Crossroads of information

Crossroads of information

Image: Christoph Scholz/CC BY-2.0

Total surveillance or anarchy?

I would like to make a few critical comments on an article by Philip Breton, a researcher working at the French Centre National de Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), which appeared in one of the last ies of the popular science monthly SCIENCE ET VIE under the title "The communication between good and bad" was published.

This scientist first points out purely technological trends found in the development of network and computer technology today. He refers, as I did earlier, to the Dominican Dominik Dubarle and his article on "The Wieners machine for the government of a state" from 1948 in Le Monde) and presents, on the one hand, machines for data processing, whose "electronic great-grandfather" half a century ago was ENIAC (i.e. ever faster computers that transmit their data "terabytic" on the other hand, microcomputers, which are partly descended from laptops, but which are presently "local presence" are reduced, so that the user is left almost only with the keyboard. On the other hand, the work output is transferred to a computer network with "electroneuronal" nodes (the servers, the processors, the operating systems to download etc.). So this is how "information extreme" either huge machines, which take care of data and their processing in a centralized way, or spatially scattered devices, whose placentas become networks.

From this purely technical description, which Breton gives in more detail, he derives the "crossroads" of future possibilities, which have not only an ideological and economic, but even a political character, because – according to his conception – they run towards a shockingly radical change of the whole human world. In presenting his vision, however, I must emphasize from the outset that in my opinion none of the extremes he projects will become reality. This is not only so because the "armament" or rather the "Technical equipment", that the necessary means for the realization of this or that extreme alternative cannot be a general good of all beings inhabiting the earth (i.e. simply of mankind). The "Civilization Train", The world, as I like to call it, is getting coarser and coarser according to the acceleration of technical and communicative achievements, and the idea that the Chinese, the Indians, the Bedouins and the rest of the Third World will really be able to enter the (according to Breton) diverging info-scissors is a utopia (or a dystopia, i.e. an anti-utopia). Neither the Breton extreme "Bose" nor the "Good" can be realized on the basis of a trivial cause: about three quarters of mankind will simply not be able to afford to stand on this foreseen information crossroads and follow one of the paths that seem to be mutually exclusive.

The fascination with this Breton "Crossroads" This results from the fact that he himself lives in the depths of the network and computer problem and sees the accelerated expansion of the Internet and other networks, whose initially spontaneous "Self-organization", that is propagation, but now controlled by the interested capital. He gets into the long known style of narrow utopian thinking. And like those who believed each of the successive innovation revolutions of technology and for over a century saw in steam or aeronautics or astronautics the future of the whole earth (by which they saw in a group of instrumental actions the whole future of the world), he certainly puts "all the hopes and fears" on a single field of the futurological world roulette. These people were always wrong, because it simply neither "a single field" still "a single path" for the whole mankind there is and can be. Nevertheless, it is worth to go beyond the foreseen socio-political "ideologization" of informatics potentials.

On the one hand, we have a kind of ANARCHY: a total proliferation of potential connections "of all with all" and in their "innards" the education, the economy, the health care system together with the "Clash of values", which has the character of the one predicted by Samuel Huntington "Clash of Civilizations" could ame. This equality "of all equals" thanks to intercommunication can lead to the liquidation of any central power and government and an erosion of monopolies or oligopolies, as well as a "smearing" The concentration of state and economic power will lead to the eventual emergence of a complete system "networked" and computerized planet makes its appearance. individuals sit in their "Node" as in cocoons and live together and separately at the same time, because everyone can experience the presence of anyone or everyone everywhere. From the interception of such a development version emerges a picture of the disappearance of the "REALITY" as a contrast to the "virtual reality", when the former will be the same as the latter. The difference, to put it as briefly as possible, between the real and the virtual, the natural and the artificial, is beginning to disappear – and this is to be an extreme way of the crossroads.

While this way "superliberal" to the point of anarchism, the opposite way out of the alternative that emerged seems to be completely different. Instead of equality, again in short, we are to move to a hierarchical centralism, instead of dispersion in a global anarchy we are moving into a "INFOMOLOCH", who comes to rule, because he can control the connections of all with all – not only informatively as an ultra-postman or messenger and all-senses medium, because he will ultimately be not only the ruler, but also the demiurge, when he himself, by controlling the GENOME, can decide which people are to be born in the future.

