'Angell of Doom' takes center stage at Black Hat Briefings

LAS VEGAS — Uncertainty is a fact of life, and the only
thing we can be certain of is the unexpected, information
technology gadfly Ian Angell said in a speech today to an audience
of geeks, many of whom spend their days looking for ways to bring
order to their worlds through computers. “If you become
complacent, computers will really screw you up,” he
warned.


Angell, a professor of information systems at the London School
of Economics, made his dark statements in the opening keynote
address for the Black Hat Briefings being held here this week. The
professor, dubbed the “Angell of Doom” in his native
Britain, is a self-described contrarian.


“When I smell flowers, I think funeral,” he
said.


Angell has made a career of being skeptical about the idea that
computer technology can bring order to our lives. Computers deal
well with objective calculations, but they do not deal well with
complexity and subjective behavior, he said. Linking computers with
humans creates such complexity that even when technology works as
intended it introduces additional problems through unintended
consequences.


Technology deals with statistical norms that do not take into
account the infinite variety of the real world, Angell said.
Categorization and analysis under these circumstances strips facts
of their reality and adds uncertainty and risk to the systems they
are intended to analyze and control.


The result is a world in which problems proliferate more quickly
than solutions. This is a world in which patches and updates cannot
keep up with existing software, let alone new applications and
operating systems.


On the bright side, this means there is plenty of money to be
made producing and fixing IT, but Angell cautioned the audience not
to expect things to get better any time soon.


“Digital technology is part of the problem, not the
solution,” he said. “There is no solution, only
contingencies.”



About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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