It is a fact that the sun and the moon periodically illuminate the world. Nobody can permanently prevent or restrict light emanating from the sun and the moon. Although the suppressed truth can someday be unfolded, ripple effects created by such suppression cannot be reversed. There was a time when western countries obtained the services of WikiLeaks and internet hackers to ridicule African leaders who they thought were dictators. However, when brave and humane solider Bradly Manning posted Iraq war logs on WikiLeaks, he turned-out to be an enemy, in the eyes of the western world. Also, inspired by the courageous and uncompromising stance of Julian Assange, held up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, the young computer analyst Edward Snowden stepped forward to reveal the huge espionage campaign carried out by the National Security Agency (NSA) of the USA. From the Pope to Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and Russian President Putin to German Chancellor Angela Merkel protested against the unlawful and unethical behaviour of NSA for having listened to their conversations and hacking their emails etc.
Assange has also warned that NSA’s capability of scrutinising internet activities is getting doubled every 18 months. (This is called Moore’s law). It is now evident that the information warfare has already begun.
Due to certain unfortunate incidents that happened in the recent past, many leading schools in Sri Lanka have banned students from using Facebook. Our Elections Commissioner also has declared that using SMS texts through mobile phones for election campaigns is illegal. Our opposition political parties have managed to create a wrong impression among the general public that the government is trying to ban Facebook facilities and other social media network. It is also reported that certain powerful embassies are now having workshops on how to incite the general public to advance their hidden agendas. It is a known fact that from the Arab Spring to India’s Anna Hazzare and anti-rape movement, the social media has played vital roles.
In 1970 Alan Shoegurt (IBM) introduced the floppy disk. IBM and Apple developed the personal computer (PC) instead of main frame computers. That was the turning point of privacy and individualism in computing
Under these circumstances, should we ban social media networks or should we technologically or otherwise regulate those facilities? This could be one of the most interesting debates in the age of information technology war, in Sri Lanka and in the world at large. This new era of information is based on a great synthesis of two historical scientific phenomena, namely computing and communication.
Construction of the number system and computing could be considered great cultural inventions of mankind. Numbers as well as the first ever mechanical computing system originally evolved in Asia. Later on this knowledge system was exploited and reinvented in Europe. It was Charles Babbage (1822) who tried to invent the steam driven calculating machine. Although it was a failure, Herman Hollerith (1880) designed a mechanical calculator to be operated using a punched card system. This led to the setting up of a commercial computing company (in 1911) which later became IBM. During the Second World War (1930-40) a new computing machine was introduced without gears, cams, belts or shafts, capable of storing information in its memory. It was Von Neumann who fled Germany due to Hitler’s anti-Jew threats and formulated new architecture for the modern computer (1944). Later, the numerical integrator, calculator and digital computer were developed and during 1950-60 protocols and languages (COBOL-FORTRAN) were developed. After the 1960s’ silicon-based electronic revolution, integrated circuits (IC) were made possible and as a result, a tremendous leap forward for data storages was witnessed. In 1970 Alan Shoegurt (IBM) introduced the floppy disk. IBM and Apple developed the personal computer (PC) instead of main frame computers. That was the turning point of privacy and individualism in computing.
Because of the Soviet-US cold war and space and nuclear technology race, new ways of sending signals instead of direct ‘circuit switching’ were developed. This was called ‘packet switching’ and a network of computers was able to act as nodal points of a grid of information. Earlier the US used this as a defence-related information system (ARPA net) later known as the internet. (This was coined by Leonard Kleinvock –MIT graduate student). At the very first experiment, signals were sent from UCLA to Stanford only to find it getting crashed after two letters.
Now, 1.7 billion use the internet and the total capacity of the global computing system is 295 Exabyte (20 zeros after295).
On 12 March 1989, Timothy Burns Lee forwarded a research paper to his boss Mike Sendall on information management and it became the basis for the World Wide Web (WWW). When this hypertext mark ship language (HTML) technique was utilised by Lee, the word processing and registry of dot com domains had already been commercialised. In 1999 Wifi systems or internet without wires was introduced. In 2006 the mobile computer was introduced and it was followed by iPhone (2007), iPad (2010) and smartphone (2011). Now, PCs are being rapidly replaced by smartphones.
These soft technologies consume only four per cent of the world energy demand but contribute over twenty per cent for the growth rate. Its economic impact is 3.4 per cent of the GDP in industrialised countries and much more than their agricultural output
One of the greatest cultural achievements of humankind was the creation of languages using symbols, letters and grammar. During the early days humankind communicated with each other using vocal or acoustic meanings and then using writing and printing all of which were developed in Asia. Earlier signals were sent using smoke, drums, pigeon mails and Semaphones. In Europe there were attempts to invent acoustic mechanical telephones (1672) and later to develop optical telegraphs. After the invention of electricity, the electric telegraph was made possible. The first Transatlantic telegraph cable was laid in 1858 between the USA and the UK. Thereafter the telephone was invented (1876). After Maxwell’s intervention, electromagnetic waves were identified and it opened the doors for wireless communication. Japan first successfully used radio signals in war against Russia (1904) and thereafter every predatory nation wanted to exploit electromagnetic spectrum to win wars.
Television was born in 1927. Based on Arthur C. Clarke’s Satellite or geostation concept (1945), the first communication satellite began transmitting its signals in 1962. Subsequent to the introduction of a great synthesis of communication and computation by an IC based company in the 1960s, mobile networks and internet telephones were introduced in 1981 and 2003, respectively. Thereafter, Facebook, twitter and other social media instruments were introduced.
Now, another two great syntheses are being evolved. One is synthesis between gene technology (WET) and bit technology (DRG). The other is quantum mechanics and computing mechanics. Both bisections immensely enhanced capacity and capability of information and communication.
Now we can witness significant penetration of this information technology into economy. These soft technologies consume only four per cent of the world energy demand but contribute over twenty per cent for the growth rate. Its economic impact is 3.4 per cent of the GDP in industrialised countries and much more than their agricultural output. Now the internet is being widely used for e-commerce (8 trillion US dollars) and cloud schools, cloud universities, cloud markets and cloud factories are popping up everywhere, paving the way for a new industrial era.
On the other, giant onlookers like NSA and smart hackers like WikiLeaks can penetrate the private lives of individuals, corporations, institutions and even governments
However, due to a few reasons, a social crisis is being evolved over the activities of hyper-real cyber space. On the one hand, people can upload and download any unethical, defamatory or criminal stuff while interacting with cyberspace. On the other, giant onlookers like NSA and smart hackers like WikiLeaks can penetrate the private lives of individuals, corporations, institutions and even governments. That is why humankind needs some regulations on governments (NSA) and companies (Google, Yahoo and Facebook) which dominate cyberspace. On the other hand, the creator of the www, Tim Barnes Lee declared we need a Magna Carta on cyberspace to protect our liberty. These are the two divergent views that need to be debated, the world over, including in Sri Lanka.
We cannot and should not refuse the new instruments created in cyberspace like www, Facebook, Twitter and Skype etc. Instead, we should evolve technological, legal and social frameworks to use these soft technologies for the benefit of humankind.