A Portrait of the Virus as a Young Program


The virus is one of nature’s simplest and most successful concepts. The ability to latch onto a host and corrupt its own laws or characteristics against itself has made for the propagation of all kinds of organisms, from the lowest genomes to much larger species. It’s no surprise then that the machine code humming life into our apps and operating systems, governed by its own structure and laws, could fall victim to the same disease. John von Neumann identified the mathematical conception of a virus as early as 1949, and the same concept cultivates our modern worries of cyber warfare and self-replicating grey goos. The organic made artificial but smarter. But the artificial virus has something its organic cousin does not — purpose. Before they were keyloggers, webcam palantir, and weapons of war between nations, computer viruses were often embedded with playful or egotistical missions, spawning their own personality of sorts. They were bets between rivals or plain showmanship, outlier programs working against serious and stable systems, introducing chaos through code. A shady looking .exe, .zip, or even .jpg these days can be like a docile hive from the outside, the depths of your gullibility not evident until you open that bad boy up.

In that sense, what separates a guy like TomKTW from your everyday user is like what separates a beekeeper from a kid with a stick.

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