"The brain is still in beta mode"

1 minute read

I really like that quote, by computer security expert Bruce Schneier. The context, though, is sort of silly:

He told delegates at the 2007 RSA Conference that there is a gap between the reality of security and the emotional feel of security due to the way our brains have evolved. This leads to people making bad choices.
"As a species we got really good at estimating risk in an East African village 100,000 years ago. But in 2007 London? Modern times are harder."

Uhh...so it seems to me if you really believed that, you would advocate computers that properly trigger our anachronistic system of risk detection. Like maybe they could give a leopard-like screech when we choose a password of less than six letters?

Or, uhh...maybe you could just make them secure in the first place?

Still, it's interesting to see this idea about human evolution spreading around out there through the world. The "anachronistic brain":

"The brain is still in beta mode, it's got all sorts of patches and workarounds. It's not perfectly created, it's clearly evolved up."

In other words, cruft.

Schneier emphasizes our inaccurate assessments of small risks, proposing that we did much better in our "natural" habitat. I'm not so sure about that -- remember, I'm running a slow-moving series on risk. There's no particular reason to think that our assessments of ancient risks should have been accurate, since accurate risk assessment is not the same as fitness-maximizing risk assessment.

Translate that into the modern environment: Schneier seems to be claiming that the main feature of the modern risk environment is very slight, impersonal, uncontrollable risk margins. Sounds like the flip side of profit-taking opportunities. Maybe we'll evolve safer computers yet.