Another one got caught today, it's all over the papers. "Teenager Arrested in Computer Crime Scandal", "Hacker Arrested after Bank Tampering"... Damn kids. They're all alike.
But did you, in your three-piece psychology and 1950's technobrain, ever take a look behind the eyes of the hacker? Did you ever wonder what made him tick, what forces shaped him, what may have molded him? I am a hacker, enter my world...
Mine is a world that begins with school... I'm smarter than most of the other kids, this crap they teach us bores me... Damn underachiever. They're all alike.
I'm in junior high or high school. I've listened to teachers explain for the fifteenth time how to reduce a fraction. I understand it. "No, Ms. Smith, I didn't show my work. I did it in my head..." Damn kid. Probably copied it. They're all alike.
I made a discovery today. I found a computer. Wait a second, this is cool. It does what I want it to. If it makes a mistake, it's because I screwed it up. Not because it doesn't like me... Or feels threatened by me.. Or thinks I'm a smart ass.. Or doesn't like teaching and shouldn't be here... Damn kid. All he does is play games. They're all alike.
And then it happened... a door opened to a world... rushing through the phone line like heroin through an addict's veins, an electronic pulse is sent out, a refuge from the day-to-day incompetencies is sought... a board is found. "This is it... this is where I belong..." I know everyone here... even if I've never met them, never talked to them, may never hear from them again... I know you all... Damn kid. Tying up the phone line again. They're all alike...
You bet your ass we're all alike... we've been spoon-fed baby food at school when we hungered for steak... the bits of meat that you did let slip through were pre-chewed and tasteless. We've been dominated by sadists, or ignored by the apathetic. The few that had something to teach found us willing pupils, but those few are like drops of water in the desert.
This is our world now... the world of the electron and the switch, the beauty of the baud. We make use of a service already existing without paying for what could be dirt-cheap if it wasn't run by profiteering gluttons, and you call us criminals. We explore... and you call us criminals. We seek after knowledge... and you call us criminals. We exist without skin color, without nationality, without religious bias... and you call us criminals. You build atomic bombs, you wage wars, you murder, cheat, and lie to us and try to make us believe it's for our own good, yet we're the criminals. Yes, I am a criminal. My crime is that of curiosity. My crime is that of judging people by what they say and think, not what they look like. My crime is that of outsmarting you, something that you will never forgive me for. I am a hacker, and this is my manifesto. You may stop this individual, but you can't stop us all... after all, we're all alike.
A decade before the above was written, the word "hacker" had a slightly different, more benign, meaning. Joseph Weizenbaum, an MIT computer scientist and one of the fathers of AI, wrote at some length about a certain type of individual commonly found around computing centers in his influential 1976 book Computer Power and Human Reason. This was back in the days of mainframes being the dominant machines in computing. The transition to the newer (and current) meaning of the word occurred sometime in the early 1980s, following both personal computers and computer networks starting to become widespread, roughly about the time Weizenbaum was writing or not long after.
The person Weizenbaum wrote about was exclusively male and, in a nutshell, was obsessed with programming. He could be found at the computing center twelve, fourteen, or even sixteen hours a day and seemed to have no life beyond it, living off of pizza, chinese take-out, and soda pop. While often viewed by others as being a bit weird, he was simultaneously sometimes valued for his extensive expertise in all aspects of computing that others using the center were likely to encounter.
He often had a difficult time explaining to others in simple terms exactly what he was working so diligently and constantly on, but it was usually something about more and better features for his baby, his program, which he might only be able to give a vague description of what it did and what it was for.
Well, the law of unintended consequences assures us that at some point the complexity of a computer program will become so large that adding something to it, by way of a new "feature", will screw something else up somewhere else in the program. Fixing such unforeseen bugs as they cropped up in a very quick and inelegant manner, to keep the program running rather deteorating, and with the intent of going back later and giving the matter a more thorough examination, was known as a hack, and so such a person back then was simply known as a hacker, without the negative connotations.