Thursday, 8 September 2011

Don't study computer science

I've been helping out with a couple of admissions outreach events lately. This has brought me into contact with a bunch of bright young minds who are hoping to read computer science at my fair institution. Many of them already fit the industry definition of the hacker - not only a competent programmer, but possessing a deep understanding of, and playful delight in, the way computers work.

But I always feel a tension when advising at these events: I want to seize the best and brightest of these students, shake them, and shout, "don't do it!" Something in me feels like a computer science degree is a terrible waste of a hacker mind.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Startups, China, and my increasing ambivalence about capitalism

I used to be all for entrepreneurship. I long took it for granted that I’d found a software startup as soon as possible after graduating. But I’ve started to worry that prolonged direct contact with the incentives of a free marketplace would either demand that I be - or worse, turn me into - someone more morally compromised than I really want to be.

The genius of a free market is that it measures the entire complexity of the world in one dimension - price. But this one dimension along which the world is measured does not precisely correspond to "good", in any human sense. It's not completely unrelated; it correlates well enough to have produced immense advances in human well-being over the last few centuries. But the invisible hand teaches to the test: it optimises ruthlessly for the one thing it measures. The market is like evolution: not evil, but an extremely powerful force not quite aligned with your or my interests.

The Green Counter-Revolution

I now have a piece up at the Royal United Services Institute, a think tank, about Iran's eavesdropping on GMail, how it happened, and some international context. I even have a go at some policy implications (internet censorship: a bad thing, apparently).

It sort of grew out of Monday's post on the topic.