During the late 1980s, a researcher at Centre Européen de Recherche Nucléaire, Dr. Tim Berners-Lee, developed the early model of what we now know as the Internet. It wasn’t until the mid-1990s that the Web’s use became widespread. It was from this time forward that it grew exponentially into what we now use for everything from paying bills to launching the space shuttle. However, this growth would have never been possible if it wasn’t for the switch from the analog age to the digital age beginning in the early 1980s. Few people would say that the digitization of our world doesn’t have its advantages, but at the same time, who can deny that this system doesn’t greatly compromise our personal privacy and security?
Recently, IBM unveiled its fastest computer yet: the Sequoia. This machine is capable of performing over 20 quadrillion operations per second! This incomprehensible number is an amazing achievement of human ingenuity, but should we be so quick to praise it? After all, it was IBM who furnished the Third Reich with punch card machines in the 1930s, allowing the Nazis to keep track of the Jewry in Europe. I am not writing to single out IBM in particular, but it is this corporation that has led the march when it comes to collecting individual’s personal data. The databases that have been created only grow larger with the advent of faster and more powerful digital processors and storage devices. With this type of technology in the hands of corporations and governments, the basic ideas of privacy and freedom are under attack.
Mussolini once said that the definition of fascism was the merger of the state with corporate power. After witnessing the enormous financial bailouts by our own treasury during the past six months, it is quite clear that we are leaning more toward this type of system rather than the capitalistic foundation that our country was built upon. We must ask ourselves this: Do we want our country’s leaders to have free rein with the data that is being collected when their allegiance is to the corporations? More importantly, what is the ultimate goal of the data collection?
In my opinion, the lawmakers and the authorities that enforce the laws are steering you and I down a path that is narrowing every second into a life where we are tracked and traced. From computer cookies to city-wide surveillance cameras, from the Transportation Security Administration scanning your body to automobiles equipped with OnStar technology, an Orwellian scenario is unfolding right before our eyes. And behind it all is the relentless and ever increasing collection, analysis and transfer of our digitized birth dates, races, religions, likes and dislikes.
As powerful as the new Sequoia computer is, it would falter if it was given the task of creating itself. It took the infinitely more advanced human mind to do that. I hope that with our collective intelligence and forethought, we as free humans can appreciate the benefits, yet more importantly realize the potential pitfalls this digital age can create.