Black Swans for 2012 (and a good read)

In 2012, will we reach the technological Holy Grail

Over the summer break I read. Among some excellent books was one by Nicholas Carr, The Shallows - What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. We used to worry that television would give us square-eyes, but consider what the Internet is actually doing to us now?

Another book, almost complementary to The Shallows, in my opinion, is The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge. His thoughts examine the comparatively fast evolution of the human mind compared to its physical development. The basic premise drawn from both books is that we are evolving our thoughts to be broader but less deep.

I am not going to dwell on these any more, other than to suggest you read them. They are enjoyable and challenging.

A third book I am digesting is The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Black swans are used as an example and metaphor for unpredicted and unpredictable events, one prime example being the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001. This is another book that should be on your reading list.

A unifying thread between our line of work and these three books would consider both evolution and revolution (in its unexpected sense). Within the IT security space, perhaps 2012 is the year? So, what could these catastrophic “black swan” events be? (Unfortunately, yes, they are generally catastrophes.) Here are some of my top-of-mind musings inspired by the books mentioned:

Could one “black swan” outcome be the evolution of our minds in the direction of The Shallows? Will our species evolve into the 1895 Morlocks and Eloi of HG Well’s classic The Time Machine? And with that in mind, that will be the balance between the evolution of IT and our own evolution?

In 2012, will we reach the technological Holy Grail (or perhaps un-holy as a new god will be created) of the singularity, where finally there will be greater intelligence in the Internet than us flesh and blood thinkers.

What about a really big disruptor? A massive solar flare – these disrupt our ionosphere and in turn disrupt our radio communications. I have no basis to suggest that this could bring down the Internet, but predicting black swans, by their very nature, is not easy. One of the more recent solar flares was in 1989. This event (the solar flare) caused disruptions to electric grids and computer systems, so given the enormous advancements and growth in dependence on wireless communications, I wonder what disruption may might now be caused.

A smaller black swan event (a black cygnet) could be the complete loss of your data through a failure of your Cloud solution. The whole Kim Dotcom /Megaupload issue has brought home the importance of your own back-ups. The law is still evolving in this area and privacy legislation is, in my opinion, inevitable.

Finally, (but of course with black swans events there is never a ‘finally’) the rise of both cyber-crime and cyber-warfare may produce a real world catastrophe. The Sophos 2012 Security Threat Report (another informative read) is instructive here.

Happy reading, and stay safe and secure in 2012.

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