Skip to main content
Chasing Pandora’s Cat

I’m in the ‘other place’ today. Not cyberspace but Westminster, visiting Conservative MP, Tim Loughton, the Shadow Children's Minister, who, like his equivalents in the other political parties, is deeply concerned over extreme websites and paedophile activity on the Internet and what measures, might reasonably be taken to protect a vulnerable society from the frequently predatory and unrestrained influence of what I call, ‘Pandora’s Cat’.



The Tragic fate of American, Nick Berg, also illustrated an uncomfortable problem of the times that has had very little or no coverage, murder as a form of vicarious entertainment. The first fundamentalist website to broadcast a video of his final moments suffered the equivalent of a denial of service attack and was eventually, shut down, by the Malaysian Government, reportedly because the volume of incoming requests was so high that the network came under strain. Within hours, of this, copies of the video were also made available on the better-known atrocity sites in the States, with greater bandwidth and mirroring capabilities and playing the ‘Freedom of information’ card. These too came under strain and in some cases, came to a complete halt.

On a matter of principle, I refuse to watch the video. When I was with Sky News a few years ago, I made the mistake of watching similar and unedited footage from Chechen rebels and the images of horror I witnessed, have haunted me since. However, the evidence of this last week, and the volume of Google searches against an earlier editorial on my own website suggests very strongly that curiosity is driving people to search for this video and others involving hostage decapitation.

Whether it’s in the workplace, the home or indeed even schools, a public ‘execution’, ‘Snuff Movie’, has become a mass spectator sport that dwarfs the once large crowds that once used to gather at Tyburn two hundred years ago. As an employer, what are your liabilities if a sensitive person stumbles across this video on one of your Servers or worse still perhaps, if your children see such a thing and rest assured, thousands if not hundreds of thousands across the planet, will have done from the relative safety of their homes.

A recent technology breakthrough by Hewlett Packard conjures up an old Isaac Asimov story and spells a future where cameras are pervasive. Using electrostatic fields to create and focus lenses from oil, we could see a world where every lamppost has a digital video camera and every electronic device most certainly will.

This month, Government here and in Washington finally discovered that the media or at least media images are no longer within any sensible degree of control in a connected world. It could be photographs of Iraqi prisoners or even Maxine Carr but the principle of Pandora’s Cat offers us a future where society and its moral or even political values has no Mary Whitehouse-style protection from digital content which can be almost instantaneously available to anyone who wants it, across a Web without a conscience.

If this is where we have started, four years into the 21st century, where will it end? Is total freedom of content a benefit to society or will it encourage commercial spin-offs that may yet reproduce the entertainment once seen in the coliseum? When people finally become tired of football, what comes next?

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Mainframe to Mobile

Not one of us has a clue what the world will look like in five years’ time, yet we are all preparing for that future – As  computing power has become embedded in everything from our cars and our telephones to our financial markets, technological complexity has eclipsed our ability to comprehend it’s bigger picture impact on the shape of tomorrow.

Our intuition has been formed by a set of experiences and ideas about how things worked during a time when changes were incremental and somewhat predictable. In March 1953. there were only 53 kilobytes of high-speed RAM on the entire planet.

Today, more than 80 per cent of the value of FTSE 500* firms is ‘now dark matter’: the intangible secret recipe of success; the physical stuff companies own and their wages bill accounts for less than 20 per cent: a reversal of the pattern that once prevailed in the 1970s. Very soon, Everything at scale in this world will be managed by algorithms and data and there’s a need for effective platforms for ma…

Civilisational Data Mining

It’s a new expression I haven’t heard before. ‘Civilisational data mining.’

Let me start by putting it in some context. Every character, you or I have typed into the Google search engine or Facebook over the last decade, means something, to someone or perhaps ‘something,’ if it’s an algorithm.


In May 2014, journalists revealed that the United States National Security Agency, the NSA, was recording and archiving every single cell-phone conversation that took place in the Bahamas. In the process they managed to transform a significant proportion of a society’s day to day interactions into unstructured data; valuable information which can of course be analysed, correlated and transformed for whatever purpose the intelligence agency deems fit.

And today, I read that a GOP-hired data company in the United States has ‘leaked’ personal information, preferences and voting intentions on… wait for it… 198 million US citizens.

Within another decade or so, the cost of sequencing the human genome …

The Big Steal

I’m not here to predict the future;” quipped the novelist, Ray Bradbury. “I’m here to prevent it.” And the future looks much like one where giant corporations who hold the most data, the fastest servers, and the greatest processing power will drive all economic growth into the second half of the century.

We live in an unprecedented time. This in the sense that nobody knows what the world will look like in twenty years; one where making confident forecasts in the face of new technologies becomes a real challenge. Before this decade is over, business leaders will face regular and complex decisions about protecting their critical information and systems as more of the existing solutions they have relied upon are exposed as inadequate.

The few real certainties we have available surround the uninterrupted march of Moore’s Law - the notion that the number of transistors in the top-of-the-line processors doubles approximately every two years - and the unpredictability of human nature. Exper…