Second SHB Workshop Liveblogging (9)
The eighth, and final, session of the SHB09 was optimistically titled “How Do We Fix the World?” I moderated, which meant that my liveblogging was more spotty, especially in the discussion section.
David Mandel, Defense Research and Development Canada (suggested reading: Applied Behavioral Science in Support of Intelligence Analysis, Radicalization: What does it mean?; The Role of Instigators in Radicalization to Violent Extremism), is part of the Thinking, Risk, and Intelligence Group at DRDC Toronto. His first observation: “Be wary of purported world-fixers.” His second observation: when you claim that something is broken, it is important to specify the respects in which it’s broken and what fixed looks like. His third observation: it is also important to analyze the consequences of any potential fix. An analysis of the way things are is perceptually based, but an analysis of the way things should be is value-based. He also presented data showing that predictions made by intelligence analysts (at least in one Canadian organization) were pretty good.
Ross Anderson, Cambridge University (suggested reading: Database State; book chapters on psychology and terror), asked “Where’s the equilibrium?” Both privacy and security are moving targets, but he expects that someday soon there will be a societal equilibrium. Incentives to price discriminate go up, and the cost to do so goes down. He gave several examples of database systems that reached very different equilibrium points, depending on corporate lobbying, political realities, public outrage, etc. He believes that privacy will be regulated, the only question being when and how. “Where will the privacy boundary end up, and why? How can we nudge it one way or another?”
Alma Whitten, Google (suggested reading: Why Johnny can’t encrypt: A usability evaluation of PGP 5.0), presented a set of ideals about privacy (very European like) and some of the engineering challenges they present. “Engineering challenge #1: How to support access and control to personal data that isn’t authenticated? Engineering challenge #2: How to inform users about both authenticated and unauthenticated data? Engineering challenge #3: How to balance giving users control over data collection versus detecting and stopping abuse? Engineering challenge #4: How to give users fine-grained control over their data without overwhelming them with options? Engineering challenge #5: How to link sequential actions while preventing them from being linkable to a person? Engineering challenge #6: How to make the benefits of aggregate data analysis apparent to users? Engineering challenge #7: How to avoid or detect inadvertent recording of data that can be linked to an individual?” (Note that Alma requested not to be recorded.)
John Mueller, Ohio State University (suggested reading: Reacting to Terrorism: Probabilities, Consequences, and the Persistence of Fear; Evaluating Measures to Protect the Homeland from Terrorism; Terrorphobia: Our False Sense of Insecurity), talked about terrorism and the Department of Homeland Security. Terrorism isn’t a threat; it’s a problem and a concern, certainly, but the word “threat” is still extreme. Al Qaeda isn’t a threat, and they’re the most serious potential attacker against the U.S. and Western Europe. And terrorists are overwhelmingly stupid. Meanwhile, the terrorism issue “has become a self-licking ice cream cone.” In other words, it’s now an ever-perpetuating government bureaucracy. There are virtually an infinite number of targets; the odds of any one target being targeted is effectively zero; terrorists pick targets largely at random; if you protect target, it makes other targets less safe; most targets are vulnerable in the physical sense, but invulnerable in the sense that they can be rebuilt relatively cheaply (even something like the Pentagon); some targets simply can’t be protected; if you’re going to protect some targets, you need to determine if they should really be protected. (I recommend his book, Overblown.)
Adam Shostack, Microsoft (his blog), pointed out that even the problem of figuring out what part of the problem to work on first is difficult. One of the issues is shame. We don’t want to talk about what’s wrong, so we can’t use that information to determine where we want to go. We make excuses—customers will flee, people will sue, stock prices will go down—even though we know that those excuses have been demonstrated to be false.
During the discussion, there was a lot of talk about the choice between informing users and bombarding them with information they can’t understand. And lots more that I couldn’t transcribe.
And that’s it. SHB09 was a fantastic workshop, filled with interesting people and interesting discussion. Next year in the other Cambridge.