THE FUTURE OF THE
GLOBAL INFORMATION SOCIETY
The complex web of the global information grid will undergo explosive changes over the coming decades. As advances in science and technology converge, a myriad array of discoveries in biotechnology, nanotechnology and information technology will produce unpredictable effects that must be accounted for in any estimate of what the world will look like in this future. A strategically important feature of this world will be the emerging trend of information warfare. Though still immature at present day, this trend will become increasingly dominant in the years to come. The information warfare of tomorrow will be radically different from its prototype today. No longer will it be confined to the mainframes of the Internet or to corporate databases: the battleground of the future will draw into its scope the scientific advances being made today in bio- and nano- technologies. The divisions between man and machine will blur.
When networked technologies are ubiquitous, a state-sponsored attack on the Internet can have far-reaching, and devastating, physical consequences. This briefing examines the contributing factors that have lead to shaping this most unique of times in human history. Alvin and Heidi Toffler’s Third Wave has been realized. We live in an increasingly information-dominated world, vulnerable to attack from the very features that give it its power and versatility. In digital space, location no longer bears any meaning.
Futurists Alvin and Heidi Toffler mapped the evolution of society in three progressive ‘waves’: the agrarian, industrial, and information stages of development. These transitions revolutionized the very foundations of modern society. We are now witnessing the convergence of technologies catalyzed by the information age. We have traversed the crest of the Third Wave, and will witness in the 21st century a synthesis of knowledge that can only be characterized as a new Renaissance. The Third Wave transition was roughly concurrent to the advent of the networked computer. ARPANET, the predecessor to the modern Internet, was developed by the US Advanced Research Projects Agency to facilitate communications between government and university researchers. But the scientists who developed this network had no way to foresee how quickly the Internet would grow to encompass the world. Its rapid explosion into the worldwide web marked a phase transition of unprecedented proportions – one that has propelled the world headlong into the age of networked information.
The sweeping changes brought about by the information revolution have sent resounding shockwaves through society, transforming virtually every field of scientific endeavor. But driven by Moore’s Law, these changes are only accelerating in their progression. The Internet will change beyond recognition over the coming decades. Optical routing will bring increased bandwidth. Embedded micro-electromechanical sensors, no larger than a grain of sand, will link appliances together through wireless communications. The network will become a truly ubiquitous medium. These advances alone would deeply transform the world around us. But the field of information technology does not exist in a vacuum – the revolution in informatics is inextricably linked to every other field of scientific inquiry.
Synergistic advances in neuroscience and artificial intelligence will profoundly change the way we look at ourselves and the world around us. When asked what to expect from science over the coming years, an interdisciplinary committee of Nobel laureates1 agreed upon one thing: the coming years will bring revolutionary changes in our understanding of the mind. Dr. Ronald Brachman, Director of the DARPA Information Processing Technology Office, has gone so far as to say that “we will move from the age of information to the age of cognition2.”