On the ghost in the machine

You ever wonder what your computer is thinking at any given moment? We are just one step away from creating machines that can think for themselves. The complexity of the system programming poses certain questions regarding the possible cognitive simulacra that might arise as an unintended consequence of the casual interaction of software and hardware. Programmers might claim that system performance is predictable, but anyone who has ever written code knows that their are always unexpected results of that code. Ghosts are ever present, lurking within the operative shell upon which other software function. Trying to predict the actual interactions between different programs is almost impossible. Some drivers are incompatible with different operative systems. As I watched my computer reboot this morning, waiting for it to “think” its way through of the drivers it had to load, I was struck by the similarity between it and an actual human being. Most people would say, however, that the machine will only do what it is programmed to do, but is that old saw still true? As the internal algorithms become more complex, the heuristics more non-lineal, how can programmers prevent, much less predict, possible interactions that might create ghosts in the machine. As one programmer put it, “the complexity of current software applications can be difficult to comprehend for anyone without experience in modern-day software development. Multi-tier distributed systems, applications utilizing multiple local and remote web services applications, data communications, enormous relational databases, security complexities, and sheer size of applications have all contributed to the exponential growth in software/system complexity.” (Sikdar) For now, I get random dialogue boxes that are the direct result of many of those ghosts. Boxes asking for passwords and pass phrases that the machine really doesn’t need–I just click them closed and move on. Conflicting programs, questioning software, weird heuristics, and unintended results all combine to create a sort of buggy interactive digital chaos. I’m just waiting for the day when the computer turns itself on and off, and gives itself orders, exiling its interactive human partner to analogue hell.