Opinion of Luc de Brabander, business philosopher (1)
Although we connect to the Internet primarily through wifi, cyberspace is not a “wireless” community. Almost all transcontinental electronic communications pass through submarine cables that connect millions of servers together and together form the world’s largest machine.
At least 170 years after the first transatlantic cables were laid to connect the Paris, London and New York stock exchanges, today there are more cables than ever before. Neither the advent of radio around 1930, nor the advent of satellites fifty years later will reverse this strong trend. The digital ground is held together by a submerged ball of optical fiber. The growing practice of storing remote data in the “cloud” is driving this cable industry. If real clouds are in the sky, then on the other hand a large part of the “cloud” is under the sea.
Often, access to the Internet is only optical fibers, as we mentioned the recent volcanic eruption that severely damaged the one that connected the Tonga archipelago to the mainland.
The fragility of infrastructure is accompanied by a second fragility, the fragility of computer software. Last July, sites like Airbnb, Amazon, and BNP Paribas went down, and were inaccessible for several hours.
It was an accident, a matter of surveillance, not an act of malice. The designers of the main algorithms had to admit that they no longer always understood the reactions of programs they wrote themselves.
And everyone realized that machine failure could one day cause the world to collapse!
In 1878, Jules Verne . published Michael StrogovA novel whose story begins with the sabotage of the Trans-Siberian Telegraph Cable. The remote provinces of Russia are already under attack by the Tatar hordes led by the traitor Ivan Olgarev. The tsar’s brother is in danger in Irkutsk, more than 5,000 km from Moscow, and communications are cut off.
How do you prevent it? It will take a courier of extraordinary intelligence and courage. Captain Michael Strogov was chosen to pass on the Tsar’s message to his brother, and after four hundred pages, here’s our James Bond in the steppes facing the evil Olgarev, and you can imagine the rest. Reading this Jules Verne novel, Ian Fleming didn’t invent much…
Today we no longer chop the telegraph poles with an ax, but “hackers” and other hackers of all kinds are unleashed, and the digital Olgarev is attacking “Cyberia”.
Extortion, fake news, blackmail, harassment, viruses, money laundering, fraud and mafia programming talents show limitless creativity.
Some even have a monitor, like Israeli startup NSO and its software Pegasus, inadvertently able to fit into the most powerful laptops of this world. Once installed, the spyware can download all of its history or even turn on the microphone remotely. The emir of Dubai was recently sentenced in London for allegedly spying on his sixth wife on Pegasus. “Drop your cell phone,” Angel told her.
Hafedh on line
The biggest machine in the world has two sides.
On the one hand, it gives a reassuring appearance of resistance that does not crumble. Didn’t the internet actually go from one to more than four billion users without stopping completely? Even the doubling of traffic due to the pandemic had almost no effect on his running! Who says better?
But with the Internet, as with all complex systems, strength and fragility grow together.
To look under the waters of the oceans, the world’s largest machine appears to be more error-prone than ever. It is based on hundreds of thousands of kilometers of products that certainly resist the tentacles of crabs, but do not resist the appetites of states and major corporations for power.
Twenty billion under the sea
Since the revelations by whistleblower Edward Snowden, everyone knows how much data traffic is being monitored, and how directly states are interfering with their telecommunications companies. In the name of fighting terrorism, we spy, track and persecute. This is complicated because part of the cabling is now private. Google or Facebook invest billions under the sea, political action and stock market work interact. Chinese companies are doing the same and weaving a digital cocoon, the New Silk Roads, at very high speed.
In the least favored countries, these companies are ready to offer “free” Internet.
Gafam and Oxfam, the same fight? Not sure…
In any case, the question arises more and more acute. Who is responsible for the largest machine in the world? Who decides the future directions of the Internet?
The question is indeed difficult, but it hides another, more difficult question: who should answer this question? The largest machine in the world is simultaneously “run” by thousands of people who do not know each other and we obviously do not know them either.
To what extent?
(1) The next symposium “Learning to Think with Plato and Aristotle” on May 5-6. Information www.ailouvain.be “