With the aggressive pace of technological change and the onslaught of news regarding data breaches, cyber-attacks, and technological threats to privacy and security, it is easy to assume these are fundamentally new threats. The pace of technological change is slower than it feels, and many seemingly new categories of threats have been with us longer than we remember. Nervous System is a monthly series that approaches issues of data privacy and cyber security from the context of history—to look to the past for clues about how to interpret the present and prepare for the future.
For many, the term “Boolean operators” has entered the lexicon in the context of formulating search queries in Google or Relativity, but that is just one specialized application of Boolean logic. In 1847, mathematician George Boole theorized that all logic could be reduced to a series of true-or-false decision points and that, by doing so, he could express any logical proposition as an algebraic equation. Boole turned human logic into simple math by looking closely at the possible outcomes of different true/false scenarios and realizing a limited set of possibilities existed. Because the values “True” and “False” can be represented as binary numbers, Boolean math can be encoded easily as machine logic for automatic processing. This nineteenth-century mathematical innovation became a building block of digital electronics.