This way makes possible the emergence of a huge Orwellian "Big Brother": a master of the planet, an omnipresent observer, eavesdropper, broadcaster or overseer, although he is not necessarily "only the Bose" his mub, which the french explorer painted on the wall like a devil, to give a simplistic illustration of the alternative.

So we have a panorama before us: either a "Society of Allcommunication", in which all are equal thanks to their potential access – strangely enough, the dream of Norbert Wiener from his book written in the fifties is not valid "Human Use of Human Beings" which were more socially compatible with Bakunin’s anarchist theories from before the end of the 19th century. The twentieth century resembles. It is a "self-regulating" society without a state form, broken down into smaller, "more socially compatible" Groupings connected by a global communication network. Or it is the other way round a centralized "omniscient" POWER.

These two opposite versions seem to me to be equally improbable – not only because of the above remark about the "Non-dispersion" of all human beings, with which I introduced the hypothesis of bipartition. It is true that the history of modern communication techniques results from the conflicts and alliances that arise between these tendencies (dispersion versus concentration). Rough "Urcomputer" from the middle of the century were created by the antagonism of the Cold War, by tendencies towards unilateral supremacy, and were desired both by the centers of military power and by civilian big business, which, as a producer of weapons, did not need to be civilian. That was the era of the Pentagon working with International Business Machines (IBM). In response to this trend the "Microinformatics" which even has a tendency to – not yet existing – NANOINFORMATICS. This phenomenon, however, was not a very "desired child" of the Cold War, because the NETWORK was envisaged in its foundations as an intelligence system which, without a center (a headquarters), should withstand the blows of a nuclear war, because, since it has no HEAD, the enemy cannot hit and destroy the non-existent one either.

But that "anarchistic potential" There were already in this project itself, because it is currently seen that the Internet is not very good to subject to such interventions of supervision or even CENSORSHIP, which it should successfully fend off because of its own predisposition. On this "Defense" justify the "Computer anarchists" their conceptions. Bill Gates, on the other hand, wishes, since all the information above all to "are" become. Commercialization had made him a billionaire, but this certainly cannot happen to all the people of the planet. It should be noted that the control and processing of the human mind by means of information is already self-evident. A "omnipresent propaganda" is already possible.

It should also be seen that capital is certainly not interested in free access to any information, and the tendency to turn human information resources into commodities is already manifesting itself in the world. It should not be forgotten, however, that in addition to the information carriers, people are also "Carriers" of food, of energy, of means of production, of raw materials: simply of the absolutely necessary materials that are extracted from the planet and its environment, are indispensable. Firm domination of the information market by MICROSOFTS, successful in various ways, is one side of the coin.

The other side, so far fortunately only potential, though already foreseen, were what Breton calls, "Information chernobyl". It is a question of the future networks of the global information transmission, which can be realized without signs of the chaos and the "Labyrinthine", as they have been caused by the DECLINE of their extension (a rational planning of solutions does not always come along here and often resembles the "Fire department" or the emergency response operations of a rescue service that always rushes to where unpredictable defects arise) could prove more fragile than the Internet. Paradoxically, the more severe the problems, the more susceptible they could be to disruptions "Information volumes" transfer, transmit and process them. This is still a somewhat metaphorical term, but I have already talked about the "INFORMATION MASS" written in the literal sense, because it carries very precious things. Therefore also not only one "infoterrorism" to these new "Chernobyl’s" way: A far greater threat can arise in proportion to the extent of economic and political power transferred to the networks for the purpose of disposal or storage. Networks should not (together with their "computer nodes") z.B. simply replace public or scientific libraries, but they are supposed to replace all information repositories in an exclusive way. A monopolizing concentration can be neither healthy nor completely safe, even in networks.

So we have a picture before us that seems rather paradoxical in its extremes. Either it comes to an "communication density" and at the same time strongly individualistic society, in which a comprehensive "Pacification" because no one can give anyone "physically" The only thing that can happen to a person is that he or she can do something bad and the price for that is actual loneliness in an electronic cocoon. Life becomes "virtual", "phantomized", its. You can be in the Louvre, in the Himalayas, everywhere; you can even be "everyone" (there are "Computer and net addicts", who create their own fictitious personages – Tarzan, girl, rabbit, etc. – on the net … – ship), but "in fact" one is always in the same place. In my opinion, this is a rather bad science fiction. Or else the net does not connect people, but is in the power of some monopolist, stands above people and can control them from all sides.

