10th December 2019

Captain America, The Winter Soldier: A Discussion on Algorithms & Security Paradox

Captain-America-2-The-Winter-Soldier

If you are an action movie fanatic and have watched Captain America: The Winter Soldier, then you know that the movie is packed with exciting action scenes that will keep you glued to your seat until the end. The length of the movie won’t even bother you because the combat scenes are just that well executed. I watched the movie on Tuesday and I have to say that I was quite impressed not just by the production of it but also by the content in the movie. What caught my attention was Zola’s algorithm. Spoiler Alert!

I’m not really going to delve into discussing the plot but will drop a few useful scenes purely for this article. Arnim Zola is a character from the first installment of Captain America playing the role of a former WWII-era HYDRA scientist.  In the sequel, Zola is now a living computer which has created an algorithm to identify potential troublemakers and kill them before they get a chance to commit any crimes. Imagine that! 

My interest in the movie sky-rocketed 10 times more just by hearing this. Algorithm whaaat?! Thank goodness the movie is not just another cliche compilation of superhero ideals of truth and justice. It highlights today’s post-9/11, post Snowden NSA Leaks kind of world.

One of the most notable security moments in the film is when Black Widow unencrypts and uploads S.H.I.E.L.D’s data to the web including all her secrets. This exposes all of S.H.I.E.L.D’s operations including the HYDRA plot to eliminate threats before they even arise. In order to identify these threats, domestic spying programs are utilized full-throttle. The algorithm tracks your bank accounts, tapping communications, among other things to predict your future actions.

The security paradox is that the pursuit for security actually breeds insecurity. How safe are people when there is no longer a sense of privacy? How you do things, when you do things and the things you could do, is information that is being mined and collected. This information is useful in predicting trends in individuals or groups of people.

In the Zambian context, well not much can be said. Except, considering that the National SIM card registration has not propelled a robust Know Your Customer (KYC) operation by the three telecoms: Airtel Zambia, MTN Zambia and Zamtel, we can only wonder what our private data is being used for?

Since algorithms are computer based, the shortfall is that predictions will always be too general for specific needs. For instance, the biggest problem with Zola’s plan was that the accuracy of future threats was questionable and it seemed innocent people would be murdered with no proper cause in the end. Thus the mission to destroy those three helicarriers before the went on a killing spree.

One thing is clear for sure, Marvel movies are getting better every time. The first Captain America was painful to watch, very slow and uneventful. The Winter Soldier will definitely not disappoint as its got chair-clutching twists. I can’t wait to see more Marvel movies!!!

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Image credit: Screenrant