Internet: Can we do without it ?

God moves in mysterious ways; so does the Internet,  I would say.  I  type something here, and it shows up on someone’s desktop or iPad elsewhere, at times, baffling the recepient.
I was baffled to see a mail in my Inbox the other day,  from Air India, sending me an e-ticket to Chicago, for a flight I hadn’t booked. In fact, I have no travel plan in the coming months.

it was a mistake. And, I hope Mr Kuppuswamy, for whom the mail was meant, has got his flight ticket. Such is life  in our digitized world.  Danny Hillis,  computer researcher and scientist at MIT,  says the unfathomable dimension that the Internet has assumed in recent decades made us increasingly vulnerable to mistakes. He refers to an Internet mistake that happened in April last year, when, for a few hours a lot of the Internet traffic, including online messages between US military installations, was getting re-routed through China. China telecom said it was accidental.  And the fault was rectified as soon as they detected it.

This example highlights  how vulnerable the Internet system is to a cyber attack. Dr Hillis raises another possibility – what, if the world wide Internet were to crash. It’s a possibility that hadn’t occurred to me till I heard Dr Hillis on TED Talk. Internet has become so much a part of life, for so many, that a world without the Net would be unimaginable. In our chip-embedded world there is hardly any aspect of one’s life that remains untouched by the Internet technology. Internet today is being used in far too many different ways than what people in the 80s could have imagined. Billions of Internet users, virtually  enslaved to digital trappings, face consequences of mistakes – unintended or deliberate –  made by someone, somewhere  else, anywhere in the world.

Dr. Hills cited an instance where all aircraft to the west of Mississippi  got grounded because a single routing card in Salt Lake city had a bug in it. Nearer home, in Chennai recently, several incoming flights were diverted to Hyderabad, Bangalore and elsewhere because of a minor fire affecting a computer system at ATC tower. The wired world is getting increasingly worried about cyber mishaps. We don’t even know of the scale and scope of the impact that a cyber disaster could cause.

Danny Hillis Proposition 1 –  the Internet, as we know it, could crash,  bringing the world to a standstill.

Proposition 2 – we need a Plan B –  a clear back-up system that is independent of the Internet, made out of completely different sets of building blocks. How Dr Hillis would go about it is something I can’t understand.

What I do understand is,  that his Plan B idea sounds a note of caution to the digitally developing India. While digitizing land records, treasury payments, of pension, relief, and issue of varied documents and entitlement certificates  the govt. would do well to retain,  as a back-up, the traditional transactional mode. This would help minimize impact on the vulnerable sections in the event of a digital conk-out . Irony is, people who are not Internet users have their lives affected by an accident or cyber attack in the digitized world.

Danny Hillis:The Internet could crash. We need a Plan B


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