More and more, the operations of our businesses, governments, and financial
institutions are controlled by information that exists only inside computer memories.
Anyone clever enough to modify this information for his own purposes can reap
substantial re wards. Even worse, a number of people who have done this and been
caught at it have managed to get away without punishment.
These facts have not been lost on criminals or would-be criminals. A recent
Stanford Research Institute study of computer abuse was based on 160 case histories,
which probably are just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. After all, we only know
about the unsuccessful crimes. How many successful ones have gone undetected is
Here are a few areas in which computer criminals have found the pickings all
Banking. All but the smallest banks now keep their accounts on computer
files. Someone who knows how to change the numbers in the files can transfer funds
at will. For instance, one programmer was caught having the computer transfer funds
from other people's accounts to his wife's checking account. Often, tradition ally
trained auditors don't know enough about the workings of computers to catch what is
taking place right under their noses.
Business. A company that uses computers extensively offers many
opportunities to both dishonest employees and clever outsiders. For instance, a thief
can have the computer ship the company's products to addresses of his own choosing.
Or he can have it issue checks to him or his confederates for imaginary supplies or
ser vices. People have been caught doing both.
Credit Cards. There is a trend toward using cards similar to credit cards to gain
access to funds through cash-dispensing terminals. Yet, in the past, organized crime
has used stolen or counterfeit credit cards to finance its operations. Banks that offer
after-hours or remote banking through cash-dispensing terminals may find
themselves unwillingly subsidizing organized crime.
Theft of Information. Much personal information about individuals is now
stored in computer files. An unauthorized person with access to this information
could use it for blackmail. Also, confidential information about a company's products
or operations can be stolen and sold to unscrupulous competitors. (One attempt at the
latter came to light when the competitor turned out to be scrupulous and turned in the
people who were trying to sell him stolen information.)
Software Theft. The software for a computer system is often more expensive
than the hardware. Yet this expensive software is all too easy to copy. Crooked
computer experts have devised a variety of tricks for getting these expensive
programs printed out, punched on cards, recorded on tape, or otherwise delivered into
their hands. This crime has even been perpetrated from remote terminals that access
the computer over the telephone.
Theft of Time-Sharing Services. When the public is given access to a system,
some members of the public often discover how to use the system in unauthorized
ways. For example, there are the "phone freakers" who avoid long distance telephone
charges by sending over their phones control signals that are identical to those used
by the telephone company.
Since time-sharing systems often are accessible to anyone who dials the right
telephone number, they are subject to the same kinds of manipulation.
Of course, most systems use account numbers and passwords to restrict access
to authorized users. But unauthorized persons have proved to be adept at obtaining
this information and using it for their own benefit. For instance, when a police
computer system was demonstrated to a school class, a precocious student noted the
access codes being used; later, all the student's teachers turned up on a list of wanted
Perfect Crimes. It's easy for computer crimes to go undetected if no one
checks up on what the computer is doing. But even if the crime is detected, the
criminal may walk away not only unpunished but with a glowing recommendation
from his former employers.
Of course, we have no statistics on crimes that go undetected. But it's
unsettling to note how many of the crimes we do know about were detected by
accident, not by systematic audits or other security procedures. The computer
criminals who have been caught may have been the victims of uncommonly bad luck.
For example, a certain keypunch operator complained of having to stay
overtime to punch extra cards. Investigation revealed that the extra cards she was
being asked to punch were for fraudulent transactions. In another case, disgruntled
employees of the thief tipped off the company that was being robbed. An undercover
narcotics agent stumbled on still another case. An employee was selling the
company's merchandise on the side and using the computer to get it shipped to the
buyers. While negotiating for LSD, the narcotics agent was offered a good deal on a
jail, computer criminals sometimes brazen it out, demanding not only that they not be
prosecuted but also that they be given good recommendations and perhaps other
benefits, such as severance pay. All too often, their demands have been met.
Why? Because company executives are afraid of the bad publicity that would
result if the public found out that their computer had been misused. They cringe at the
thought of a criminal boasting in open court of how he juggled the most confidential
records right under the noses of the company's executives, accountants, and security
staff. And so another computer criminal departs with just the recommendations he
needs to continue his exploits elsewhere.
Damaging even a single binary digit is enough to shut your computer down.
According to computer scientist Peter Bentley, if your car was as brittle as the
conventional computer, then every chipped windscreen or wheel scrape would take
your car off the road. He is part of a group developing biologically inspired
technologies at UCL. They have developed a self-repairing computer, which can
instantly recover from crashes by fixing corrupted data.
Bentley started from scratch. He says, ‘if we want a computer to behave like a
natural organism, then what would the architecture of that computer look like? I spent
several years trying to make the concept as simple as possible.’ He designed a
simulation with its own calculus, graph notation, programming language and
compiler. His PhD students worked on improvements and developed software and
biological models that show it really can survive damage. He continues, ‘we can
corrupt up to a third of a program and the computer can regenerate its code, repairing
itself and making itself work again.’
