Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Syberious Stuffe

It's just occurred to me, so it must have occurred to other people around the world already - are we ready for a real cyberwar?  This article on RISKS Digest (Networks and Nationalization With Respect to Cyberwar) crystallised an already-forming idea of mine.  We've already liberated a lot of the proletariat, over the centuries.  From serfdom to clerkdom to CEOdom, baby! But of course I mean more than that, I'm a devious bastard that thinks sideways. %)

What I mean is - speech empowered cavemen types, because it allowed the transmission of more complex ideas and procedures - in short, it allowed culture to blossom.  Culture in it's turn created aggregations of people that were more than just an extended family, it turned us from a widespread population of creatures into much larger distinct social units of humans.  Along the way, it stratified those social units so that we ended up with villages with headmen, hunters farmers and providers, and so forth.

Our next communications leap was writing.  This let us cement those units over generations.  Village traditions and historic tales, once committed to a more permanent record than oral tradition, kept the identity of those units from one generation to the next, and allowed other villages to be informed, to join villages into larger communities.

Writing was initially for the elite.  Despite the limited reach of the written word, it achieved an agglomeration of villages, the dissemination of stories and legends, and of course, it provided a way to record tithes and taxes, births and deaths, and laws.  Despite not being able to read, the population allowed themselves to be ruled by the power of those recorded words.  Writing provided control over one another.

Then, writing and reading became more mainstream, and ordinary people were suddenly able to read and contribute.  That empowered a great many people to begin to advance the sciences, the arts, the politics.

Finally, the printing press made all that knowledge available to pretty much anyone.  Not by coincidence, the technological revolution quietly snuck in with this phase, and liked it here.  Because suddenly anyone could learn the science, the oratory, the mathematics of the time, and many minds make mincemeat of stagnation.

As a side effect, more and more people could also get their works in print.  Our "world library" turned from something that may have had five thousand well considered, well written, and accurate works, to something that had millions of works.  Dilution occurred, you had to pick your books that you read in a lifetime.  but somehow, people managed it. They sorted the gems from the overburden, and many went on to further their fields with more well-written works.

Printed books cemented countries and locked in politics, defined and entrenched fields of science, created larger units of social structure, some of which (to the horror of the aristocracy) seeped across old political borders and formed international bodies.  Also, of course, smaller societies were formed within social units, clubs and arcane guilds, secret societies, and insurrective organisations.

Which brings us to the Internet. Nothing has shrunk the world, or aggregated those larger social units, quite like the Internet.  Suddenly too, sifting all the books of the world and pulling threads from the dross looks like an easy task compared to absorbing the overload of material that's here online now.  How did you come across this article? 

But again, the medium has broken down barriers and made us a larger body.  And again, smaller units are given much power to change things.  It really is at the stage where I can put up a flag in my loungeroom, call it New Cyberia, and begin to take down the infrastructure of any country I want to, one power grid control at a time, where I can take over one missile or fire control network after another, ground aircraft and put ground traffic into disarray - all in the name of New Cyberia.

And if I'm clever about it, I could end up being given the keys to half the developed nations of the world in return for their ability to function properly again, without anyone ever seeing me or my flag, nor even knowing which country it's in...

That makes the remark about the teenager in their basement seem a lot more sinister and imminent than it did before.  Because if I can think of it, someone is already working on doing it...

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