We had a debate at work today on whether we think the Internet would become self-aware at some point in the near future.  While it was mostly conjecture that resulted in us ribbing each other for stupid ideas, it did start me thinking down a path that I hadn’t thought about for several years.  A former professor of mine posed a single quote, author unknown, that we debated for over four hours.  I might have brought this up before in a previous post and I’m just too lazy to go looking for it, but here goes.

“The computer is the network.”

Obviously it can be interpreted as “The network is the computer” but for the sake of keeping things semi-short, I will stick with the original quote.  Putting some logic behind it, one is able to determine that it is true and false at the same time.  What I mean is its a modern “Chicken or Egg” discussion in that its easy to see if from both sides.  Would networks, as we know them as electrical signals that are on or off, have existed if there weren’t any computers?  Would computers, as we know them as smart thinking boxes, have existed if there were no networks?  You can answer yes to both questions, but you can also answer no depending on your point of view.  Does that make sense?

The theory behind artificial intelligence is that with enough data, or input, an electrical circuit can and will become aware of its environment.  Simple machines, the size of matchbox cars, have been built with simple circuits that didn’t have memory or storage capacity and have learned their environment well enough to not repeat past mistakes, such as run into an obstacle.  Provided everything remains constant, they don’t go back to the place they ran into a wall or a table leg.

Now, take into account that the Internet has reached a level where you hypothetically measure its contents in exabytes, as in 1 exabyte is the same as 1,024 terabytes, or for the non-technical people, 1,024 terabytes is the same as 1,048,576 gigabytes.  I used a calculator so I know my math is correct, lol.  Moving on, that information is served up and transported by the most advanced and cutting edge computers in the world.  It’s not a stretch to hypothesize someone out there creating a very simple “learning” malware application that anticipates the end-users removal techniques and effectively counteracts said techniques long enough to spread to several hundred computers.  There is documented proof on the speed that malware or a virus spreads around the internet.

Straight out of a science fiction book, that malware, learning all the way along, infects the largest and most powerful computers in the world.  Quicker than we can comprehend, it now has access to the entire digital footprint of the human race and learns at an exponential rate until we realize what is going on all too late.  What we had created as a simple network back in the 1970’s has now become an enemy that has control over utilities, electricity, warheads, planes, ships, and any computer in the world connected to it.  A technical life form by definition, but without any physical presence to attack.

How would you use a laptop that has now become aware of you, and will protect itself at all costs to keep you from unplugging it, removing its battery, etc.?  A scary thought that is, as previously mentioned, right out of a science fiction book.  There are theorists all over the internet talking about this sort of thing, which in my opinion is making things easier for the the Internet (would we call it Lord Internet when it makes us slaves?) to one up us.  Make us obsolete and alter the world to suit its needs….

I for one could, at a moments notice, disconnect and exist off the grid in some mountain cabin in the middle of Montana!