The Risks Digest

The RISKS Digest

Forum on Risks to the Public in Computers and Related Systems

ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy, Peter G. Neumann, moderator

Volume 1 Issue 16

Thursday, 26 Sep 1985


oIntellectual honesty and the SDI
Bill Anderson
o RISKy Stuff
Mike Padlipsky
o Mailer Protocol Woes
Rob Austein
o Risks in Synchronizing Network Clocks
Ann Westine for Jon Postel
o Re: Moral vs. Technological Progress
Joel Upchurch
o Risk Contingency Planning -- Computers in Mexico
Mike McLaughlin

Intellectual honesty and the SDI

18 Sep 85 15:48 EDT
Courtesy-of: minow%rex.DEC@decwrl.ARPA  (Martin Minow, DECtalk Engineering)

FROM AIList Digest       Friday, 20 Sep 1985      Volume 3 : Issue 125

At the recent IJCAI at UCLA I picked up a couple of papers at the GE
exhibit booth.  One of these,  entitled "A Tutorial on Expert Systems
for Battlefield Applications," (delivered at a meeting of the Armed
Forces Communications and Electronics Association last May) states that
"AI systems that incorporate human expertise may be the only way" to
fill the gap between availability of people and complexity of military
hardware.  In defense of this strategy the author states:

        - In contrast with humans, AI systems are good at handling the myriad
details of complex situations, such as often occur in military settings.

        - In contrast with other computational approaches that are more formal
and algorithmic, AI systems are more robust:  they are designed to deal
with problems exhibiting uncertainty, ambiguity, and inaccuracy.

I find it appalling (and frightening) that statements like this can be
presented in a technical paper to military personnel.   The author
(according to the references) has contributed widely to the AI field at
many conferences. It's simply ludicrous to state that current AI systems
are better in battlefield situations than humans.  What was the last AI
system that could drive a tank, carry on a conversation, and fix a
broken radio whilst under enemy fire?  The second comment is equally
misleading.  To  contrast "formal and algorithmic" with "robust" seems
to imply that algorithms and formal procedures are inherently not
robust.  On what is this claim based?  (There is no reference attached
to either statement.)  It sounds like a recipe for unreliable software
to me.

How can someone write this stuff?  I know, to make money.  But if this
is the kind of information that is presented to the military, and upon
which they make decisions, then how can we expect any kind of fair
assessment of the possible projects in the Strategic Computing (and
Defense) Initiatives?  How can this kind of misinformation be rebutted?

Bill Anderson

P.S. The full reference is available on request.

RISKy Stuff

20 Sep 1985 18:33:30 EDT
To:   neumann@SRI-CSL.ARPA

... I suppose I might as well succumb to temptation and offer a couple 
of comments on stuffgoneby:

The most striking omission, to my mind, in the SDI discussion is (unless I
missed spotting it) the failure to draw the parallel to SAGE.  For those who
don't remember/know, the Semi-Automated Ground Environment was the
grandfather of the big, "man-machine" system, certainly in DoD and most
probably in the field as a whole.  It was intended to allow for the
interception of manned bombers.  It is widely acknowledged to have spun off
a lot of what became the state of our art (collective art, that is-- i.e.,
what I call the computer racket).  Like SAGE, SDI is probably dealing with
the wrong threat (since things don't have to go through the air to go boom
... and since things don't even have to go boom to rack up megadeaths).
Also like SAGE, SDI might have useful spinoffs (a 20-years-younger colleague
claims to be for it because it should help get him off this planet).
Unfortunately, unlike SAGE it seems to possess a real potential for
stampeding the presumed Bad Guys into doing something ... unfortunate. 

What a good thing we Men of Science know better than to reason
from analogy, eh?

...  muted cheers, map

Mailer Protocol Woes

Rob Austein <SRA@MIT-XX.ARPA>
Fri, 20 Sep 1985 14:36 EDT
I was actually a culprit in a similar mailer lossage earlier this
week.  The whole thing actually started out when I was dialed up to XX
on a noisy connection.  Improbable as it seems (although not quite on
the order of monkeys and Shakespeare), the random line noise managed
to generate the 7 character command sequence necessary to send off my
entire mail file as a single message to a major mailing list.  All 110
pages (=281600 bytes) worth of it.  Fortunately for the network (but
unfortunately for my reputation) the list happened to be the TOPS-20
maintainers' mailing list, so the message got killed off in pretty
short order.  I have since put in a couple of safeguards into my mail
reader environment so that this particular lossage can't happen again,
but since the real culprit was transmission line noise I have been
kind of nervous about reading my mail over dialups ever since....


Risks in Synchronizing Network Clocks (RFC956 Now Available)

25 Sep 1985 09:07:47 PDT
Plucked-From: Request-For-Comments-List: ;

A new Request for Comments is now available from the Network Information
Center in the <RFC> directory at SRI-NIC.ARPA.

RFC 956:

   Title:       Algorithms for Synchronizing Network Clocks 
   Author:      D. L. Mills
   Mailbox:     Mills@USC-ISID.ARPA
   Pages:       26      
   Characters:  68868

      pathname: <RFC>RFC956.TXT

   This RFC discussed clock synchronization algorithms for the 
   ARPA-Internet community, and requests discussion and suggestions for 
   improvements.  The recent interest within the Internet community in 
   determining accurate time from a set of mutually suspicious network 
   clocks has been prompted by several occasions in which errors were 
   found in usually reliable, accurate clock servers after thunderstorms
   which disrupted their power supply.  To these sources of error should
   be added those due to malfunctioning hardware, defective software and
   operator mistakes, as well as random errors in the mechanism used to 
   set and synchronize clocks.  This report suggests a stochastic model 
   and algorithms for computing a good estimator from time-offset 
   samples measured between clocks connected via network links.  
   Included in this report are descriptions of certain experiments which
   give an indication of the effectiveness of the algorithms.  
   Distribution of this memo is unlimited.

