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I was looking at this thread where basically someone who was a rank beginner was trying to do an over ambitious project.
http://arduino.cc/forum/index.php/topic,69388.0/topicseen.html
This is normally an opportunity to scale things down and to learn. However, the project was in my opinion was potentially dangerous.
 
I am not against danger as such, and I am a great supporter of the Darwin Awards and the ethos they embrace. But this I felt was potentially dangerous to people not involved in the project. In short he wanted to implement a cruse control system for a car with very little knowledge of software programming let alone testing and fail safe design needed to make this viable and safe.

Personally I felt this crossed the line and did not feel it was ethical to help. There are other situations where it might not be ethical to help, for example how to make an arduino activated explosive device to blow up airplanes to the mundane but equally ethical "can you do my school assignment for me so I can get a good mark".

However this does worry me because I have always been a firm believer in the freedom of knowledge.

What do others think?
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However this does worry me because I have always been a firm believer in the freedom of knowledge.

What do others think?

 It is a balancing act in my opinion. I try and always warn inexperienced newcomers when asking how to interface with AC house power, that they really should back off or look for a commercial interface. However if others in the same thread go ahead and give advice I don't have a fit, I had my say, the OP was warned. And yes, freedom of expression is a fundamental right in my book, many have given their lives to make that so.

Lefty

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If you see potential hazards, you should place a warning, before you answer the question, so it has a chance of being read.  e.g. my playground article  - http://www.arduino.cc/playground/Main/EEM12L-32AKWhMonitoring - warning at the start of the article.

If someone has given a serious warning in the thread, I only redo it if I "feel between the lines" that the warning is not taken seriously.

The airplane and similar projects are very recognizable as inethical, but there might be many that are not so evident. "The grow plants project with the green lights" (growing weed?)  "Can anybody help me with my PH meter?" (synthetic drugs?) etc

While writing this I think there are several levels:

- people who intent to harm others (airplane)
- people who unintentionally can harm others (cruise control)
- people who unintentionally can harm themselves (cruise control, AC integration,  etc

IMHO these are a substantial other level than "help me with my homework" which is the primary responsibility of the student him/herself.

A good teacher knows approx what her students are capable of and she will recognize copycats, "why is he suddenly using descriptive variable names? This solution is too smart for him".
The ultimate test for students in the end is do they understand how it works?  
I have seen many students doing their graduation (been in such commitee 50+ times)  copying complete solutions from the internet, and with one simple question I could see: "Explain me how and why this solution works?"  Or  "What are the alternatives you considered for the problem and what are the arguments why you choose this one?" Or "If you could do the project over, what would you change" .... there are more of these questions to see if the student is a pro or acts like a pro or even fakes a pro.

imho students must copy as much as possible, and at the same time they must learn and understand it, to copy the right thing. Professional engineers copy 95% of the time, but they understand what they copy and are able to adapt it to the new problem.

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And yes, freedom of expression is a fundamental right in my book, many have given their lives to make that so.
True, but with every freedom comes a responsibility. With rights come obligations. And fundamental laws ..... are often incompatible with each other ....


Update --
related - Should age be a mandatory field of the profile (at least under/above 18 or so)?

my 2 cents..
Rob
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related - Should age be a mandatory field of the profile (at least under/above 18 or so)?

Only if it can be independently validated. Minors lying about their age is nothing new and predates the internet age.

Lefty


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Minors lying about their age is nothing new and predates the internet age.
Ok, but at least I can be more careful for those not lying about their age ...

BTW, one of the best warnings I saw was "don't catch a falling soldering iron" smiley
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BTW, one of the best warnings I saw was "don't catch a falling soldering iron"

Yea, heard that one, usually accompanied with "don't solder while wearing shorts"

I've done both and considered it a rite of passage kind of thing.

"My favorite programming language is solder"

Lefty
 
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@Grumpy_Mike, I liked your replies in that thread. I have pondered the "over-ambitious-project" inquiries that come up from time to time, but hadn't specifically considered the danger aspect; the thread in question of course had both attributes. On occasion I've made comments about starting small, breaking the project into pieces, etc. Other times I just shake my head and move to the next thread.

I enjoy helping folks out and sharing knowledge, but I don't think there's anything wrong with (a) doing nothing, after all there's no requirement to give advice, or (b) giving a warning as you did.  If there's that little doubt in the back of my head that says, something just might go seriously wrong here, then I wouldn't hesitate to point that out in lieu of helping to advance the project.
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Meant to add, we're probably not breaking new ground here. I'm not a radio amateur, but I knew some years ago. Some of those folks would build 1KW transmitters and such, high voltage and high power. Not sure how much of that goes on these days. @KE7GKP, do you frequent any ham forums? Surely they must have similar issues, wondering if they have any guidelines or recommendations in such cases.

Of course the hams have the added dimension of staying legal, with regard to power, harmonics, etc. Not sure which is worse, electrocuting yourself or crossing the FCC  smiley-lol
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One of my very first posts to this forum (well, the old forum) was about someone who wanted to homebrew a fuel level sensor for a gas tank in a car; I remember strongly urging them not to play around with such a thing, because of the possibilities of a gas-vapor ignition, possible insurance issues, etc. They chewed me out for being overly cautious. I just didn't want them to become a burn victim.