A centralized architecture will fail as soon as one component fails. Our brains
lose neurons every day but we're fine because the brain can reconfigure itself to make
use of what is left. The systemic computer does the same thing. The systemic
computer uses a pool of systems where its equivalent of instructions may be
duplicated several times.
With the traditional computer if you wanted to add numbers together it would
have a program with a single add instruction. In a systemic computer it might have
several ‘adds’ floating about, any of which might be used to perform that calculation.
It's the combination of multiple copies of instructions and data and decentralization,
plus randomness that enables the systemic computer to be robust against damage and
repair its own code.
New Programming Concept
Bentley’s team is working to improve the programming language further, and
to create software that will allow the computer to learn and adapt to new data. He
says they are constantly looking for better hardware on which to implement the
computer and would love to collaborate with industry and develop a version of this
new kind of computer for everyone.
As we increasingly depend on digital technology for every aspect of our lives,
a new smartphones app offers a window on our moods and emotions
Spike Jonze’s much-discussed movie ‘Her’, explores our emotional
relationship with our virtual helpers in the future, our interfaces with the many
different online activities we will depend on. In the future perhaps these new
interfaces may also help us understand ourselves a little better, like the forthcoming
app from the Cambridge-based ei Technologies – ei stands for ‘emotionally
The company is developing an app that will be able to identify peoples’ moods
from smartphone conversations, via the acoustics rather than the content of a
conversation. Such a technology has obvious commercial usages in a world where we
interact with computer voices for services such as banking. ‘In call centres,’ says
CEO Matt Dobson, ‘it’s about understanding how satisfied my customers are. As a
consumer you have a perception and that is driven by a modulation and tone in their
Engineer’s natural curiosity
Dobson’s background in healthcare, working for Glaxo Smith Klein and
Phillips Electronics, developed an interest in mental health where this technology
offers significant possibilities. ‘I really wanted to do something in the area of emotion
recognition and mental health,’ says Dobson. Then a friend of his in Cambridge
showed him an article, they looked at some technical papers and thought they could
build something. ‘If you look at the mental health market it is one of the biggest
needs, bigger than cancer and heart disease, yet has about a tenth of the funding.’
Dobson cites examples such as media coverage of cricketer Jonathan Trott coming
home from the Ashes tour and the CEO of Lloyds taking time off due to stress, as
examples of greater public awareness of psychological issues.
Before Dobson did an MBA at Cambridge, his primary degree was in
Mechanical Engineering at Bath – this grounding in science gave him a subtle head
start. ‘Engineering is all about natural curiosity, not being afraid to tinker and play
with stuff,’ says Dobson, ‘I am not an expert in this area but I know enough to ask the
right, smart questions and can review a research paper and get a good idea what the
limits of the possible are.’
Starting up the venture, they needed expertise in the area of speech and
language, and machine learning. So they called on Stephen Cox, a specialist in
speech recognition and Professor of Computing Science at the University of East
Anglia, who is now an adviser.
The ‘empathetic algorithm’ is based around the idea that we can differentiate
between emotions, without necessarily knowing what words mean – think of
watching TV or Films in a different language. ‘It’s about understanding what parts of
the voice communicate emotions, acoustically what features betray emotion – we use
probably 200 to 300 features in each section of speech we analyse.’ They gathered
data to train the system, which then uses statistics to pick out the most probable
emotion being expressed amongst all the other background and mechanical noise on
Soon, says Dobson, they will have a free app where the conversation we have
just had can be emotionally analysed and the users can tweet to a Twitter page. ‘It
will say “Matt had this conversation”, I can include your twitter handle in there and it
creates the dialogue between us and say “I had a happy conversation with John from
But the next step, involving a kind of emotional life-tracking is more
complicated. ‘That is quite a sophisticated piece of software,’ says Dobson. The idea
being that we will be able to cross-reference our emotional states with other bits of
our data from other parts of our day. ‘How we can use this data to basically monitor
and understand human behaviour?’ says Dobson. In monitoring, ‘people’s mental
health if they are depressed, can we understand when and why they are depressed?’
The Art of Sitting: How to sit in your ergonomic chair correctly
Correct sitting is not all about sitting up straight
Correct working posture
between your back and the seat back to help support and maintain the inward curve of
the lumbar spine.
This can easily be achieved by choosing a seat which has a forward tilt of 5°-
15° thereby ensuring your hips are slightly higher than your knees.
Poor working posture
away. Instead move it closer to the front of the desk
Avoid incorrect slouching where the angle of the pelvis rotates backwards.
This results in the loss of the inward curve in the lumbar spine, causing excessive
strain on the lumbar discs.
You can slouch if you need to in an ergonomic chair
release the whole seat and back into free float thereby allowing the user to lean back
and 'slouch correctly' whilst the chair supports the user.