Public access files may be copied from the <RFC> directory at 
SRI-NIC.ARPA via FTP with username ANONYMOUS and password GUEST.

   The normal method for distribution of RFCs is for interested parties 
   to copy the documents from the NIC online library using FTP.  
   Requests for special distribution should be addressed to either the 
   author of the RFC in question or to NIC@SRI-NIC.ARPA.  Unless 
   specifically noted otherwise on the RFC itself, all RFCs are for 
   unlimited distribution.

Submissions for Requests for Comments should be sent to POSTEL@USC-ISIB.ARPA.

Requests to be added to or deleted from this distribution list should be


      [I include this item in the RISKS Forum for a very obvious reason:
       one of the nastiest of all problems in distributed computer systems
       and networks is the synchronization problem.  That so many
       seemingly correct algorithms have in fact been flawed is a very
       important consideration here.  PGN]

Re: Moral vs. Technological Progress

Wednesday, 25 Sep 1985 16:27-EDT
X-From: joel@peora.UUCP (Joel Upchurch)

   >Actually  McCarthy's  original  comment  presupposes  that  moral  and
   >technological  progress  are comparable.  It is that assumption that I
   >disagree with.  Ethics and the attendant morality provide the  context
   >within  which  all activity, and in particular technological progress,
   >exists.  Morality and technology are not substitutes for  one  another
   >and  moral  progress  is  not  dependent on technology nor vice versa.
   >There is always technological progress  attendant  to  moral  progress
   >just because there is always technological progress.

I don't think that there is any such thing as an absolute moral standard.
Morality is simply a set of customs that evolves by trial and error to
improve the survival chances of the social group (family, tribe, nation
whatever).  Notice that this has has little to do individual survival and
that a moral principle, such as patriotism, may cause the individual to get

Now I think it fairly easy to see that the capacity to put group survival
ahead of self-interest is an important genetic trait and that tribes of
people that had this trait would be more likely to survive that tribes that
didn't.  That is not to say that this moral capacity doesn't vary greatly
from one person to the next or that even that it may not be more fully
realized in one person than another because of upbringing.  It is even
possible that, because of some genetic error, some people may be born
without a moral capacity, just like they might be born without arms or legs.

The point I'm trying to make is although there will always be these survival
customs we call morality, the nature of the customs is heavily dependent on
the context they evolve in.  Thus the morals of a herding society may be
greatly different from those of an agrarian one.  Even two societies in
similar contexts may evolve different moral solutions to the same problems.
This implies that if the context in which a society operates changes, then
the morals of that society will have to change too.  In recent centuries the
most important changes in the social context have been caused by technology.
Thus the morals appropriate to a agrarian society are not always appropriate
to an industrial one or those of an industrial society to a post-industrial

Moral progress means the evolution of survival customs more appropriate to
the current context.  The trouble in recent centuries has been that our
ability to evolve new technology has outstripped our capacity to evolve the
appropriate morality for it.  There is a strong tendency to stick to the
morality that one learns as a child, even if it not appropriate to the
current situation.

Our current problem is that we have a technology that supplies us with ICBMs
and a morality that includes national patriotism.  Now it is obvious to any
thinking person that this is a serious dilemma.  Some people argue that we
should adopt a new morality, more appropriate to this technology, and indeed
in the long term they are correct, although one can argue what is the most
effective moral solution to this problem.

The trouble is that moral solutions evolve slowly.  Even today much of our
morality is left over from our nomadic and agrarian heritage and has limited
relevance in our modern society.  In order to apply the long term solution,
we must first survive in the short term, and in that short term technical
band-aids, like the SDI, are appropriate.  Technology put us into this
situation and I don't see why we can't ask technology to assist us in the
solution.  To think that we can solve the problem by an overnight revolution
in human nature is wishful thinking of the most dangerous sort.

     Joel Upchurch
     Perkin-Elmer Southern Development Center
     2486 Sand Lake Road/ Orlando, Florida 32809/ (305)850-1031
     {decvax!ucf-cs, ihnp4!pesnta, vax135!petsd}!peora!joel

Risk Contingency Planning -- Computers in Mexico

Mike McLaughlin <mikemcl@nrl-csr >
Sat, 21 Sep 85 13:25:25 edt
This is not info, but a call for info.  I have no idea how bad the computer
bug has bit in Mexico, but the current news & TV coverage of the disaster
suggest that whatever computing/networking is going on must have been
affected.  If any RISKS reader knows some statistics or details about
computer usage in Mexico, and can give insights as to what happened, what
backup and alternative modes were in place, how well they worked... etc.  It
would certainly help me, and perhaps many others in planning for the
disaster that we hope never comes.  Perhaps we could discuss just what we
want to find out, and then go after the answers formally, if there are no
informal contacts on the net.  - Mike

       [This item may seem a little odd for the RISKS Forum, but when you 
        realize that Mike's Navy job involves expecting the unexpected risks 
        in computer and network usage, and planning what to do, it is indeed
        relevant.  By the way, in Mexico, as usual in times of disaster, the
        ham-radio buffs lept in to help.  Computer networks and internets
        also have a role to play.  I'm ready with my battery-operated
        portable terminal.  (This issue is being sent from DC.)  PGN]

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