Typing Test


Spawn of the devil, computer viruses may help us realize the full potential of the Net. What scares you most about getting that virus? Is it the prospect of witnessing your system's gradual decay, one nagging symptom following another until one day the whole thing comes to a halt? Is it the self-recrimination, all the useless dwelling on how much easier things would have been if only you'd protected yourself, if only you'd been more careful about whom you associated with? Or is it not, in fact, something deeper? Could it be that what scares you most about the virus is not any particular effect it might have, but simply its assertive, alien presence, its intrusive otherness? Inserting itself into a complicated choreography of subsystems all designed to serve your needs and carry out your will, the virus hews to its own agenda of survival and reproduction. Its oblivious self-interest violates the unity of purpose that defines your system as yours. The virus just isn't, well, you. Doesn't that scare you? And does it really matter whether the virus in question is a biological or an electronic one? It should, of course. The analogy that gives computer viruses their name is apt enough to make comparing bio viruses and their digital analogs an interesting proposition, but it falls short in one key respect. Simply put, the only way to fully understand the phenomenon of autonomously reproducing computer programs is to take into account their one essential difference from organic life forms: they are products not of nature but of culture, brought forth not by the blind workings of a universe indifferent to our aims, but by the conscious effort of human beings like ourselves. Why then, after a decade of coexistence with computer viruses, does our default response to them remain a mix of bafflement and dread? Can it be that we somehow refuse to recognize in them the traces of our fellow earthlings' shaping hands and minds? And if we could shake those hands and get acquainted with those minds, would their creations scare us any less? These are not idle questions. Overcoming our fear of computer viruses may be the most important step we can take toward the future of information processing. Someday the Net will be the summation of the world's total computing resources. All computers will link up into a chaotic digital soup in which everything is connected - indirectly or directly - to everything else. This coming Net of distributed resources will be tremendously powerful, and tremendously hard to harness because of its decentralized nature. It will be an ecology of computing machines, and managing it will require an ecological approach. Many of the most promising visions of how to coordinate the far-flung communication and computing cycles of this emerging platform converge on a controversial solution: the use of self-replicators that roam the Net. Free-ranging, self-replicating programs, autonomous Net agents, digital organisms - whatever they are called, there's an old fashion word for them: computer viruses. Today three very different groups of heretics are creating computer viruses. They have almost nothing to do with each other. There are scientists interested in the abstract behaviors of self-replicating codes, there are developers interested in harnessing the power of self-replicating programs, and there are unnamed renegades of the virus-writing underground. Although they share no common experience, all these heretics respect a computer virus for its irrepressible mobility, for the self-centered autonomy it wrests from a computer environment, and for the surprising agility with which it explores opportunities and possibilities. In short, virus enthusiasts relate to the virus as a fascinating and powerful life form, whether for the fertile creation of yet more powerful digital devices, as an entity for study in itself, or, in the case of one renegade coder, for reckless individual expression. Spawn of the devil, computer viruses may h