Information at the Speed of Light
Thousands of years ago, news traveled at the pace of man or animal. I mean to say you would only learn what someone else was doing or what was happening either in the next town, village, kingdom, etc. only as fast as it could physically get to you. It took days, weeks or months to learn that your neighbors had a new means of creating fire, that the wheel was invented, that an army was headed your way or that there was a disaster. This made our ability to learn from each other and improve on what we learned slow, inconsistent, and unreliable.
I’ve heard on TV shows, online and in movies that there are those that believe much of the technology we have today came from visiting aliens. That we captured them, or they willingly shared it with us, and we use it in military equipment and then slow roll it out to the general populace. I won’t argue whether or not this is true but I have another hypothesis, the speed at which information is shared, processed and stored is the key factor in the ability for the human race to have accomplished so much in the last 100 years.
Over time we invented faster means of physical transportation. We were able to cross large spans of land on horses and camels and we could cross large waterways with boats. This evolved to trains and ships and then to airplanes. While physical transportation was evolving a new type of communication was born, electronic. The ability to transmit messages at near speed of light over wires, then over the air, completely changed our ability to communicate. We could now in moments transmit information from one side of the country to the other in seconds, no pony express, train, or plane could beat it. That evolution continued to progress until we were able to not only transmit verbal information but data.
The ability to collaborate with someone on data across the country or the world catapulted our ability to advance in ways people of the past hadn’t yet dreamt. The other advancement that was part of this evolution was the ability to use machines to interpret and calculate data at speeds impossible for the human brain. This allowed us to perform work in weeks that would have taken years. As this computing evolution proceeded those weeks turned into days, then to hours, minutes and seconds. Now the experiments that the scientist, engineer or economist would have spent lengthy amounts of time and brain energy on was complete faster and without as much effort. Now we start seeing the fruits of those labors more rapidly. The time to market continued to decrease and the illusion that we are using other worldly technologies becomes less plausible. What we are using are “external brains” that are smarter and faster than we but that we invented through the sharing of ideas and information.
Brains also store information.. In the past we were limited by our ability to retain our learning and knowledge. Cave walls, stone pillars and statues, papyrus, scrolls and paintings supplemented our brains in an effort to keep the information longer and to more easily share it. Unfortunately, these methods have the misfortune of being a slave to time. They deteriorate, can easily be altered, aren’t easily shared and they need to be physically secured. The advent of the ability to read and write brought on by the creation of mass distributed books and periodicals opened up a new door to the masses to get reliable or not so reliable information. This still required transportation to get the message to spread. Today we have the ability to store that data in near perpetuity, as it was originally written, leaving nothing to interpretation and deliver it in seconds. Now we can share news from the other side of the earth in a moment and refer back to it years to come.
Our technology enables us to create, compute and understand at a rate of speed that provides the illusion that our performance exceeds our means. If the Egyptians could build the pyramids with the ancient technology they created, why it is so hard to believe that we could create what we have today with the technology at our disposal? This is just my hypothesis on a factor or two of the advancement of human intelligence. I’m sure genetics, evolution, and environment might have something to with it but I’ll leave those topics for others smarter than I.
My only ask is that we take the time to understand that we aren’t slowing down and the need to protect the ability to process the data and to secure the data we have in ways we haven’t considered in the past. Putting knights with Halberds at the door to your data center won’t do you much good when the Huns are approaching via a piece of malware embedded in a link via email or there is a vulnerability in your web app that is the equivalent to leaving the key to the royal library out for anyone.
Our security needs to match our abilities to create and learn and we need to assess of strengths and weaknesses regularly lest we fall to adversaries more powerful than we. To achieve this we need to engage experts that can help us determine our risks and vulnerabilities and recommend actionable changes that improve our security posture thereby protecting our second most critical asset, information systems. (People are still the most critical.)