Finn Brunton

  • Finn Brunton

    THE STORY of the 2015 hack of the adulterous-hookup dating site Ashley Madison starts with a party in Manchester, UK, in 1950. It’s a hypothetical fete, imagined by the great mathematician, computing pioneer, and cryptanalyst Alan Turing, at which a game is played: You, the “interrogator,” are sitting at a teletype keyboard or something like it, chatting with a man (X) and a woman (Y). They’re both trying to convince you that they’re female; the object of the game is for you to guess correctly who really is. You ask: “Will X please tell me the length of his or her hair?” The man tries to pass

  • art and the algorithms of forgery

    IN THE PROCESS of authentication—of verifying who made what when—every painting becomes a landscape painting. Pigments are harvests, geology, trade routes, chemistry: Scheele’s green and lead white, viridian and madder and chrome yellow. The board on which they’re painted can be dendrochronologically dated, analyzing the rings and grain that document dry years and bitter winters in an oak on the Ligurian coast. A portrait from a wall in a private home is a slow-developing accumulation piece about coal heat, gaslight, and lampblack. The cotton of the canvas of a fake Fernand Léger,

  • Bitcoin

    BITCOIN IS THE MONETARY VERSION of a gnostic heresy: an alternate financial cosmology full of secret names and evocations, with a masked prophet in the pseudonymous “Satoshi Nakamoto” (whose real identity, whether singular or a collective plural, remains unknown). Arguments in comment threads and discussion boards are bright with millennial fervor for the end of authority based in governmental scripture and the advent of a new fiscal age founded on cryptographic work and the steady roar of cooling fans. “Mining rigs,” computers built to do nothing but solve special mathematical problems that

  • Shodan

    THE WORLD MADE AVAILABLE BY SHODAN—the idiosyncratic domain of the networked machines with which we are saturating our environment—is at once familiar and deeply strange. A search engine for devices, Shodan makes it possible to find and potentially access routers, webcams, traffic lights, refrigerators, VoIP phones, streetlights, supervisory control and data acquisition (scada) systems for factories and buildings, and more. You can, or could, find a crematory (where the interface features temperature readouts and pull-down menus for “Container” and “Size”), a cyclotron at a major US