You must ensure that you remain in the correct position with bottom back and
the chair back following the lumbar spine.
of the lumbar spine.
Take care with synchro mechanisms whereby the "freefloat" feature allows the
chair back to go past 90° resulting in the pelvis rotating backwards to reduce the
curve of the lumbar spine.
Physical ergonomics: the science of designing user interaction with equipment
Physical ergonomics is concerned with human anatomy, and some of the
anthropometric, physiological and bio mechanical characteristics as they relate to
design of both consumer and industrial products. Physical ergonomics is important in
the medical field, particularly to those diagnosed with physiological ailments or
disorders such as arthritis (both chronic and temporary) or carpal tunnel syndrome.
Pressure that is insignificant or imperceptible to those unaffected by these disorders
may be very painful, or render a device unusable, for those who are. Many
ergonomically designed products are also used or recommended to treat or prevent
such disorders, and to treat pressure-related chronic pain.
One of the most prevalent types of work-related injuries is musculoskeletal
loss of functional capacity and work disability, but their initial diagnosis is difficult
because they are mainly based on complaints of pain and other symptoms.
year, 1.8 million U.S. workers experience WRMDs and nearly 600,000 of the injuries
are serious enough to cause workers to miss work.
cause a higher rate of worker complaints of undue strain, localized fatigue,
discomfort, or pain that does not go away after overnight rest. These types of jobs are
often those involving activities such as repetitive and forceful exertions; frequent,
heavy, or overhead lifts; awkward work positions; or use of vibrating equipment.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has found substantial
evidence that ergonomics programs can cut workers' compensation costs, increase
productivity and decrease employee turnover.
Therefore, it is important to gather
as injury and illness logs, medical records, and job analyses.
Cognitive ergonomics is concerned with mental processes, such as perception,
memory, reasoning, and motor response, as they affect interactions among humans
and other elements of a system.
(Relevant topics include mental workload,
these may relate to human-system and Human-Computer Interaction design.)
Organizational ergonomics is concerned with the optimization of socio-
technical systems, including their organizational structures, policies, and processes.
(Relevant topics include communication, crew resource management, work design,
work systems, design of working times, teamwork, participatory design, community
ergonomics, cooperative work, new work programs, virtual organizations, telework,
and quality management.)
Two thirds of employees in industrialized countries use a computer on a daily basis.
One in five interact with a computer at least 3/4 of the total work-time
. This usage of
musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). They are also known as repetitive motion disorder
(RMD), repetitive motion injury (RMI), repetitive strain injury (RSI), ergonomic
related disorder (ERD) and cumulative trauma disorder (CTD).
Though these disorders may as yet not be household terms, the patent effects of
substantial computer use reveal themselves in terms of increased morbidity and
declining productivity. In short, in the absence of ergonomic practices, employee
efficiency in the American workplace takes a substantial hit.
‘Technology is connecting us in ways never seen before in human history.
How will that change our societies, our relationships, ourselves?’
That’s the question that interests Michael Wesch. The last time
communications technology had such a wide-ranging impact was 500 years ago with
the invention of the printing press. Being able to print texts instead of writing them
by hand transformed the world. It changed the way people could communicate with
each other. Suddenly, multiple copies of books could be made quickly and easily. As
more books became available, so ideas spread much more rapidly. But what will be
the impact of digital technology, which is the most powerful connecting tool we have
Michael Wesch argues that communication is fundamental to our relationships
and so it follows that a change in the way we communicate will change those
relationships. Wesch, a university professor, explores digital communication in his
work. In particular, Wesch and his students look at social networking and other
interactive internet tools. A well-known example of such an application is YouTube.
When people create and share personal videos on YouTube, anyone anywhere can
watch it. Wesch says that this leads to some people feeling a sort of deep connection
with the entire world. But it’s not a real relationship – it’s not the same as the
connection you feel with a member of your family. In fact, as Wesch says, it’s a
relationship without any real responsibility which you can turn off at any moment. So
does it make sense to talk about a YouTube ‘community’?
Wesch himself experienced the impact of digital media when he created and
posted his own short video on YouTube. It attracted immediate attention and has
been viewed millions of times. In his video he tells us that webpages get 100 billion
hits a day and that a new blog is started every half second. He asks us to think about
the power of this technology and how we use it. What could we do with it? What is
Wesch isn’t interested in what new media was originally designed for but in
how it can be used in other ways. For example, he describes how people organise
social protests such as gathering signatures for online petitions via Facebook. He says
that he tries to make sure his students end up in control of the technology, not vice
Outside of university, in the real world, Wesch believes it’s crucial for people
greatest possible impact. ‘It’s the tragedy of our times that we are now so connected
we fail to see it. I want to believe that technology can help us see relationships and
global connections in positive new ways. It’s pretty amazing that I have this little box
sitting on my desk through which I can talk to any one of a billion people. And yet do
any of us really use it for all the potential that’s there?’