The British Aren’t Coming! Part 2

Part 2 – Our Jugular Vein

(Read Part 1- The British Aren’t Coming!)

When the iPhone was introduced, and Steve Jobs used Google Maps to look for the nearest Starbucks, call it and order for coffee, he captured our imaginations. A few years later, when Apple introduced Siri and her search/assistance capabilities, I thought of Jeeves in Iron Man (though Siri is still not as advanced as Jeeves).

With our increasing dependence on computers and the internet, the technology increasingly becomes our vulnerability. It is simply too convenient not to network our utilities (power, water, communications, etc) through the internet. In Jeremy Clarkson’s BBC documentary he demonstrates how he can kill a computer using an electronic magnetic pulse (EMP). A low-kiloton nuclear weapon detonated over a city can do the same thing.

However, I can already remember in two films, notably Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and Live Free or Die Hard (Die Hard 4.0), the Hollywood writers speculate that cyber warfare can bring our networks down through cyberattacks and computer viruses. Nuclear weapons or exotic technologies that can generate EMP’s are not necessary. They only need to create a virus, and with our interconnected, socially networked computers, everything can easily brought to its knees.

Look around you and count the blessings computers have brought us: Internet access everywhere, smartphones that are bona-fide handheld computers, people being able to bank over the internet, work over the internet, buy anything over the internet. Then imagine if one terrible day, all these gifts were taken away. We will have to go to the banks to withdraw. We will have to go to the library to find out what we need to know. We will have to go to the office to work. Worse, what if all the power went out, all the water and telephones are cut, and when we go outside our homes all the streets are choked with traffic, all the airports are closed, the government and private offices are closed and no one can figure out how much pay they should get because all the computers and the networks are dead?

In a few hours, chaos. In a few days, anarchy. In a few weeks, our veneer of genteel civilization and scientific wizardry would be stripped away. We would be savages in a year.

That’s the Die Hard  scenario. In the Terminator 4 scenario, the virus achieves sentience and starts wiping us out, or worse, enslaving us.

Ludicrous? Impossible? No, we are eagerly rushing to meet this future! The future where we will willingly hand over all tasks, all our records and our mountains of data, all the inconvenient nitty-gritty of maintaining civilization, to computers. And one day, after computers have slowly replaced our gods, they will fail us or worse, rebel against us and punish us. What should be done? How can we prevent this? Would it be possible to still use computers to do the important clerical work but not relinquish to them complete control over our lives?