Weeknotes S6E13: Ethical code

This week I’m thinking about doing the right thing. I should assert that this new focus is divorced from any and all current events.

I like keeping my coding up, so I’ve got an alert for new issues on open-source projects written in Python. One that piqued my interest was for a supposedly ‘open-source intelligence (OSINT)’ tool called trape. It’s a total mess of code: in general I find hackers write code to solve an immediate problem, rather than the longer-term problem of maintenance, and so it would be a brilliant academic exercise in refactoring.

But it also seems like it’s just not good software. I can see that it could be used for good, as a teaching tool, but also those uses are vastly outnumbered by the ways it could be used for evil. The only thing I can compare it to at the moment is making weapons better. Better weapons in the hands of ‘good people’ – let’s not say ‘the state’ or ‘the police’ or “A well-regulated Militia” – could do good things. But those weapons will almost immediately be available to bad people, particularly when the design for those weapons is published on the internet.

I could fix it up myself locally. Fork it, correct the code, make it run, and then destroy it. It feels very…Lord of the Rings.

I feel strangely uncomfortable about the prospect – about creating something I know is destined for the rubbish bin. It seems perverse. I like to think of myself as a creative person – how could I countenance making something that I wouldn’t ever show anyone?

Ooof. Am I so starved of affection that I’d make a better weapon to impress somebody?

(By the magic of writing, you don’t know that I only sat back down to write after thinking about this for a week and talking about it with my therapist)

(Except now you do know, which should make you wonder if the aside above is really an aside or just part of a Brechtian performance in which you are forced to reckon with the artifice of what you’re experiencing)

(This narrator is a character and everything here is a lie, but since I’m not real you can’t trust what I say so decide whether it’s true or not for yourself)

No. I don’t think that’s the case, in the end. I can let it go and pass it by: it is an interesting challenge, but the fact that it’s an interesting challenge doesn’t merit the work being done. My sense of curiosity feels morally ambiguous, so I have a duty to couple it with my ethics before I start the work.

The process for recruiting my replacement ticks along. It’s an insight into the plumbing of work – the supporting stuff that happens quietly in the background and makes everything else happen. Recruiting is forcing me to recognise that I won’t be in the role forever, or even for very much longer.

I think that knowing something will end is quite scary, because what happens next will be different to what is happening now. Change is scary. I’ve seen a couple of bold people admit that they’re now worried about what’s going to happen once lockdown is lifted. We adapt quickly, and yet in a strange twist we’re utterly terrified of change happening. We are absurdly resilient little monkeys, and whatever happens we’ll adapt ourselves and get through it.

More on this as we get it.

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