News from the Not-To-Distant Future

From a Slashdot comment on the story “Big Six UK ISPs Capitulate To Music Industry“:

BBC News April 2nd 2010
ISPs have detected a massive spike in encrypted activity on the internet. Indecipherable “SSL” packets have increased in volume massively in recent months. This trend is seen as “disturbing” in the words of one child protection group.

Protests from expats living in Russia, China and Iran is more muted relative to earlier episodes. One comment received from an expat in Iran states “We used to get bothered by all this, but frankly, it’s so much better over here that we really don’t care anymore.”

“There could be anything being sent in these encrypted streams. Anything at all, and we have no way of knowing it”, said Angela Termagantine, spokesperson for Protecting the Innocent. “There’s little doubt that lurid, disgusting and atrocious images of naked children are being transmitted in these clandestine packets of information. Something Must Be Done.”

Police spokesman Robert Peeler warned the public that very sinister developments have given us cause to believe that a vast network of Terrorists are transmitting plans to bring terror and mayhem to Britain’s streets. “It is likely that this flood of inscruitible data is the precursor to an outright Terrorist assault, if not an invasion , on British citizens.” Police believe that ssl may be a code word for terrorist cells, possibly referring to a passage, or passages from the Koran. Peeler added, “We are working with leaders in the Muslim community to reach young people and other members of the community in an effort to identify the sources of these sinister “ssl” packets.”

When news broke of the recent surge and its potentially sinister meaning, traffic at Tabloid News and Gossip sites spiked as millions of Britons swarmed to read titillating speculation about what may be concealed in the encrypted traffic. “People love this stuff, right.” said editor of the Scandal on Sunday Andy Tartuffe. “I mean, you throw in a bit of nookie, bit of scandel, bit of how’s your father, people go right for it, know wha’ I mean? ” When it was suggested his publication by be sensationalizing the potential content of the traffic surge he retorted, ” Look, it’s all porn right! There’s dirty buggers out there doing dirty deeds and my readers what to hear all about it.” “Especially the kiddie stuff, right. Get’s ’em right rilled up! Big seller.” he added as he drove away in his BMW with an unidentified young woman.

The Home Office has dismissed protests from network and computer professionals that SSL is a much used and needed protocol on the internet, and has moved ahead with plans to outlaw encrypted data on British networks. “We have to stop this sort of thing”, said the Home Office Minister, “Saying that it has legitimate uses, or that only a small fraction of the transmitted material may be illegal is frankly a load of rubbish. If you have nothing to hide, you have no reason to be using these services. Any sensible person can see that.”

In addition to banning SSL traffic and previous legislation mandating the handover of encryption keys, the government plans to have monitoring software installed on all internet connected devices in the country. “When you think about it, it’s a small price to pay for the safety of you and your children.” said the Prime Minister this afternoon. “We have overwhelming public support on this”, he added, citing private party telephone polls.

Someone else responded immediately with:

It’s scary when one can barely tell satire from real world events. It’s too real.

Yes, it is scary.

On “An Inconvenient Truth”

I finally got around to watching “An Inconvenient Truth” tonight, and I have to say, I’m all riled up.

Stormy WeatherThere can be no doubt that climate change is real and is caused by human activity. That’s not what I’m all riled up about. I’m all riled up about what we can do about it and more worryingly, is it already too late?

One of the first things to really “shock” me in the film was the graph of the world’s population. I suppose I’d always “known” it, but I’d never really “known” it, if you follow me. Our population isn’t growing exponentially, it’s growing in some way that defies my knowledge of mathematics to explain it. It’s more like a straight line rising straight up than any sort of curve. In the 1950s there were only a little more than 2 billion people in the world – now we are over 6 billion. In another 30 years there will be close to 9 billion.

That is one hell of a lot of people.

What is perhaps more disturbing is the percentage of the population that is “industrialized.” Because that percentage is rising at an astronomical rate as well. And if you consider that the more “industrialized” a people are, the more energy they consume, well… you don’t need a degree in economic theory to understand basic supply & demand. With that many people, demand for energy will go up a lot. And there is no way our supply can keep up – even if there were vast, untouched resources on the same scale as the Middle East, it wouldn’t be enough to keep up.

Without change, we are going to consume more and more energy. As supply dwindles, and as demand increases, economic pressure will push us to consume every last bit of energy possible – and to hell with the consequences.

We will put the future of the human race – the future of our children – at risk, just for a few more years of energy, of the lifestyle we’ve gotten used to, that we’re “comfortable” with. And this risk is far more than the risk we used to be afraid of at the dawn of the Nuclear Age.

There are only 3 possibilities to deal with this problem:

  1. Reduce the population (thus decreasing demand)
  2. Relocate the population (I’m talking about space colonization)
  3. Invent new technologies to make better use of the limited energy we posses

Let’s address them in turn.

Number 1 is going to happen if we don’t do something yesterday. If things continue as they have gone in the last 50 years, we will see mass starvation and massive death all across the globe. One way or another, there will be fewer people around. But it won’t be a pretty sight.

The Moon and some electric power linesNumber 2 is my personal choice. Space colonization brings with it the ability to harvest energy from the sun – or even terraform other planets and use resources there instead of bringing them from Earth. At least then, if we screw up the Earth so bad, we ourselves won’t totally die out.

Number 3 is starting to happen – although still too slow in many people’s opinions. And new technology can only take us so far – we can only squeeze so much out of a limited resource, no matter how efficient we make the technology. Without deep, radical, fundamental changes in our understanding of how to get energy, we will run out.

When you look at it like that, all 3 choices seem pretty dismal. But the great thing is that we don’t have to choose just one – we can take the best part of each solution and try to use them all at once, and maybe together we can do something about it.

But there’s a dark side to all this. To make a difference, we all really have to do it together. I mean everyone, everywhere, every nation, every city, everyone. We can’t do it piecemeal. It can’t just be one or two or even three countries – even if they are the biggest polluters or energy consumers. It has got to be everyone. Because our human nature demands it – if you have to restrict yourself, change your lifestyle, you’re going to resent your neighbor if he (or she, or they) don’t have to do the same – if they get to keep their lifestyle, if they don’t have to make sacrifices like you do. Our human nature demands that we all give equally, or else none of us will give. (This is, of course, a form of the “tragedy of the commons.”)

And we will all have to give. This sort of change isn’t going to be easy. I have a favorite little quote from one of my favorite movies, “The Lion King,” that goes something like this:

“Change is good…”

“…Yeah, but it’s not easy!”

Truer words were never said.

But we must change. It’s not going to be painless – let’s get that right out in the open right now. It’s going to hurt. Maybe a little, maybe a lot. That’s the way change is. And like most major paradigm-shifting changes, you can’t really see how things are going to be until you’re on the other side – and so will it be with this change. We don’t know what the future will bring, or even what it will be like. But we know we have to make the change. Because we do know what the future will be like if we don’t change.

It is not going to be easy. But it will be good.

Once we are on the other side, things will be better. We’ll have the technology, the policies, the systems in place and it’ll all be easy. Because once you’ve made the change, and it’s over with, well, it’s no longer change anymore – it’s just the way things are.

As the movie credits rolled, I was reminded of another quote that I really like – maybe you’ve even heard it before. I think that it is just as appropriate now as it was when it was first uttered:

For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”

John F. Kennedy
Address at American University
Washington, D.C., 1963

(Image credit to muha… and Kliefi for their Creative Commons licensed images.)