Thursday, August 21, 2014

Is this future already here?

I read somewhere that the future is some measure is already present right now. It seems like a meaningless tall claim, but it is actually a deep insight into the nature of reality. For every potential future, some element of here-and-now reality contains its seed. In that sense, the future is already here. Let me describe one critical element of what is happening
1. Internet is connecting humans and things to each other.
2. Systems spanning multiple nodes (user-layer-nodes, business-layer-nodes, data-layer-nodes and the cloud-layer-nodes that each of these can access) process data originally sourced from multiple nodes of the above Internet through online/offline interfaces of various kinds to make/support decisions and/or actions at multiple nodes of the Internet.
3. Security, Availability, Scalability and various other attributes of above systems are dependent on footprint/nature of the nodes and interconnections in the sub-network as well as the interconnections of the sub-network with the wider Internet in addition to human factors
4. The diversity of technologies in the Internet gives different levels of control and vulnerabilities to different nodes and the distribution of these levels changes with time.
5. Policing/monitoring the Internet is practically impossible in any substantial sense due to which no one can be sure whether the current assumptions of humanities ways of life and work(systems of ownership of money and property in particular) are at threat.
6. Humanity made one mess by moving away from a gold standard of money to paper money and this was exacerbated by digitizing money and property ownership. Using physical power or forgery/fraud to usurp money/property did not die out with digitization. Usurping money/property by using computing and/or physical power and/or trojan horse fraud to break digital security remains possible.
7. Trusting ANY expert that a particular system for money/property is safe has become difficult at any one time. And trusting that even if a system is safe for now, that it will remain so has become difficult. No one really knows who can do what at any one given time.
8. My wife formally studied Trust at Birkbeck College, London university as part of her M.Res. (Management Course). Discussing with her, I have become aware of various types of trust. Based on my study of Anthropology, Computing and Finance, I am sharply aware of how trust shapes human relationships, social-life, computer systems and financial institutions like banks.
9. We all know how loss of trust in banks cause runs on bank and how sometimes this can exacerbate into loss of trust in the financial systems. We all know how loss of trust causes problems in human relationships and social life.
10. As financial institutions, personal relationships and social lives digitize and move online (driven by mutlple IT/BPO players like my own employer) to derive competitive advantage, we learn to trust systems with all our secrets and wealth. Many people are doing so much online that they hardly use Pen and Paper and their handwriting is becoming poor. Many people are putting their photos, blog-posts, documents online, hardly keeping physical copies. Many people are keeping their money/stocks/land-registry online with/without choice. All of this is intermediated by trust in systems in general.
11. What will happen if humanity loses trust on systems due to various reasons alluded above? Are we capable of going back without problems to a non-digital way of living and working at all. Does humanity have a backup? Given the kind of technologies easily available to create forgeries/fraud, physical means of securing money/property may no longer work. Will physical/technology power be the only way of protecting our money/property as a backup if humanity loses trust in systems?
12. I contend that the Internet is like the financial system and it is possible to lose trust in it. We have not had any widespread crisis of this type yet. But I am sure that this is possible and we will have multiple such crisis in the future.
13. In the final analysis, it is not a good idea to put too much trust in systems. It is desirable to retain the ability to live and work in non-digital means where the trust for social lives and systems of property are maintained in systems of human trust, else we risk total breakdown of humanities ways of living and working if systems go amok. I have described some ways in which systems can go amok on my blog and my experience in IT tells me that humanities ability to engineer and manage large scale and scope systems is in its infancy.
14. If systems go amok and most of humanities ways of life and work are impacted, humanity will suffer massively as I have indicated in my blog. I experience this everyday when I walk through the mess of multiple toys left by my twin daughters in our living room. I am never sure if touching something will make noise, cause motion or trigger some speech/song or some light show. Life in a mess of systems which have changed the cause-effect relationship on earth will not be different in essence.
In some measure, this possible future may already be here. Is it? What do you think?
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