I'm pretty much with you, GM, on this - if it is something that I think the poster has no sense doing until they have much more knowledge, then I would say the same thing you did. That thread was not a beginner's project. Unless the poster wasn't telling us something (like, maybe they were a beginner with the Arduino, but had 10 years of PIC interfacing and coding experience, for instance) - they shouldn't be attempting a cruise control system (at least not for a full-size automobile).

I'm always pushing for safety systems and failsafes for people building larger-scale robotics projects, too. I'm sure some of them think I am being over-cautious. I know I'm not - that is the kind of system you design and build in first, not later, because like all security systems it has to be put in at the lowest level, before the rest of the code - otherwise it becomes a band-aid solution that can easily fail (whether it is a small embedded system, or a large many-100K line online transactional system). Too often I have seen the latter done, though, rather than the former - because the former was either boring, or (more often than not) it would take up a lot of time and cost a lot of money for the project (only to find later, after something got hacked or whatnot, that it was needed - and then it took 4x the amount of time to implement the band-aid solution after the fact, and it never works right properly then anyhow because all the holes couldn't be found).

Not quite the same (certainly not on the level of a "moral question") - but I often waffle on whether I should give help to someone who (it is obvious with their question, generally) hasn't even taken the time to type a few keywords into google. Someone the other day had a question about how to get the Arduino to talk to a Vex ultrasonic sensor. I first wrote out a reply with links, asking why they didn't bother going to google (as I use three keywords, and the first link that came up went to a Vex forum that explained how to do it) - then I started to re-write the answer without giving the links - then I just gave up and didn't post anything at all?

Should I have posted something? I don't know; how is it that I can simply type these simple three words into google (all three words were easy to figure out) and find the answer on the first link - but this poster had problems doing that? Did these people, back in the day, just walk around libraries going "hurr durr" and harassing the librarian on how to use the card catalog? I suspect they did. Now, granted, card catalogs (how I miss them sometimes) weren't super intuitive, but they weren't nightmares, either. They certainly weren't google, though. Google is far and above easier. Type your keywords in, get a response! Why is this so darn difficult for people to do?

/end rant smiley
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One other thing:

There's another thread out there that just makes me shake my head - somebody looking to replicate the hacking of a PC system using a computer mouse and such to inject code into the system. I don't know the moral implications of this (for the sheer value of learning how to do it - I have no problem with - but if there is a reason to do so to cause harm or otherwise take over a system - that's where it gets murky, of course). I guess what I didn't like about it was that the idea was completely laid out (heck, I bet if you dug a little, you could even find the code used); it didn't look like something that would be terribly difficult to replicate. But it seemed like the OP wanted a complete blueprint, akin to a solder-by-number kit/plan; where's the "hacker spirit" in that? That won't teach him/her anything about the project, about how to apply the know how. I just had this feeling that they were going to put the thing together, and brag with it - or worse, attempt to "hack" a system (that wasn't their own) with it. I wasn't going to encourage that (if that is what they were really after, then I say they should do the research and learning to do that, and win or fail on their lonesome - I'd have more respect for them for that, at least).
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@Cr0sh
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ot quite the same (certainly not on the level of a "moral question") - but I often waffle on whether I should give help to someone who (it is obvious with their question, generally) hasn't even taken the time to type a few keywords into google.
For those people there exist - http://lmgtfy.com/ -   should be on your toolbar smiley
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If we're talking about the same thread Cr0sh.. agreed.  The fact of the matter is that the link material the kid provided simply shouldn't be out there in the first place.  He didn't find help here.. but unfortunately, if he keeps looking, he may indeed find the help that he wants.  Noticed that the decent folk have stepped back lately?  CoDC..L0pHT.. etc etc etc.  People who DON'T want to wear a hat.  I would say a good percentage of the people (regulars) here have the CAPABILITY of hacking, and frequently do-- but the "good ole" kind, no hats involved.  "How does that work and how can I make it do what >> I << want want it to do?"-- the chewy nougat center of every tinkerer's soul.  Wanting to understand mainly, frequently just for the sake of "oh, I get it".  Then "hacking" by downloading IRC scripts and nonsense became popular, and the whole world of "Script Kiddies" was born.  Since then, the whole idea has been lost, it's now the fodder of TV shows and no more realistic in most cases than a given episode of Star Trek (the Kirk episodes)

Get ready, it's about to get a LOT worse.  Exponentially worse.

"War Games" has been re-written and will be soon in theatres.  Updated some, I guess-- a slightly more tech-savvy populace requires that.. which also means that concepts like a mouse code injector or remote control will be fielded I am sure, as part of plot schemes.  In all honesty, considering the nuclear stuff with Iran, I'm surprised there's not more military types as well as wannabe hackers around here, as this really is the easiest form of embedded programming IMHO.  Guaranteed.. War Games script relies heavily on embedded systems hacking..

