‘Technology giveth and technology taketh away, and not always in equal measure. A new technology sometimes creates more than it destroys. Sometimes, it destroys more than it creates. But it is never one-sided.’
Despite Postman’s dire prediction, society has profited immensely from the development, implementation, and operation of new information technologies. Our lives have been enriched by the increased prosperity, expanded opportunity, and greater variety that advances in information technology provide.
The information age is a product of information technology. This is not, however, its distinguishing feature. Despite what many may believe, technology in some form has always been a part of humanity, even in the most primitive of societies. The factor that distinguishes the period of information revolution following the invention of the printing press, and the same factor that distinguishes our technological world today, is that the entire human condition has experienced radical change and has entered into a period of recognizable growth dynamics based on information expansion associated with technological innovations.
As with the printing press, the introduction of the new Internet-based information technology is much more than just a technological discovery to which society must adjust. The explosive growth of the Internet – a worldwide telecommunications network – and a global information society have brought about a transformation of our social systems. As a result, not only the information technology, but also human beings, social relationships, economic standards, norms, and ethical values have evolved.
There are visible parallels between events surrounding the invention and proliferation of the printing press and the societal changes that are appearing as a consequence of new information technology. These are so compelling that one might contend that these will be as dramatic as the events of the scientific revolution, the spread of knowledge, and the Reformation, which all had their roots in the propagation of information as a result of the creation of the printing press.
Unintended consequences will certainly impact the future of society as a result of the new information technology. The cataclysmic societal and cultural changes that occurred subsequent to the invention of the printing press were completely unpredictable. In fact, it took more than a century for these to be recognized.
The invention of the printing press totally transformed the way in which information was created, reproduced, sold, and consumed. It brought into being new economic institutions and relationships and altered old ones beyond recognition. As a result, the printing press represents the only comparable event in the history of communications to the recent information technology revolution.
Gutenberg’s first printing press was invented by converting an old wine press into a printing machine. His first prints were made in the German city of Mainz in 1450, and by 1490 the printing press had permeated 110 cities in six different countries and more than eight million books had been printed; each providing access to information that had never before been available to the average citizen. By the end of the century the technology had spread throughout Europe, setting in motion the first information explosion – a precursor to today’s information revolution.
It is clear that the printing press radically altered the manner in which information was collected, stored, retrieved, criticized, discovered, and promoted – leading eventually and inevitably to the Reformation, the Renaissance, and the scientific revolution.
The printed works enabled by the printing press forced the Reformation, for without crucial access to the printed editions of religious texts and the emerging variations on the relevant dogma issues, Martin Luther may not have had sufficient incentive to develop his revolutionary new theological concepts. Also, without enhanced access to the creation of printed texts, Luther would not have been able to spread his new ideas beyond a few elite.
The Renaissance also owes its spread across Europe to the printing press. While there had been preceding efforts to evolve humanistic concepts prior to the so-called ‘Italian Renaissance’, it was not until the printing press and the subsequent ability to put those ideas into the hands of the average citizen that they were able to proliferate and thrive.
Nowhere was the effect of the printing press as evident as in the scientific revolution. Science relies on the concept of the accumulation of knowledge. The collection and universal availability of scientific data relied on the printing press, whereupon new contributions of knowledge could become part of a permanent accumulation.
It must be noted that the printing press did not invent the book; rather, it changed how books contributed to the preservation and distribution of knowledge. Until the printing press, books were meticulously hand-copied and, consequently, distribution was limited to an extremely small number of the learned and clerics. The printing press allowed the production of thousands of copies of a single manuscript. In essence, books were brought from the libraries of the elite to the homes of the populace.
The printing press also changed how information could be retrieved. Prior to the printing press, the ability to retrieve information was largely dependent on the capability of an individual to recall the location of the information. Indexed books were essentially unknown. After the printing press, however, indexing became part of a more orderly, systematic approach to printed text.
One of the greatest, most immediate and most identifiable consequences of the invention of the printing press was the revolution in education and learning. Previously limited to scholars and clerics, learning through books gradually expanded to become part of the daily life of children and adolescents; thus exposing young citizens to a very different developmental process than that experienced by the youth of medieval society.
If the printing press first fostered the positive concepts of modern individuality, it was also a major factor in the destruction of the medieval constructs of society and community. The printing press represented an example of technology that fostered change, creating both good and bad. The path taken by society after the printing press has led unalterably to what many term a revolution resulting in the advent of the ‘new information technology’.
