There seems to be a prevailing current of doom and gloom in the world at the moment. If we're not waiting for swine flu to take over, then it's terrorists in the living room or pirates on the high seas.
But these threats largely leave the IT world untouched. So this week we've decided to look at the top technology threats facing society. These cover both present and future threats, and some of them are far removed from the desktop - for the moment at least.
The more powerful and pervasive technology becomes, the more dangerous it becomes as well. Every part of our lives that we hand over to an automated system increases the chances that the system will go haywire and cause chaos in our lives.
So if you're sick of the standard media scare stories, take a look at these. And then either huddle under your blankets or go out and smell the roses. These are real threats, but how we deal with them will show whether we have the maturity to make it as a species.
Iain Thomson: Cards on the table; I'm a Linux admirer. I love the compact, well crafted nature of the code and the free software model. I sneer at those who eschew Firefox and think Emacs is a work of genius. But the fact remains that for a lot of people Linux is a dangerous idea.
There are millions of IT workers who studied (reasonably) hard for their MSCE and have built their lives around the commercial software model. Then comes a Finnish bloke who throws their whole life into a spin.
Free software works, never doubt that. But commercial software pays the bills a lot faster, and there are millions of people who depend on it for their next paycheck. I fear for them sometimes, envisaging times when people will hold cardboard signs up in the streets reading 'Will debug Windows for food.'
Shaun Nichols: I believe Iain just lobbed what we sometimes refer to as a 'flame grenade'. Seeing Linux listed as a 'threat' is no doubt going to bring more than a few angry responses from the open-source community. No doubt there are many companies and developers who have made a lot of money in developing open-source software. But, like everything from a Walkman to a butter knife, there is a danger.
I'm a huge fan of projects such as Firefox and OpenOffice that have devoted followings of very talented developers, but the sheer volume of abandoned projects on sites such as SourceForge shows that, yes, sometimes the free, open project isn't really the best option. A labour of love is great, but sometimes you need a paid developer to get things done.
And then there's the problem that can arise when businesses migrate. CEOs moving to free software offering to save costs can open new risks of security breaches. If your IT staff are unfamiliar with a system, they are going to be less likely to find possible security risks that could lead to a catastrophic breach. That's not to say that companies should abandon newer, open-source systems, but they should make sure that the structure and knowledge to support the new system is in place, open-source or not.
mention- Media players
Shaun Nichols: How can a simple media player be dangerous? Look no further than the screen and you'll have your answer.
Operating most media players requires the user to look down at the screen, which then takes your attention away from things like oncoming traffic. Just as using a mobile phone while driving can cause an accident, so can navigating the menu of your media player.
Or say you're walking across the street while selecting a playlist. You may not notice that oncoming taxi and the next thing you know they're pulling shards of your hip out of the windscreen.
There's also the crime factor. When riding things like buses and trains, those white headphones on your iPod are like a big flashing sign that reads 'mug me.'
Iain Thomson: On the latter point I have an iPod but don't use the headphones not because of the fear of mugging, but because they're lousy. They have a pitiful bass response, poor sound range and leak like nobody's business – you can always tell an iPod user with the white headphones on a bus or plane because they're the one 'sharing' their music with everyone else.
But on the large point Shaun has it right. We spend far too much time with our heads down trying to find a good track and not enough time looking where we're going while using media players. It's hardly surprising that New York state planned to ban people using the things while crossing the road, although legislation seems to be going a bit far.
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