Coding and Education

We are all taught to read and write at school. Our education system puts so much effort into making sure people are adequately literate so they can be effective members of society. It’s remarkable then, that in an age so driven by technology and computers, that we do so little to teach our children to program. We do teach them a bit about using computers, however it’s usually just how to use basic office applications, with maybe the slightest bit of html. I am disappointed that my young brother is completely code illiterate. Not in him, but in our education system.

We are on the cusp of the automation revolution. Soon many jobs will disappear, with employers chose to implement algorithms and smart machines in place of people. In this very different employment landscape, it is important to give our children the tools to navigate it. These tools come in the form of solid programming skills. Eventually we can expect most, if not all, jobs to be automated. At that point there will be no requirement for anyone to work to get by. However, before we get to that, we must make it through the transition. Such a transition will require a complete redesign of the way we live our lives. In the uncertainty that will come with it, our next generation need to be able to understand and build these complex automation systems, lest they risk getting left by the wayside, too late to be employed, too early for their needs to be catered to.

We can fix this by promoting coding education in our schools and communities. Technology moves so quickly that our slow education system has fallen greatly behind. We need to put the effort in now to catch back up. Perhaps part of the reason will fell behind in the first place was the cost of providing such education, though I would argue that is no longer an issue. Computers like the Raspberry Pi, and microcontroller boards like the Arduino represent a cheap hardware platform to teach programming on. The Raspberry Pi boards are incredibly cheap, requiring very little support hardware.  They are also very useful. I am writing this post on an old Raspberry Pi 2 connected to a TV. This low bar to entry means there really is no excuse not to teach programming. We just need to get on and do it.

Surveillance, Security and Democracy

Now more so than ever, we are dependent on technology. Advents like the internet and smartphones have changed the way we live our lives. With such powerful tools comes an important question. What should and shouldn’t be allowed to be done with them? This is a particularly relevant topic in the UK with a surprise general election lurking just around the corner. Prime minister Theresa May of the conservative party has vocalised a very extreme stance on the issue in the conservative manifesto. She says that Britain should be a world leader when it comes to internet and technology regulation. The conservative manifesto goes on to outline new measures the government will use to regulate and control what is done, said, seen and heard online.

This immediately has alarm bells going off in my head. All the comes in the wake of the Investigatory Powers Act in late 2016. An act that forces ISPs to keep logs of every site their customers visit so that if the government wants to know, it’ll all be ready and waiting for them. It also strong-arms companies into removing encryption on communications if the government deems the potential content of such messages important enough. This all paints a picture, not of a government that is interested in serving and protecting it’s people, but one that is obsessed with controlling and manipulating them. These proposed powers will allow the government to chose what can and can’t be said online, and will give them the ability to harshly punish those who would go against them.

I heard about the Investigatory Powers Bill in September of 2016. It had flown under the proverbial radar of the public and myself for several months at that point. Brexit acted, and still does, as the perfect smokescreen for these overreaching and authoritarian powers, with many too preoccupied with issues surrounding leaving the EU to notice. It received hardly any televised press coverage, and not much written coverage either. As a result many are oblivious to just how surveilled they really are. It is also noteworthy that the section of the conservative manifesto that mentions these new surveillance powers is right at the end of the manifesto, as to get missed or skipped over by most, who are more interested in getting the general gist of it as opposed to reading it all the way through.

These powers don’t protect us, they make us vulnerable. Putting back-doors in encryption allows malicious parties to walk right in and get at our most sensitive data. Requiring service providers to keep extensive records of every users activity online makes them a target for attackers looking to exploit that treasure trove of information. Allowing the government to see into and meddle with everything we say, do and interact with, jeopardises our freedom, privacy and democracy. Weakening cyber security won’t make us safer. Gathering unwarranted amounts of data on every individual and dictating what can and can’t be talked about won’t protect our democracy.

These proposed powers are the beginning of a dystopian, authoritarian nightmare. If we don’t put a stop to it now, it will be to late. We won’t be allowed to express these kinds of opinions. This topic will be deemed harmful, and websites will be forced to remove content like this. The government will decide what is true, and everything else will be branded ‘fake news’, and removed, will those behind it prosecuted. I don’t want to live in a country like that, and I doubt you do too. You can do something about it. Talk about it. Get others talking about it. Use your democratic power as a people to shutdown these intrusive powers and the people behind them. If you don’t do it now, you won’t get another chance.