As emerging information technologies become increasingly prevalent, it also becomes clear that society as a whole finds itself in the midst of an information revolution equally as profound and certainly as far-reaching as the one initiated by Gutenberg and the invention of the printing press. As then, it is not the technology itself that defines this information revolution, but rather the unprecedented capability to enable a degree of one-to-many and many-to-many communication never before seen.
Over 100 years ago, the emergence of the telegraph presented an evolution in mass communication and information sharing begun by Gutenberg and his printing press. While it provided a new means of communication and caused noticeable changes in the speed of communication, it nonetheless remained limited by regulation and technological capability; thus ensuring that it did not expand beyond a select group of users. Consequently, its effects were limited. Short generations later, the telephone appeared, also altering the course of communication. But, like the telegraph, the telephone also was limited in its expansion capability and, consequently, its effects were also restricted. Neither change in communications represented a revolution in the society in which they were introduced.
From the beginning of records and through the industrial age, land, human labour, and physical possessions were the key ingredients of wealth. In this traditional paradigm, the creation of wealth required the transformation of tangible raw materials into some form of product. Over time, the nature of the product has evolved until today we see information and intellectual property serving as the raw material for the development of wealth. There is hardly an organization today that does not rely on information to survive.
Recent decades, however, have witnessed a radical change equal in force to the printing press in the means by which information is collected, stored, retrieved, criticized, discovered, and promoted. The pervasive spread of technology and the means of instant communication and information sharing have created a second information revolution. One of the distinguishing features of today’s information revolution – just as in the day of Gutenberg – is the affordability of the new technologies, as well as access by the masses, rather than by an elite few.
Perceptions of the world and its population are being changed through the availability of information in the form of electronic media. Future generations may experience a new form of information described through electronic documents rather than the written word only. In fact, the many-to-many communication medium of networked technology facilitates the process of maintaining, updating, and distributing knowledge, resulting in immediately available and constantly updated information. Just as in the period following the invention of the printing press and the wider distribution of books and learning to the homes of the populace, the increased availability and affordability of technology that can collect, store, process, and transmit information positions today’s citizens for similar phenomenal change.
Not only has the capability to distribute and update information been enhanced, but also the ability to retrieve that information has taken another momentous leap.
This profusion of new technologies for collecting, processing, transmitting, and displaying information – often collectively called the ‘information revolution’ – are altering the familiar political, economic, socio-cultural, and military dimensions in ways that we do not fully comprehend, and at a rate that people find difficult to accommodate. The information explosion is affecting the global distribution of power.
Information technology also has the ability to shape the way in which individuals interact with information and knowledge. The new information capabilities enable rapid access to information on any topic of immediate concern. Individuals have access in real time to what is occurring across the globe, resulting in a more informed and aware populace. One of the groups affected most directly by information technology and the associated information revolution is our youth.
Peter Drucker pointed out that as early as the age of four, children are displaying computer skills, perhaps even surpassing those of their elders. They are growing up with computers as their toys, their companions, and their tools. Today, there is incongruence between the way schools still teach and the way twenty-first-century children learn. This is very similar to what occurred in the sixteenth-century universities, a hundred years after the invention of the printing press and the availability of books and access to knowledge.
Such major changes in environmental or technological conditions often stimulate new patterns of social organization that in turn demand new cultural responses; e.g. the development of new institutional arrangements and behavioural norms appropriate to the altered conditions. This process extends beyond learning how to implement the new technologies to the more encompassing issue of social reconstruction in the face of new environmental or technological conditions. In other words, the prevailing network of social, economic, and political considerations influence how we respond as the challenge of adaptation is accepted, as new technology is developed and as new purposes are applied.
Information technology spans the globe and there is no doubt that it has been beneficial for human civilization. And while some nations have chosen to reject or delay the unrestricted advance of information technology, for the most part, we have all profited from its existence. Our lives have become richer, prosperity has increased, and information technology has provided a conduit for increased opportunity.
Throughout history, individuals have fallen blindly in love with new technology while easily discarding the old. The endless pursuit of new technologies has often been seen as a panacea for resolving all the complex questions of existence. Infatuated with the technology itself and not always aware of its full implications, mankind can easily become a slave to the technology. For example, cars were invented to provide a more convenient and rapid means of transportation. But their invention was followed by a long line of problems – dependence on oil, rubber refining, and congestion – which in turn generated a sequence of technical solutions, each ultimately leading to environmental pollution, increased traffic management challenges, and a whole host of thornier problems.
So, for every beneficial advance in the area of information technology, there is also an accompanying negative. In our ever-growing dependence on information technology, we are also exposed to increased risk. The dark side of the new information technology is based on the ability to exploit vulnerabilities associated with technology. The effects of this exploitation not only have the potential to cause enormous damage to individual victims, but also to negatively impact confidence in the information technology itself. Information technology has become essential to the everyday operation of most organizations and businesses, and disruption of those services could cripple a company – or even a nation.
