The law of unintended consequences is up there with Murphy’s as the smuggest of its kind, but there’s no denying its talent for stripping bare our assumptions about technology.
A report in The Guardian on the OLPC (one laptop per child) programme in Africa, reckons that for all its positive effects, it will almost certainly have a big downside – it could fuel the creation of the biggest botnet on the planet.
It shouldn’t be possible with low bandwidth connections and a machine running Linux you object, but think again, say glum experts. "The first botnets were Stacheldraht, Trinoo and TFN, and were built in Linux," the article quotes Fortinet’s Guillaume Lovet as saying. "It doesn't take any bandwidth to control or make a botnet."
And long before OLPC, these factors never stopped the infamous 419 scammers of Nigeria, who will now have an open source platform on which to run their next enterprise. Looked at from this perspective, the OLPC is a Godsend. Windows is just too unreliable and expensive. Linux, by contrast, will be just lovely.
Light years away from Linux in Africa but skirting the same issue of how people actually use (or misuse) technology is a BBC report on SatNav . So common have these helpful little boxes become, and so trusting are their users, they now cause trucks to hit 2,000 bridges a year in the UK, as drivers blindly follow incorrect directions. I bet that one isn’t in the problem section of the manual.
Two amazing facts for the price of one. SatNav systems get navigation wildly wrong, so much so that they imperil driver’s lives, and the fact that a tool designed to help people see where they are going could, effectively, make them blind.
But let's not forget that unintended consequences can work in a positive direction. The Internet was meant to be a network for academics to chit-chat on, and look what happened. Of course, they would have said that about the OLPC programme and SatNav when they were first mooted. It could just be too soon to tell.