The Babbage Conundrum


By K. J. Hamer-Hodges, FIEE

Day by day, ever more dangerous software attacks our digital assets, harming everyday life and dooming the future happiness of cyber society. The more computers automate life, the more society is tarnished. It is the Babbage Conundrum. Faulty computer science cannot be trusted. This problem is easily solved problem, pioneered two hundred years ago when Babbage built the flawless mechanical computations of his two mechanical engines that inspired Ada Lovelace. 

Flawless computations do not suffer from human error, either accidental or deliberate. Malware and cybercrime result from computer design errors caused by John von Neumann, the Maniac, as Benjamin Labatut's biography calls him, in his rush to design the general-purpose digital computer. Alan Turing and his mentor Alonzo Church defined computer science as a bottom-up binary computer encapsulated by the top-down science of the Lambda Calculus. The lambda calculus is a formal mathematical and logical system created by Alonzo Church in the 1930s. It guided Alan Turing as he studied the concept of computability, becoming the computational engine of mathematical functions for computer science.

Babbage's Thinking Machines never suffered such errors because his machines followed the laws of mathematics and logic as perfect implementations of science. An intangible power called Virtual Reality (VR) enhanced by opaque misunderstandings called Artificial Intelligence (AI) redefines success and failure. This abstract software has endless power within cyber-society. Malware remains undetected when it matters most as programs run. Mercurial compilations of many programs fail without warning. They fail to pass the tests of time that define trusted, fully engineered designs. Software abstractions mechanize the digital world but corrupt and confuse individuals and society. 

These threats plague the waterfront of modern life. Starting with hacking and global cybercrime, problems progress to significant catastrophes. Worse still, the centralized power structure of software in cyberspace is dictatorial and, ultimately, leads to Orwellian society.

Take one crucial example. The Boeing 737 Max catastrophe. It is a classic example of computer failures. A mammoth development project hit the deck when every aircraft was grounded from March 2019 through December 2020. It was a computer science catastrophe that proved how dangerous cyber-society will become. Almost four hundred died in two tragic crashes of the brand-new design. Boeing put the excess cost of the two deadly crashes at nearly $19 billion as its first annual loss in over two decades was reported by The Guardian in 2020. This cost does not include the losses to Boing's suppliers, clients, staff, and the families who suffered personnel loss. 

Using the power of intangible software such as IA & VR, the aircraft software was redesigned to hide the bigger engine's weight and the changed center of gravity, deliberately and arrogantly taking control away from the pilots. It led to unforeseen (aerodynamic) conditions resulting in pilot incapacity and vertical dives, killing all aboard. Worse will come as the world's dependence on AI and VR increases. But this advanced software needs sound engineering. Software rides on the back of centralized operating systems and shared computer hardware. From a software perspective, this design progresses unchanged, unimproved, and dangerously outdated. The computer has no industrial engineering strength like other engineered disciplines, in the mold of biotechnologies and semiconductors inherited from the Industrial Age when Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace pioneered flawless computer science. 

The software cannot be trusted because programs must have clockwork digital integrity. Designers cannot confirm what they claim. Like Boeing's 737 MAX, abstraction cannot be proven true; too many assumptions exist. Some, like the shared hardware, are easily abused. Others, like centralization and superuser privileges, introduce unavoidable scientific mistakes. The centralized power system of first-generation computer science is a single point of failure that permanently stains the future with a medieval baronial dictatorship that corrupts and ultimately destroys a balanced, democratic cyber society.

Centralization leads cyber society in the wrong direction, from democracy to centralized dictatorship. Citizens, not privileged superusers, must take charge of cyberspace to avoid software domination. Software domination led to the Boeing 737 MAX deaths. It leads to undetected malware and unpunished cyber crimes. From data thefts and stolen intellectual property to well-known identity theft, hacking, and Cyberwar, enemies like Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea (RCINK) are at work, intent on America's downfall by speeding centralized software in cyberspace to a dictatorial end game or untrusted AI and VR. 

Trusted, industrial-strength software is vital for a world driven by AI and VR. More specifically, computers as digital machines must be engineered to detect every mistake. Fraud, forgery, malware, hacking, and centralized power cause breakdowns, enable crime, and prevent software integrity. To defend society as a democracy, software must be controlled scientifically, ultimately by distributing power to citizens, the rightful pilots of Cyber-democracy. The privileged skills and the centralized operating superuser make computers ideal partners in cyber-dictatorships already in place for RCINK. But computer science, as defined by mathematics and logic, is uniformly fair and equal for all. No centralization exists, no assumptions are needed, and no dictatorial power is built in. 

The expression a=b+c is always the same, as demonstrated by the Abacus for the past 4,000 years. The expression a*b=c is unchanged since the slide rule democratized Napier's logarithmic scale and when the first mechanical computer, Babbage's Thinking Machine, democratized mathematical machinery to allow Ada Lovelace to build software as individual error-free functions, flawlessly programmed as taught at school and university. This scientific solution was defined by the Church-Turing Thesis in 1936 but still lies dormant in the centralized, flawed binary computer. 

Indeed, the Abacus, the first industrial-strength computer from Babylon and the birth of Civilization, obeys the exact science. Likewise, the slide rule and the Thinking Machine. In each case, integrity and industrial strength are achieved by engineering the details as a fail-safe mathematical framework for abstract computations.