Waiting for software and school children

I spent a few hours with colleagues at a major national laboratory earlier this week talking about national security, the role of software and school children. On the surface, they would seem to have little connection but as I drove back to the office the connections started to form. I invite you to follow along. In North America, Europe and other major economies throughout the world we spend huge sums of money in an attempt to detect and prevent national border intrusions and terrorist activities. In the process we've created a massive industry to x-ray, scan and monitor everything that moves in airports and elsewhere. In the process, we've put hundreds of thousand of people into jobs that apparently weren't needed 40 years ago, spent billions in taxes and worst of all, thrown sand into the gears of both business productivity and leisure time by a process ostensibly designed to keep us safe. We've created a huge "tax" in time and money when the real problem is to predict, detect and prevent a few "outlier" events from occurring. My question: where's the software? Isn't the promise of software to be able to predict and detect things on which we have mind-numbing amounts of data? In some respects, the situation in security is much like the situation in HPC: the hardware is constantly evolving and relatively easy to buy and software is difficult and time-consuming to write, validate and document. You were wondering where the children came in? Ah yes. While I had lunch in the lab's common dining area, two bus loads of primary school children on a field trip to the lab arrived to eat their lunch. No doubt they had spent the morning oohing and ahhing over particle accelerators and superconducting magnets. I couldn't help but think how we could get them interested in working on the software that is part of the fabric of modern society. Every time I go through the "remove coat, shoes, laptop, liquids, mobile phone and walk slowly through the scanner dance" I wonder if we in software will find a solution or if we'll have to wait for them to do it for us.


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