Flawless is coming soon...

Friday, December 28, 2007

IBM's New Beast

I attended a conference about 15 years ago that highlighted the virtues of the information superhighway. The conference instructors were all but waving “farewell” to the 40-hour work week, because technology, we were told, would give us the tools to be more productive; leaving us with much more leisure time. By the end of the conference, most of us were conjuring notions of a 25-hour work week and eight weeks of vacation per year. However, 15 years later, I see how sadly we were mistaken, because most people I know are using the tools provided by the information superhighway, but we are busier than we’ve ever been.

Was the conference, and many thousands like it, a ‘necessary illusion’ to motivate us to embrace a highly stressful, extremely productive, digital work-place without dissent? Perhaps, but the older I get, the more I wonder if we really do live in the “Matrix;” the virtual world, made famous by the cinematic trilogy of the same name, where everyone’s actions are scripted by sentient machines to keep the human population docile. (I highly recommend these movies for their metaphoric value.)

The technology of the Western world is steeped in electronic wizardry. In fact, many of you may recall the apprehension over the Y2K bug that was poised to strike at 12:00 a.m., January 1, 2000, unless a concerted effort was made to convert millions of computer programs to Y2K compliance. During those anxious months leading up to the year 2000, there were some who were predicting that this electronic bug would spell the end of Western Civilization. However, as the clock struck midnight, bringing in the new millennium, our worse fears were never realized, thanks to an army of programmers who worked tirelessly during the electronic migration from the 20th century to the 21st century.

Thankfully, those exaggerated claims about the end of civilization as we knew it were more imagined than real; however, the recent announcement by IBM that it had broken the petaflops barrier, may spell another type of doom for the Western world.

IBM, which already sells the world’s fastest supercomputer, Blue Gene/L, recently announced that it had created an even swifter model, dubbed Blue Gene/P, capable of performing 1 quadrillion calculations per second or 1×10 to the 15th power. This enormous speed opens all types of new terrain for dramatic improvements in complex simulations, data-tracking on an unprecedented scale, breathtaking advances in medical imaging, and weather forecasting with a precision never before imagined. Wall Street also sees the potential with high performance computing in being able to predict how the markets will react given certain financial activity.

With the advent of Blue Gene/P, we may have finally crossed into the era when one central computer could instantly keep track of the more than 6 billion people in the world, and provide real time data regarding their whereabouts and day-to-day activities. I recently posted The Surveillance Society, which discussed how a number of Homeland Security contractors have created electronic dossiers on all Americans, and how the FBI is creating a biometrics database of everyone in the world. Does anyone believe that it is far-fetched to make the leap from where the FBI and DHS are today to one central computer maintaining daily monitoring of our activities? If so, I’d like to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge.

History graphically demonstrates that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. As we idly watch the erosion of civil liberties in our country, have we acquiesced our Constitutional rights to a cabal of men who have amassed unprecedented power never seen or imagined by our forefathers? As I write this, I am uneasily reminded of the warning given to us by President Dwight D. Eisenhower during his farewell speech:

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together

There are men with enormous influence over the affairs of our society, who stand at the signposts of civilization, directing our movement into the future. Will they direct us to a moment in time when the glories of our collective efforts will substantiate America as the greatest nation to ever rise in the history of civilization, or will we blindly be led to the poisoned embrace of the anti-Christ?

No comments: