CYBERSPACE


Like gods, we have created a new universe called cyberspace that contains great good and ominous evil. We do not know yet if this new dimension will produce more monsters than marvels, but it is too late to go back.  David Horsey.

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When, in the 1880s Heinrich Hertz put into evidence the existence of the electromagnetic waves that James Clerk Maxwell’s theory had predicted, it was regarded as an interesting discovery, but little more. Hertz himself did not see any use for it. But it was a revolutionary discovery with far reaching impacts on human civilization. For the first time in history humans had generated invisible radiations that would eventually be used for communication. Radio and television became possible.

In 1948, Norbert Wiener started the study of “control and communication” in animals and machines, He called that emerging science which deals with the mechanics of systems that transmit, adjust and manipulate information cybernetics. The word was coined from a Greek word meaning one who steers, governs.

Next we come to the age of computers by the close of the twentieth century. Computers store enormous amounts of data that would need volumes of physical space   as pages, files, and books. One can keep pictures and sounds, and much more in them. One can see on the computer screen photographs, watch movies, listen to speeches and songs. It is more than bringing the contents of a whole library of several thousand books into a little box in your room.

Furthermore, one can retrieve whatever on wants  from this gigantic mass of stored data by merely clicking on a keyboard.

Ordinary things are contained in physical space. The contents of printed materials are stored in pages. Movies used to be on films. We now imagine an abstract intangible region where all the information in computers is stored. That realm is called cyberspace.

Cyberspace is not a physical space from where you can put tangible things. Rather it as a storehouse harboring limitless information that is available to computers all over the world. Unlike ordinary space it is throbbing in virtual reality, ceaselessly dynamic and expanding,  holding on to its contents for ever and ever. It is a world wherein information is embedded in digital codes of 0 and 1 that can be deciphered in visible and audible modes on the computer screen. William Gibson described it as “a consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators in every nation…”

Another extraordinary feature of cyberspace is that elements in it are interactive. Unlike radios and televisions, computers communicate. This has resulted in one more giant step forward in the world of communication: Instantaneous transmission of e-mails and text-messages, documents and pictures.

All this is grand and glorious: magnificent advances in science and technology. However, it hasn’t been able to skip the Eudys Principle which states that every good thing introduced into human societies will, sooner or later, have some ill-effects.

So it has been with the cyber-world. Cyberspace is not just for e-mail, you-tube, and retrieving old movies. It is also a realm in which some of the foundations of modern technological societies are embedded. These range from electric power grids and financial institutions to news channels and nuclear reactors.

Since computers all over the world interact it is possible for the wielders of giant computers and sundry miscreants to penetrate  into the private computer worlds of people. It is no secret that governments can and often do snoop into the personal communications of citizens, and cyber criminals steal personal information of innocuous people. Then again, since computers, however carefully guarded, are interlinked at various levels in the global arena, mischievous  manipulation of alien computers to steal or sabotage is possible in principle, and  fait accompli in may cases. These intrusive acts in which many governmental agencies engage are still in their infancy. Their frightening malign potential may be unleashed in wars of the future.

So it is with some jubilation and much trepidation that we reflect on this fast-growing field of cyberspace and its impacts.

Published by:

Varadaraja V. Raman

Physicist, philosopher, explorer of ideas, bridge-builder, devotee of Modern Science and Enlightenment, respecter of whatever is good and noble in religious traditions as well as in secular humanism,versifier and humorist, public speaker, dreamer of inter-cultural,international,inter-religious peace.

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