Sure, they might take your credit card information, stop you from watching Netflix and figure a way to use any key fob to access your car, but don't think too poorly of hackers: They drive innovation that benefits humanity, said inventor, futurist and hacker Pablos Holman.
He noted hackers' propensity to disassemble new gadgets immediately.
"They flip it over, take out all the screws, break it into a lot of little pieces — but then figure out what can we build from that rubble," he said.
"It's that discovery process that starts every new invention, every new innovation. You can't get a new invention by reading the directions."
Many in tech distinguish between hackers working to improve software and those working to exploit it, a divide known as white-hat and black-hat. The FBI is among the organizations that hire white-hat hackers.
Holman considers himself a white-hat hacker. He created a Bluetooth surveillance system that allowed him to track the activities of a Microsoft privacy executive and a device that uses remote car keys to unlock all the cars from a single manufacturer. He also slams industries (the auto industry, in particular) for leaving customers vulnerable to hacks, particularly as more computerized parts and features are used.
It's hard for any company to account for everything that might compromise a system. Hackers help by identifying vulnerabilities.
"You don't have the time to think of all the screwed-up stuff some hacker can do with it," Holman said of manufacturers. "But they [hackers] have got the time — they're going to find out what's wrong."
Holman said he's enlisted hackers to work with him at his firm, Intellectual Ventures Laboratory.
Technology, he said, is responsible for overcoming some of the hurdles that have kept humans from thriving. And he's convinced it will be instrumental in solving concerns about food, housing and employment for a growing population.
"Our job is to figure out how we're going to solve those problems at a scale," he said. "We solve every one of them with a new technology — not government, not religion, not some election." □