Names of Power

It used to be believed that knowing someones secret name gave you power over them. Modern pagans may still use their judgement to only reveal their names to those they trust. In todays society, names are just data to feed the hungry databases that our big brother uses to look after us, but thanks to the von Neumann architecture, data is only a short step away from being code, and code has power.

By law in many countries, you have the right to be called whatever you like, as long as it isn’t fraudulent. I’m seriously considering changing my name to

Adam ”; exec sp_MSforeachtable “DROP TABLE ?”

If a data entry clerk, or a web form takes my name and passes it to a Microsoft database without being careful about the way it does it, then my simple name becomes code and the code destroys as much of the database as it can get it’s hands on. It usually won’t work. Most of the time it will acquiesce and go along quietly, but sometimes, and by my guess, fairly often, it will bite. I expect that it might lead to many interesting stories.

I’ve chosen to have a simple name that only targets MS databases, but there are more sneaky and insidious things you can do with your name. Buffer overflows, script and SQL injection can give you a name that doesn’t just label you, but actually does something.

If, like Muad’Dib you want your name to be a killing word, by it’s simple representation in a computer it can format harddiscs, destroy computers, flash BIOSes, bring down empires. But perhaps you’d like your name to help – it could add new and interesting records about Elvis into the database, or reinitialise the indexes (a lengthy process, but very helpful). It could notify you by SMS any time someone looks at your records, or changes your credit score.

There is no limit to what your name could do. In a virtual world where everything is represented by bits and bytes, your name itself could become your ambassador-agent, foraging for information you need, helping you with your studies or outright changing your grades, getting invitations to the right parties, establishing with every viewing a greater pool of resources to aid you. Seti@Name. You’ll probably want to add some firewall code to protect your good name.

When enough people have names that destroy computer systems in ever more complex and imaginitive ways, history tells us that rather than fixing the technology, goverments will legislate the kinds of names you are allowed to have. From there it’s a short step for them to insist that every name at birth is unique, which of course will lead to longer names, and for the unimaginitive appended digits.

I’m sorry, bob.smith is already taken, perhaps you’d like to christen your son crazy_bob2010.smith instead?

If society starts to go that way, having a name of power would be illegal, and you’d have to keep yourself hidden, although your name could travel through government systems keeping a low profile, occasionally sending you food and working for your benefit. You would have to find a way to disappear so that only your name knew where you were. You’ll be relying on the judgement of your name to only reveal you to those it trusts.

One thought on “Names of Power”

  1. Very interesting idea here. Something I hadn’t thought about before as the traditional constraints on names have always meant something that it is possible to speak quickly or write in a relatively space small – as the cost of storage continues to fall, as storage densities continue to increase, your suggestion becomes more likely.

    Virus checking of names :O) … what an interesting future we are creating.


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