Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

Wh(OOP)s Apocalypse

Faced with a situation in which beheadings are being streamed over the Internet and satellite television covers the collateral damage caused by “precision” bombing, the most improbable connections between technology and terror start to make sense.My example: last week I was working through an interesting title called “Object Thinking” by David West. West is a proponent of Extreme Programming (XP), an approach to software development that eschews the traditional structured approach in favour of “emergent design” based on such techniques as stories, test-driven coding, constant refactoring, and pair programming.West believes that OOP (object-oriented programming) is essential to successful XP because it breaks down complex problems into components that are autonomous and structured according to the task they’ve been assigned. A good analogy is how the complex work of regulating traffic is achieved: traffic lights are self-contained objects (or a system of objects) that are fairly dumb and do not require knowledge of other objects in the system (cars, for example) in order for them to carry out their task effectively. They work in other words.West also insists that the object model can be applied outside of programming, to any endeavour that requires innovative and rapid solutions–indeed, one of the key thinkers in the area is Christopher Alexander, an architect whose “Notes on the Synthesis of Form” addressed city planning. Now on Sunday night BBC screened a docu-drama called “Dirty War,” about the detonation in central London of a bomb packed with radioactive material. In one scene an anti-terrorist agent uses a whiteboard to explain to his colleague (and the audience) how al-Qaeda organizes an attack. He explains that each cell has a single task (logistics, reconnaissance, or attack) and no cell is aware of the existence of any others. This provides them with flexibility and the plan with a good chance of being implemented even if some of the cells are compromised. All this seems like a text book implementation of West’s and others’ point that “distributed cooperation and communication must replace hierarchical centralized control as an organizational paradigm.” Of course, that al-Qaeda have instinctually mastered such techniques (I’m not suggesting they’ve even heard of West or any of the books he mentioned!) only adds to the paradox of the fundamentalist terrorist group, in which cell phones, hotmail accounts, and heavenly paradise for those engaged in “martyrdom operations” can coexist. This raises the disturbing prospect that the Left’s alternative to the War on Terror–improving education and raising living standards in Islamic countries–may have the unforeseen side effects. Objectively such a programme would be a Good Thing, but might it also produce more jihadists with MBAs?