A young computer expert hacks his way into the US Intercontinental Ballistic Missile System, almost triggering a nuclear apocalypse in the process. The year was 1984 and the film “War Games”. At the time it was a chilling thought but it fortunately stayed at that – a thought. In fact, with the atomic clock ticking and perilously close (2 minutes) to midnight, the end of the world at this point in the Cold War was far more likely to have resulted from a wayward missile test by the bickering superpowers than anything else (this very nearly happened in fact). In another film, Gus Gorman, the unlikely hacker in Superman 3, harnessed the power (and weaknesses) of computer systems to gain financial control of the world by, amongst other things, siphoning off money from legitimate financial transactions and manipulating the weather.
A century earlier, Oscar Wilde observed in his 1889 essay, The Decay of Lying that, “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life”. So should far-fetched comic book fodder really keep us awake at night?
30 years on we have 3 billion people (many more if you include the many online identities or avatars out there) and countless things connected to the global Internet. Hackers have already made their way into NASA, The Pentagon and even nuclear power plants. Cars, planes and even people are becoming a very real target. The recent Carbanak attack on 100 or so banks resulted in the theft of an estimated 1billion USD and in 2014 some Chinese students made a Tesla car do some rather scary things indeed.
As the millennials lead the march towards an asset-free lifestyle and we put more and more content into the cloud, network reliability and security have become a deeply personal and life-critical concern. Implications of failure are tangible and with the realization that the Internet = life comes the need to set the underlying service expectations accordingly.
But here I think we need to re-evaluate the existing definition of ‘content’. When we talk about online content today, we generally mean videos, applications and music. In future and with the Internet of Everything, content will enter a new dimension. An ‘Internet of Power’ where home batteries, electric cars and renewable energy resources are brought together in unison by the Internet, is now a distinct possibility
Throw in 3d printed consumables and even even food into the mix and the flow chart of the online content ecosystem looks very exciting indeed.
Are we suitably prepared though? The next big hurdle for our connected lives I believe, will be ensuring that we continue to expand the network with sufficient length, breadth and depth to meet these challenges. Security is obviously a major concern, as is Privacy (either by default, design or democracy). But there but there are actually other, far more rudimentary factors that need to be considered and controlled. These are things that affect the very fabric of a a well-functioning network, for example latency. Latency is no longer something exclusively for high frequency traders or gamers. In a life support system, high latency or lag can have catastrophic consequences.
We also need to view the humble Mb/s in a different light. While the Internet assists us in monitoring pacemakers and sending life-saving tweets, a few data packets could in theory also shut down the power grid or bring down a plane. Mb/s can mean the difference between life or death and success or failure.
Ultimately, this leads us to the question: ‘where does real life end and online life begin?’ We firmly believe that for many, these are already one and the same and that we need to develop our network, products and services with this in mind.
Let me finish with a final thought. If we were to write a sci-fi film now about the nightmares of tomorrow, what would it be called? I sincerely hope we won’t be streaming ‘The Day The Internet Died’ any time soon. It is really time to sit up and start genuinely caring about the backbone and view it not just as a piece of telecommunications infrastructure but rather as a life support system that bears the content of life itself.
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