Are Viruses Are Good for You?

Is it the possibility of seeing your system’s gradual decay, one nagging symptom after another until one day the entire thing comes to a stop? Could it be the self-recrimination, all of the useless dwelling on how much easier things would have been if only you’d protected yourself, if only you had been more careful?

Is it that what scares you most about the virus isn’t any specific impact it could have, but only its assertive, alien existence, its intrusive otherness? Inserting itself into a complex choreography of subsystems all designed to serve your needs and execute your own will, the virus hews to its own agenda of reproduction and survival. Its oblivious self-interest violates the unity of purpose that defines your system as yours. And does it really matter if the virus in question is a biological or a digital one?

The analogy that provides computer viruses their title is apt enough to make comparing bio virusesĀ and their digital analogs an interesting proposition, but it falls short in one key respect. To put it simply, the only way to fully comprehend the phenomenon of reproducing computer programs is to take into consideration their one crucial difference from organic life forms:

They are products not of nature but of civilization, caused not by the blind workings of a world indifferent to our goals, but by the conscious effort of human beings. Why then, after a decade of coexistence with computer viruses, does our default response to them stay a mixture of bafflement and dread?

Is it that we somehow refuse to recognize in them the traces of our fellow earthlings’ shaping minds and hands? And if we can shake those hands and get familiar with these thoughts, would their creations frighten us any less?

Overcoming our fear of computer viruses could be the most significant thing we could take toward the future of information processing. Someday the Net is going to be the summation of the world’s total computing tools.

All computers will join into a chaotic digital soup where everything is connected – directly or indirectly – to everything else. This forthcoming Web of distributed resources will be tremendously powerful, and tremendously tough to exploit because of its decentralized nature.

It’ll be an ecology of computing machines, and handling it’ll need an ecological approach. A number of the most promising visions of how to coordinate with the far-flung communicating and computing cycles of the emerging platform converge on a controversial solution.

Free-ranging, self-replicating programs, autonomous Web brokers, digital organisms – whatever they’re called, there is an old fashion word for them: computer viruses. Today three different groups of heretics are creating computer viruses.

There are scientists interested in the abstract behaviors of self-replicating codes, there are programmers interested in harnessing the power of self-replicating programs.

Though they share no common experience, these heretics admire a computer virus because of its irrepressible freedom, for the self-centered autonomy, it wrests from a computer environment, and for the sudden agility with which it explores opportunities and chances.

In a nutshell, virus fans relate to the virus as a fascinating and powerful life form, whether for the fertile creation of more powerful digital devices, as an entity for research in itself, or, in the event of a single renegade coder, for reckless human expression.