Often when I write/speak about synthetic biology or the future merging of humans and technology at the biologic level, one of the primary concerns expressed by others involves the possibility of virus corruption. The fear of hackers that engineer viruses or bacteria to control humans may be a valid concern. What do you think? Is mind hacking a real threat to humans down the road once we’re “plugged in”?
A Look Back at the Alabama Virus
Computer viruses are never a positive thing. They’re malicious, and there has been a great deal of debate over them. However, the Alabama virus can be used as an interesting thought experiment. Considering that it infected computers in October 1989, using it as a point of reference is probably innocuous.
In its day, the Alabama virus infected executable DOS files. It was loaded up into memory when a user executed an infected program. Infected programs grew by 1,560 bytes. Each Friday, the virus started to mess with the file allocation tables in order to insure that infected files were run preferentially over uninfected ones. This process was dangerous, and caused people to loose files.
Interestingly enough, it had an anti-piracy message. After staying in memory for an hour, the virus would tell the user that software copies were forbidden under international law. It then displayed a PO box address located in Tuscambia, Alabama. Tuscambia actually doesn’t exist. Since the virus was probably developed in Israel, the author may have confused the spelling of Tuscumbia.
Additional infections were carried out by carefully inspecting the directory to note which files were clean. The virus attacked the program being run if there were no further files to infect. Considering this selective nature, the virus program almost seemed like a living thing. It was apparently supposed to impart a moral lesson and act on behalf of its creator. In that respect, it almost seems like the living arm of the individual who programmed it.
While it would certainly be foolish to call it a completely independently acting piece of artificial intelligence, the Alabama virus does have some aspects that make it resemble a living thing. It also may represent the dangers of letting computers act in a totally autonomous fashion.
So do we need to worry about viruses/hacking used to control robots and/or humans in the future? What are your thoughts?
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