Much like the original War Games, I am expecting that War Games may start a "wannabe" revolution, and some of those wannabes may actually stay wth it long enough to get at least as far as Arduino.  Might be a good idea to think about this in advance..

These days, there's no room for white hats.  Back in the day, there were no hats at all.  Be ready guys, I think we need to consider there is a TON of wannabe black hats coming... and consequently, there may be some very.. unsavory.. ideas floated fairly soon.

The thing is, restricting knowledge is wrong to the core.  Out of those script kiddies also comes a few people who get hooked and get past the movie script.  Become tinkerers at heart... like we have.  We can't discourage that either.  It's a tough decision when the idea of "publishing" potentially dangerous material becomes as simple as a forum post.  From all the professions represented here, I'm sure there's the technical knowledge if summed to create incredibly dangerous things (grinz..okay okay, stop it, hehehe), hopefully we've got the ethical wherewithall to be at least cautious with the most dangerous stuff..
« Last Edit: August 16, 2011, 06:43:34 am by focalist » Logged

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somebody looking to replicate the hacking of a PC system using a computer mouse and such to inject code into the system. I don't know the moral implications of this (for the sheer value of learning how to do it - I have no problem with - but if there is a reason to do so to cause harm or otherwise take over a system - that's where it gets murky, of course).

"Murky"?  Name a non-malevolent purpose for doing anything like this?

I can imagine that
1) anti-virus makers are interested in this to make PC's safer
2) device makers can autoinstall drivers on non internet connected PC's with such techniques
3) device makers can introduce new functionality, but only for owners of their mouse (customer lock-in)
True, except for 1 there exist alternatives.  And 1 doesn't need to discuss it here, they have their labs.


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Even if the OP didn't have hostile intent, you never know who will come later and read the archives.  I DO have a problem with even discussing such things in public forums. There is no net benefit to disclosing such information.
I understand your worries, but name me a thread that cannot be exploited in a bad way by an evil genius. Even this thread which doesn't show code shows that I am online, the forum shows how many posts, the level of my posts etc - which is information, that can be used for better and worse. Security is allways an uphill battle, those who are defending must fix all holes, the bad guys only need to find one.

That said, if you know a thread is bad,  you must inform the moderator so the thread AND the OP is removed (OK the ghost may have left the bottle allready) .

Maybe it is time to define moral guidelines for those on the forum:

open for additions:
1) An Arduino forum member may not injure a (human) being or, through inaction, allow a (human) being to come to harm.


footnote: An interesting reader wrt security is the newsletter of Bruce Schneider - http://www.schneier.com/crypto-gram.html - .
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@focalist
I agree it will get seriously worse, but every technology had its own criminals. Criminals don't need Arduinos to do their thing. Too complex or too less power and PC's are far more powerfull.  But their definitely will be / are baduino's among us, the cyberpunk* age has begone 30 years ago

* read William Gibson et al,
 
While writing I recalled this phrase (source unknown)
If the good people stop doing the good things because they can be used by the bad, the bad guys allready have won


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Lest we forget, these here interwebs and suchness are the offshoot of DARPA, ARPAnet to be more specific.  We've managed to beat swords into plowshares, as they say, and let's also admit it's conflict which moves technology forward the fastest.  Complacency doesn't get new toys invented.  I've always found that a sad truth about us humans.  We get most creative when we want to come up with new ways to harm each other.  Not cool.

In case anyone has forgotten, the Nobel Prize was essentially created as an apology to the planet for creating TNT...We went to the moon because the USA had to "one-up" it's enemy, USSR-  It was a military mission, always... ENIAC was a military project... Nuclear power is WWII military tech... and WWI is what really brought the world the airplane.

I personally don't want to educate someone on how to, say, make a basic explosive- but anyone who ever took organic chemistry or did a google search can circumvent that.  It's not knowledge that's evil, it's what is done with it.  For example, what if I was a model rocketry enthusiast, and someone wanted a good compound to kick off the chute ejection.  I can easily see someone posting a formula for a nitrate explosive or something of that nature in response-- but that recipe is the same whether it's mixed as a couple of grams for a chute charge or a truckload to take out a building. Go up on YouTube and you can search out How-To's on construction of dozens of incredibly dangerous compounds and devices, many of them as dangerous as military devices, if not more so.  Fact of the matter is, it would seem to me that the success of "Improvised Explosive Devices" in recent wars only underlines how easily warfare-grade munitions can be made from scraps.  I guess it's just an illusion then, but I sleep better at night not having personally shared that information with someone who might misuse it.  Almost any tool can be misused as a weapon.  Even worse, sometimes curiosity can backfire in terrible ways.. anyone remember "The Nuclear Boyscout"?  Michigan (I think) kid who tried to make a breeder reactor using Americium and Radium scraped from hundreds of smoke detectors?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Hahn

I think I just gave myself a case of the Holy Heebie Jeebies thinking about it... sheesh.

The thing is, these questions have always existed.. Imagine the chagrin of Ooog, when Ugg used his discovery, Fire, to burn down the hut of his rival..  Maybe the secret of Fire should have stayed a secret..
« Last Edit: August 16, 2011, 09:03:41 am by focalist » Logged

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