Worms

As someone that spends his working time writing code to power user interfaces, a very simple form of computer thinking (if input received here, output this there), this Hacker’s Guide to Neural Networks is perhaps a little beyond my purview. At their core neural it’s doing the same as my UI code but rather than one procedure converting input to output you have a network of them. Intelligence arises from the system. This is evident in ant colonies: Ants Swarm like Brains Think. Individual ants aren’t that smart but together they can solve problems statistically, without knowing it. This is evident to anyone that has ever played SimAnt as a kid.

That which makes a network smart can also make it vulnerable. Back in those early days of MySpace, when social networks were new and browsers a little less secure for cross-site scripting, Samy Kamkar wrote a little script for fun that would put itself on the profile page of anyone that visited his profile and write “samy is my hero” there. These kinds of exploits were used for fun and to troll people for many years prior to MySpace’s existence on old insecure message forums and community sites. We laughed. We blocked script tags. We moved on and self-policed.

On MySpace, however, the network was, for its time, very, very large and the number of signed in users was astronomical. That little script spread from account to account, exponentially. Within a day over a million users had Samy as their hero. Faults in the network led to the replication, and proliferation, of bad data. A computer virus.

When we think of our brains as a network of neurons it’s probably not all that “crazy”, as the following article states, that a virus might be making some of us dumber: A Virus Might Be Changing our Cognitive Ability (Business Insider). A lot of software is vulnerable to all sorts of exploits and the best defence, as taught in basic computer security, is to never trust the input. All input should be considered tainted until proven otherwise. Our brains are no different: The Science of Why We Don’t Believe in Science (Mother Jones).

Additional reading:

A Worm’s Mind in a LEGO Body

The Mindsuckers (National Geographic) — parasitic mind controllers.

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