Wednesday, April 4, 2007
Computer Mayhem on Listserv
April 4, 2007 (GBN News): A mysterious series of mishaps has bedeviled the NYC Education News Yahoo Listserv in the past few days, with multiple copies of messages repeatedly clogging the e-mailboxes of listserv members. While the fault was first thought to lie with individual computers or with Yahoo itself, there is a growing concern that these occurrences may not be accidental.
Suspicion has now fallen on the Department of Education’s new $80,000,000 IBM supercomputer, ARIS (Achievement Reporting and Information System). ARIS is supposed to be used by the DOE to track students’ academic performance, but it appears that the computer’s capabilities go well beyond that narrow purpose. A marketing brochure for ARIS is entitled, “ARIS: It’s Not Just for Test Scores Any More”, and it suggests a wide range of functions including the tracking of cell phone policy violations and Snapple flavor preferences.
However, according to Computer Science Professor and systems expert Bob Lister, “For $80,000,000, there’s no way that this computer tracks only things like test scores and iced tea. I can design a database that can do that for a few thousand dollars.” Dr. Lister went on to say, “Obviously, it does a lot more than they’re saying. Heck, for that money I could get a computer system to do just about anything up to and including brewing the Chancellor’s morning coffee.”
When asked whether ARIS is capable of interfering with on-line critics of the DOE, Dr. Lister said that remains to be seen. But as he points out, “ARIS can outperform just about anything else out there. Critics will be hard pressed to question the data that ARIS spews out since they won’t have anything like it. The DOE can ‘prove’ just about anything by dazzling the public with the statistics they’ll generate. They can probably make a class of 40 look like a class of 10, and nobody will be the wiser. They won’t need to hack into a listserv to interfere with criticism.”
In a related story, Tajikistan President Emomali Rakhmon, disappointed that his appointment as NYC Schools Chancellor turned out to be an April Fools joke, has reportedly ordered an ARIS computer system from IBM. According to the Tajik news agency Avesta, he did this so as to “better compete in the global marketplace of petty despotism”.