Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Future of War: A Digital Doomsday

If the Pen is mightier than the Sword
That makes the Book mightier than a Bomb
And Internet mightier than a Cataclysmic Nuclear Holocaust

If you thought the world is going to end in 2012, you are right. But it’s not going to be anything like you imagined. Wondering why and how? Then read on.

History of Empires

Look at world history and the stories of dominance by empires over unsuspecting nations. The domination has usually been total and in most cases the end was violent leading to either the empire strengthening their sway, or the oppressors winning their war for freedom. In medieval ages it was brute force and in later times it was trade and commerce that led to empires spreading their wings. Let it be to harness natural resources or manpower. The best example of this is the East India Company from Britain. They almost ruled the entire world at one point of time and we often heard the saying that the sun never sets on the British Empire.

You might think, that was the past, no country can wield such influence now. One country that stands head and shoulders above the rest of the nations in terms of wielding power is the USA. Not because of their nuclear arsenal or advanced economy but purely because it is home to the biggest technology companies this world has seen. Be it Google, Microsoft, Apple and now Facebook, Twitter, etc. They all have their roots in that country. 

My intention is not to talk about USA. In reality these companies could be functioning from any part of this world and still wield the same influence, the common theme among them being innovation and cutting edge technology with regards to computing and online experience. Internet doesn’t really need a nation, it’s truly democratic. That probably explains why there is a large scale acceptance of this medium.

In simple terms, it means that in the current day a Google, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Twitter are doing a repeat of what the British empire did a few centuries back. They are seeping into the collective consciousness of people and nations. They are becoming an indispensable part of our lives.
“The British Empire took a few centuries to establish themselves, whereas the internet revolution, though very young will envelope (if it already hasn’t) the entire world in its web in a very short span of time”
Just think about this, it would take months to reach New York from London a few decades back, but now we can fly there in a matter of hours, and if you talk in online terms, you are already connected via internet.
"What took ages in the past is now only a few clicks away"
Ok, let’s pause for a moment. Am sure you are wondering why I say that internet is a dangerous thing while it is doing so many wonderful things and connecting people and making lives better. Have no doubts, even the British when they spread their empire were able to do so because they seemed to bring development in terms of commerce, education, colonisation, etc along with them. Yet, everyone knows the end result. National resources were squeezed to the maximum and the natives had no option but to live like slaves to the Empire. Still if you are wondering how it is relevant today and how we are going to become slaves again due to internet, then read on.

Can you find the i in the iPad? 

Let’s start with the current hot topic of the season, the revolutionary product iPad by Apple. It’s so enticing and attractive that many would die to own one, me including. But i wonder if anyone has given a thought as to what it actually is going to do to us. Why blame the iThing alone, even the mighty Microsoft, Google and others are driving towards the same goal, the goal of total domination, domination to own all that we own. One is left wondering where is the ‘I’ involved in any of this. Everything belongs to something called a Cloud. And it is these Clouds that these giant corporations are investing in.
 “We have heard of Star Wars and thought that would be the future but one never imagined that the future would belong to the Clouds. It’s no more Star wars, it’s the age of Cloud Wars”
Wondering what cloud I am talking about? We are actually in one now. This blog is in a virtual space called a Cloud. I don’t know where this blog physically resides, on which computer and in which country and on which hard disk it is stored. Yet I use it daily and you are able to see what I write on it. Everything we do online is a part of some cloud somewhere. Be it our daily emails, interactions on social networks, sharing of photos, online banking transactions. I bet none of us can tell where they reside physically on this planet. That is the power of the Cloud and most of us aren’t even aware we are in one.

Coming back to the iPad, it is now going to make us more dependent than ever on the cloud. Same is the case with Google and its Chrome operating system that is in development. They want to own everything, nothing remains with us on our computer, no more files and folders, it’s all going to be on the Cloud. All you will have are the means or the key to access these clouds through something called as passwords. These corporations are successfully going to take out the i from our existence forever. One might say, what harm in trusting the clouds. After all Google’s mantra is “Don’t Be Evil” so we are safe. 
“At the end of the day, don’t forget that these companies are not machines and are run by real people with real emotions. In the wrong hands they could be much more powerful than any nuclear weapon” 
We are seeing small evidence of this power already in the way these giant companies are going about acquiring lesser known well to do companies and are constantly on the verge of plotting their next move to destroy their closest rivals. Let’s see few stories from last week itself to illustrate this point. The below section might sound a bit technical for some, but can’t help writing about it.

Big Fish always eat the Small Fish

Apple announces the iPad and its new operating system for iPhone the OS 4.0 and guess what? It doesn’t support flash which is developed by another giant called Adobe. Few years ago everyone wanted to have a fancy flash animated website but now Apple is well on its way to destroying this giant where it concerns flash based websites and applications. Also at the same time it wants to totally control what one can do with this device, everything is run via its cloud called the App Store. You want it, they got it, why go anywhere else.