My critic Andrzej Stoff aptly remarked that in the "Return from the stars" a pretty good one "Rough brother" perhaps an electronic juggernaut that governs the society of the father Dubarle. He is an invisible "Electrocrat", who in the novel "personal" The father Dubarle does not seem to be present at all and is not suspected anywhere even by the heroes of the novel. Its existence, however, seems to logically result from the fact that certain institutions, e.g.B. the so-called "Adapt", can monitor and control the smallest movements or actions of a person (the hero, but perhaps not only his) – seemingly without interfering – in an unobtrusive way. Everything described in the novel can happen by chance, everything can happen merely by fate, but there are places where the unknown, the omniscience or perhaps even the omnipotence of someone you don’t know seems to manifest itself almost imperceptibly. … This happens, by the way, already as a single clearer amption of the hero at the very beginning of the story, when he returns from the stars to the Earth, without first being in the space station "Adapt" stop. as it was suggested to him. He can land on the Earth immediately, but he has to wander around in the maze of the new civilization, which is technologically incomprehensible for him, before he lands in a hotel – and the authorities know very well about his wandering…

It is funny that I thought up this invisible, omnipresent control, which is "Electrocracy", thus by a machine to the apparently very mild governing, is realized, although I did not think of it. This means that the possibility of Andrzej Stoff’s interpretation of the novel’s plot did not occur to me. "It has somehow written itself so", and I remind of it not because I wanted to quote myself as a good prognosticator, but only because the fable of the "Return from the stars" shows that the "Ubiquitous electrocracy" it does not have to be an Orwellian form of tyranny or dictatorship from the very beginning. It could be mild, it could be friendly, it could even be invisible – with the exception of eschatological situations, when it was appropriate, at least for a moment, to be seen as "electronic guardian angel" to appear. Normally, however, no one would notice their intervention. And so it can be concluded from the foregoing that we are not necessarily between the extremes of the alternative mentioned by the French theorist. However it may be, it will be different from what he had imagined, because between the good and the bad we are in a multidimensional world, where the accidental is completely mixed with the inevitable.

In any case, one should trust the experienced specialists who are up to their ears in the thicket of computer science. One should rather be aware that each of the beginnings of a new, radically limitless possibility known to us from history, a promising technological innovation, at the same time raised hopes that it would play the role of a renewer, an awakener and even a redeemer of mankind due to the complete change of social conditions, i.e. thanks to a miraculous perfection of the human civilization, which is so much troubled by itself. Sooner or later, the too one-sided and too fiercely aroused enthusiasms and expectations will fade away, billions of profits will evaporate, perhaps also the capitalism with its market, with the game of supply, creation of goods and demand, so extraordinarily successful for us in the known period of history, will disappear. It is efficient in harnessing innovations to the battle wagon of financial and economic gains, and will perhaps continue to do so in the future "Network and information revolution" The IAEA will be able to withstand and even redirect a large part of the prere to its own wells.

However, proclaiming a new era, a New Age, is too one-sided, monocausal an exaggeration. At least three-quarters, if not four-fifths, of humanity will live almost entirely outside the realm of the "Networking" and the growing gap between this impoverished and starving majority and the apparent majority of refugees "Networld" (Worldweb) will show its consequences. And yet such a gulf should not and cannot definitely divide the inhabitants of the earth into two parts! Data processing should not become a monomania of entertainment and work, reality and dreams.

We must not allow all human affairs to be completely subordinated to informational powers, because this could also mean either agony or the end of the constant transformation of civilization with its many religions, traditions and cultures. Dreams of the "digital swarmer" represent neither the end of history nor the beginning of such a new history, as all the values of the non-networked cultures in the process of "Surf" all values have to hide in the providers and everyone has to be served by the server. As an individual, one can neither absorb nor digest the vast amounts of information that people have already gathered. Rather with a dose of skepticism, though not without a pinch of caution, one should observe the further development of this miracle machine that has just come into the world, which for our grandfather and father is certainly the "Age of the reign of total communication" and of the network that will catch us all.

Translated from Polish by Ryszard Krolicki