Tuesday, September 08, 2009

It's time to be afraid

I sit squarely in the middle of the school who thinks this, while amusing at one level, is terrifying at almost every other level.

Forget that I once considered God, well . . . God. Forget that this kind of BLASPHEMY would, until only a few decades ago, have elicited certain damnation. Forget that this article, perhaps correctly, makes a complete mockery of the institution of religion. But in the midst of this convenient amnesia, try to think about the implications of what is surely the truth behind this article. And be afraid. Be very afraid.

The theory behind a couple of pretty popular movies . . . Terminator, and I, Robot . . . is simple. One day computer driven machines will rise up and overthrow the human race.

George Orwell thought that the rise of humans was humanity’s greatest danger. In the post-Orwell world, we’ve moved past that. While humans are still the greatest threat to humans (or perhaps viruses are – the non-electronic kind), and while twenty years ago (Terminator time) the idea that machines overthrowing humans was entertainingly ludicrous, now . . . NOW the one real thing lacking then – a realistic, possible vehicle for bringing the machines together, and to life – seems to be here. It’s not knocking on the door, it’s already in our lounge. It’s in our kitchen, preparing meals; it’s teaching our children; it’s a better friend to them than most parents can ever be. It’s controlling our businesses; facilitating our banking processes.

It is slowly and surely making us more and more and more dependent on it. It is addicting us. It is controlling us.

Google’s motto is “Do no evil.” As if it could. You don’t purport to NOT do something that you cannot do.

Information is good. But isn’t it also power? Whoever owns the information, or perhaps more importantly, access to it, surely has a significant amount of power.

The military already has the technology to send machines into battle by remote control. Sure, it’s in infancy. But it’s real. The field of robotics, now decades old, has grown exponentially in the last few years. And if we’re not already completely dependent on computer technology . . . well, we are. There’s no doubt. What would happen if “computers” went down for a week. NO computers.

Most computers are connected to some kind of network. So it’s not impossible to imagine a virus big enough, and far-reaching enough to paralyse the entire electronic grid. The trillion dollar electronic security industry knows all too well the real possibility of such an attack.

NO computers, anywhere, for a week. For 60% of the population, that is incomprehensible. It is impossible. Government, financial institutions, tertiary institutions, border control, hospitals, traffic control, AIR traffic control, shipping, communications infrastructure (phones and, of course, internet).

For one week. Can you imagine it? What about a month? What about indefinitely. The human race would sink to new lows before it could spring back from that kind of chaos.

“Do no evil.”

Well, that’s nice as long as two good ole boys with altruistic intentions are in charge of Google. The world is safe while philanthropist Bill Gates is at the helm of the most powerful operating system in the universe. But what happens when the real life version of VICKI decides the human race can no longer look after itself? What happens when a SKYNET lookalike pulls together the world’s military might and decides on it’s own what the real threat to the universe is?

Didn’t we giggle a bit at the Terminator? Even twenty five years later we watched I, Robot with an amount of scepticism. That could never really happen.

Well, only six years after that, I’m not giggling any more. I’m not even smirking. When the Sydney Morning Herald can proclaim, only mildly tongue in cheek, that Google might be worthy of the title GOD, I think it’s time to be a little bit afraid.

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