Unification News for May 1996
Big Brother's Biography
This is the second half of a series on computers and communications technology, and the promise-or menace-that they hold for us all.
Early on, computers were linked together with `dedicated' telephone or microwave lines. If any part of the chain broke, they were cut off. The Defense Department wanted a nuclear-war-proof method of communication, so in 1969 they funded the beginnings of the modern Internet.
The newborn Net soon passed into the hands of academia. At first it linked Universities worldwide, as well as the infamous `hacker' clubs of the 1980s. (Read The Hacker Crackdown by Bruce Sterling.)
Today's Internet spans a vast web of `nodes' and communication lines. All of its information is first broken down into small, discreet `packets,' then sent by the best available route. Each packet is acknowledged, and resent if needed. All of today's computer modems use this method. This also enables a fast modem to carry on several tasks at once.
In 1980 the best modems transmitted at around 19 bps. (Bytes per second.) 1994's top speed was 28.8 K bps. (K=kilo, or one thousand.) Many cities are now `covered' by inexpensive wireless 54K networks, enabling mobile linkups. Phone company digital ISDN lines are faster still. In a few year's time, 1M satellite and 10M `coaxial' cable modems should be available. (M=mega, or one million.) These will make possible the downloading of entire feature movies in just a few moments.
Today, thanks to commercial providers like America Online, millions have access to the Net. The brand-new World Wide Web has permeated American society within a single year!
Several years back, a hacker invented the Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) encryption system. It enables anyone with a desktop computer to encode their data so that no one, including the Feds, can read it. Naturally, considering the Net's roots, the Feds didn't like this.
The world's most powerful computers reside at the National Security Agency (NSA), where they try to break other nation's (and corporation's) codes, and invent better ones for themselves.
The Cold War still reverberates. The NSA's supercomputers can automatically `listen' to, and recognize, virtually any written or spoken word, in many languages. The NSA monitors thousands of phone and data lines at once, and they're currently seeking to expand this capacity to tens of millions of lines.
They say this will be aimed only at criminals and terrorists, and that they'll never listen in except at greatest need . . . However, as Unificationists know too well, anyone find themselves on a government `hit list.' One national talk show host whimsically urged his listeners to overload these automatic watchers by sprinkling their phone and modem conversations with ominous `keywords.' (Big Brother would love to ban talk shows too.)
PGP's suddenly-famous inventor barely escaped prosecution. The Feds now wish to ban PGP, and require inclusion of their own secretly- designed `Clipper Chips' in all communications devices. However, even before Clipper was introduced, hackers had already come up with several ways to defeat them.
This isn't all bad. The Feds need to catch the real bad guys, and they're going hi-tech too. The old Soviet KGB once employed a group of German hackers to steal American secrets. Furthermore, privacy, in and of itself, is often a mere screen for fallen activities. When seated at a computer, perhaps no one but God will be looking over your shoulder.
Ordinary, uncoded modems have not escaped Federal eyes either. The increasing use of email has cut deeply into Post Office revenues. The Feds are coming up with a host of responses which sound good, like "universal access." In actuality, these proposals will place their sticky hands right back into the pie. They're talking about taxing Internet providers, and requiring `electronic stamps' for all email.
There are other, less recognized areas of the Internet, mainly involving business. These began with `dedicated phone lines' for airline reservations and banking computers. This spread to `personal' uses such as ATM machines, and recently, to ubiquitous `pay points' at grocery stores, gas stations, etc.
In 1945, science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke proposed the use of `geosynchronous communications satellites.' Today, dozens of these hover 22,000 above the equator, each `covering' a vast area of the Earth's surface. At first they were useful only as communications relays between gigantic `ground station' dishes. Later models broadcast one-way TV signals to large backyard dishes. Now there are powerful digital-signal models, which only need `pizza-plate sized' dishes, and carry hundreds of channels.
Even the old TV satellites were enough to give the willies to many dictatorial governments. Both Iran and Red China have attempted to ban all private dishes. They point to decadent programming like the Playboy Channel, (they might have a point there) but their real concern is certainly with CNN, Sky News and their brethren-'outside' versions of reality that might conflict with their `approved' one.
Here too the hackers get into the act. The huge corporations which launch and operate these billion-dollar satellites wish to extract every ounce of profit they can. Thus, users are often required to buy their dishes and circuitry, and then pay rent to use them. Thus, the `decoder box' black market. Signals are encrypted, the code is broken and bootleg boxes sold, then new software is issued and the cycle begins again. Special signals are sent which fry the illegal boxes, then the hackers build new ones.
There are already suitcase-sized satellite cellular phones, which enable one to place a call from anywhere, even the middle of the ocean. Soon these phones will be pocket-sized, and will include computer modems.
A currently popular ad uses the phrase "the future is here." The folks who best predicted today's `future' were early science fiction writers like Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and yes, Jack London. Some things were missed; spacemen were using slide rules, and computers were gigantic- and willfully malevolent.
Everyone's looking to the future more earnestly than ever. Who knows what today's sci-fi writers have right, and what they're totally missing? Pocket-sized cellular phones are here now. The World Wide Web is connected to `live' cameras all over the world, but these are more silly than ominous. Dick Tracy's `two way wrist TV' is only a few years off.
Many futurists paint a glowing picture of what technology and the Net will bring us. Saying it will place the world in our hands, and knit it into a Global Village.
The so-called `cypherpunks' are going much further, predicting that the Net will free us from all restraint, hide us from the Law, and eventually create a sort of benevolent anarchy.
Others see a darker picture, where technologies which began as useful tools may entrap us all-before most people even realize it. Examples abound.
Tiny, glass-covered computer-chip implants are now available for use in animals. These are easily checked, for they can be `read' through the skin with a handheld `wand.' Ranchers use them to `brand' prize cattle, while homeowners can identify lost pets. It's only a matter of time before they are used in human beings, perhaps for military or medical purposes.
Gossiping Christians used to say that UPC barcodes would be "the mark of the beast," but now it's going to be those discreet little chips. In fact, Big Brother needs no demonic influence to institute such things; the bureaucrats will push it on their own. And most of them will sincerely believe that it's for the public good! One of my favorite talk show hosts says "if Big Brother ever comes, it will be in the name of efficiency."
However, the tables can be turned! If these chip implants are promised to be foolproof, officials will rely heavily on them. A clever hacker could reprogram his chip to identify him as the Prince of Luxembourg, or anyone else, and he would stand an excellent chance of being believed.
Critics of the Bible have said that, if Jesus were to descend from the literal clouds, only a few people (upon our spherical Earth) would actually see him. Of course, the `heavenly' purpose of television and satellites is to bring the Good News to everyone on the planet.
True Father wishes to use the world-spanning Net to, at long last, make education truly universal. An lone African herdsman, beneath a tree in the midst of the vast savanna, could be as tied in as if he were walking the halls of Harvard.
So, which will it be: true world liberation or crushing tyranny? Ultimately, the hearts of everyone; Feds, Scientists and Hackers, will have to change. That's the only way to be sure that Big Brother -or his Nanny State sister- won't end up crushing us all. The Principle, and all knowledge, can now flow freely throughout the world. In that vast unfolding future, who knows what possibilities await us!
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