While Apple is filling its coffers with sales of iPad and its iPhone, Google has quietly gone ahead and created its own version of the touch phone called Nexus and is planning to give a serious run for money to Apple by launching its own Android tablet PC akin to the iPad. Also it’s a known secret that Google intends to destroy the Evil Monopoly of Microsoft over desktop computing by giving things away for free where Microsoft would charge you a little fortune. The most popular programmes from Microsoft like Word, Power Point and Excel are all now available on Google Docs for free. 

Talking of Microsoft, it was the pioneer of commercialisation of desktop software. Microsoft’s operating system Windows is the only operating system known to most of mankind. It’s with this unyielding power that Microsoft managed to destroy its rival companies, one of them being a competing browser called Netscape which originally started the internet browser revolution. Today you don’t hear that name anymore. The annihilation was total. Now Apple is trying to do the same to Microsoft by changing the rules of the game with the iPad. What does Microsoft do now? It plans to launch its own answer to the iPad called Courier. It’s a dog eat dog world out there. You innovate or you die. 

Consider this case now. What one would have thought to be a harmless little company is now turning out to be quite the monster that no one ever imagined. Twitter, with its acquisition of Tweetie the iPhone application provider and also tying up with Blackberry to develop its own mobile application has sent a clear message that it means business and is going to gobble up all the small time applications developers. The same developers who created application free of cost and were the reason to build value to Twitter. Now their days are numbered. Same is the case with Facebook and its many applications.

Make no mistake, these Big Fish are eventually going to gobble up smaller fish and then set out to destroy their competition like never before. This is going to be the War of the Future. Where does this leave us, the mere mortals? And more importantly how is this battle going to influence our life? And how is this going to lead to Doomsday?

Future - Past - Tense

Think about it, more than 76% of the population of America is connected to internet. And worldwide these figures are increasing by the day for other countries. What are these people, people like you and me doing online and what is this doing to us in turn?

We once used to write beautiful letters and send greeting cards to our near and dear ones for any occasion, but now all we do is update our Facebook status message or tweet our greetings, not even send SMS as was the case one year back. Marriage alliances, dating, breakups, new friendships happen online. Leave alone writing love letters, we have even forgotten what handwriting is all about. Talk of spellings, it’s a joke now. What men have learnt over the centuries, we are very rapidly destroying with the advent of the internet age. Also how long has it been since we went to the local post office or a post box, does one even know what a post man looks like today.

Ok let’s leave writing and relationships for a moment. How do we book our tickets today for anything? Be it for a Train journey, Flight, Movie, etc. It’s mostly online. And how do we book them online? By using our credit card or through net banking which are also online activities. Then take the case of watching television or movies, most cases we either download the movies from net or watch the shows on You Tube. We don’t bother to go to the theatre and spend money anymore unless it’s for something as ground breaking as an Avatar. Talk of music industry; it’s already destroyed beyond repair. No one buys a CD anymore. Imagine the impact internet is having on this world.

We wake up in the morning and read the newspaper, yet people like me prefer to look at the tweets of the day or surf through the news websites for instant updates with additional context thrown in. Talking of context, when was the last time anyone of us went to a library to read a book? We don’t do that anymore, Google is there and all the information is just a click away. In fact the new battle waging online is with publishers and publications, libraries; what with all the books of this world being digitized and made available online. It’s the death of publishing industry, death of newspapers, magazines, libraries and all forms of printed material as we know them, they are all moving to the cloud.

We are totally dependent on these clouds. Unknowingly we are destroying the very fabric of our society by placing our trust in these clouds. The pace of acceptance is too scorching and in two years time most of this world, if not, the entire world will be on these clouds. The very fact that you are reading this post online, probably on a windows or a mac pc or laptop either using Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari or browsing from your mobile phones, reached here via Twitter or Facebook or Google reader or Google search, etc confirms the same. Welcome, hope you have a good stay in the clouds. Your days are numbered.

Doomsday 2012

The cloud is going to burst in two years time; yes 2012 is the year when the Big Fish will swallow all the small fish and in their greed to outdo their rivals will destroy each other leaving the clouds to drift away and a helpless mankind will be left looking in disbelief and disgust. We will be totally handicapped by then and without the clouds will not be able to do any of our daily functions. We are sure to be relegated back to the stone ages the moment these clouds disappear. It’s quite a possibility and I am not talking science fiction here. As I mentioned earlier in the post, these clouds are not run by machines like in the Matrix movie, but by real people and people will be people, you can only expect the unexpected.

And once this is done, all I can think of is the closing credits of another iconic movie called Wall E where mankind is shown to learn from scratch how to create fire to learn fishing, etc to lead a normal human life. We are rapidly heading in that direction and don’t fool yourself thinking you are safe. Your days are numbered, better start to learn some farming and fishing of the real kind, not the virtual one. 

See you soon on these very clouds again if they last. Bye for now, and let me assure you, I am not joking about any of the things I am talking about here. Spread the word among your friends, we are doomed.

Kartik Dayanand Boddapati