks to insert taunting and humorous viruses quickly morphed into malicious data-destroying attacks, and then transmorphed into thievery, blackmail, industrial espionage, and military weaponry. 

The computer industry, which now encompassed everything from smartphones, game consoles, PCs, servers, supercomputers, and automobiles to ATMs and POS systems, went on the defensive and installed locks. The locks were opened with special keys, administered through keyboards, called pass-words. Like any technology, passwords morphed, too, and took us back to the arcane language of special characters, with at least one capital letter, one number, and other mind-numbing and production-inhibiting rules. That only raised the thrill level for the smarties who knew the esoteric secrets of the inter-workings of operating systems, APIs, and communications protocols to crack those convoluted structured passwords. Attempts at fingerprint and iris security helped, but those methods were not foolproof, unhackable, or reliable. 

I keep a file with all the passwords I have. There are over 400 of them. I’m not alone or unusual. I need a password to read the New York Times, play a game, get access to my workstation that sits, and always has sat, and always will sit, in my office. I need a password for the most mundane things imaginable. 

These are major road bumps interfering with, slowing down, and sometimes totally stopping productivity. What’s the good of securing data, information, and hardware if I the user can’t get access to it? 
How is it that computers can recognize cats, automobiles, and street signs, but not me? Maybe if I painted whiskers on my face and wore pointy ears, the computer could deal more efficiently and effectively with me. Maybe computers just basically like cats and only reluctantly tolerate humans, who they see as a threat to their natural assumption of control of the world. 

Or maybe the people who build these computers and the software that makes them into computers are just too stupid, too short-sighted and unimaginative to understand what they’ve done by building such obtuse, artificial, inhuman interfaces. 

The often oblivious minions who create the portals to our own data and machines need to be forced to use those systems and use them in a situation where their lives or the life of their precious cat depended on them being able to get access. Do you think UI and security systems would change then? 

You will know when we have truly entered the age of computer-assisted living when we don’t have to enter a password. When we don’t even know we are dealing with a computer, any more than we know we are dealing with a 32-gear automatic transmission when we drive our car. So far, my car doesn’t have a password. I just get in it and drive it— what an amazing concept.