Uses of the new technologies illustrate some of the darker features of behaviour and raise issues that should not be ignored. Among the most important are the potential loss of privacy and the lack of adequate laws and practices to protect individuals and groups from misuse of their personal information.
New technologies also make it much simpler for those who are so inclined, to produce and consume what many would consider undesirable kinds of entertainment – child pornography, for example. Another unintended consequence is the movement of traditional and new crimes to the world of information technology; whereby hiding evidence of criminal behaviour or developing new forms of criminal behaviour will become increasingly simpler, especially as society becomes more technologically informed.
So, what are the scenarios that keep those concerned with IT security awake at night?
Increasing dependence: Increased societal and individual dependence on computers and communication systems makes these systems a target for attack. The terror threat towards computer intensive systems will grow as these get more and more important for modern societies.
Increasing complexity: The increasing complexity of networks creates an environment that may lead to increased catastrophic failures. It is likely that no one truly comprehends the complexity and interdependencies of the networks that are being built. The networks will continue to expand exponentially into a single, advanced integrated IP network handling the majority of the world’s communications needs. This converged, broadband, intelligent network will extend well beyond voice and data, local and long distance, supporting an ever-widening array of services, and blurring distinctions among networking, computing and applications. Driven by e-business requirements and facilitated by technological advances such as e-switching and next-generation satellites, the increasing externalization of networking will give rise to an environment where applications, content, and data reside in the network and are dynamically handled by network service providers in real time, without user intervention.
Increasing content: An ever-increasing amount of data is being compiled daily on our individual buying habits, mobile phone usage, credit card purchases, and more. Indeed terabits of personal data are being accumulated and aggregated with little consideration for our privacy. Content is at the core of business transactions, publishing, and entertainment. The diversity, volume, and effect of content will grow such that during the next 10 years, we will experience unprecedented levels of interactive content, driving valuable revenue streams for publishers, corporations, and media companies. Content will be accessible almost anywhere via broadband. The effects of this will stretch from the corporation into the home, as rich media content will be stored and managed in digital asset management systems. High-value content will have to be delivered securely. In the enterprise, the ongoing digitization of more and more information, including document authorization, will fully ease in digital process management for more and more business processes.
Increasing mobility: Mobility represents the next major business and technical discontinuity facing large enterprises. While the PC and Internet revolutionized communication systems, mobility will revolutionize information flow affecting business users, customers, and partners. As early as 2005, the Gartner Group anticipated that by the year 2007 more than 60% of the EU and US population aged 15 to 50 would carry or wear a wireless computing and communications device for at least six hours a day, by 2010 this is expected to be more than 75% (Source: Gartner Group 2005). By 2010, less than 5 percent of global wireless subscribers will be using true 4G technology, but 15 percent will be using components of a full 3G architecture based on LAN/WAN integration and IP applications. In its 2008 predictions, inCode announced 2008 as a year of increasing importance for wireless, especially for the security implications of an increasingly mobile wireless user population.
Increased intelligent devices: While general-purpose computers are interconnected via the Internet, billions of miniature intelligent devices already inhabit the world, with their number increasing faster than the human population. The next ten years will bring new capabilities: a) many physical objects will be coded and therefore will become uniquely identifiable (radio-frequency identification or RFID); b) intelligent devices will be embedded in many physical objects, and will be networked via the (mostly) wireless Internet.
Increased globalization: More and more software and hardware will be developed in low cost countries such as India and China. Commodity computer hardware, firmware, and commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) software are now being developed and manufactured in a number of foreign countries. Some of these have traditionally been openly hostile to the US, and some of their software industries may even be subject to direct influence or pressure from their governments. Frequently, the origin of a given software application may be difficult or even impossible to determine (especially in the case of open source software). And still, many governments have instituted policies to give preference to the purchase and use of COTS software over custom-designed products. Considering this, any hostile nation state or group with software development capability and an agenda could be in an ideal position to sabotage software or hardware developed for export.
Could anyone have foreseen this dramatic turn of events? Many consider the first individual to clearly address this growth trend was a man named Moore. In 1965, Intel Corporation’s co-founder and Chairman Emeritus, Gordon E. Moore, postulated that the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits doubles every year. This idea, called Moore’s Law, is based on the idea that computing power increases at a steady and predictable rate.
 The futurist Alvin Toffler in his book, The Third Wave, described technology in terms of three ‘waves’. The first wave was the Agricultural Revolution, the second wave the Industrial Revolution, and the third wave is the Information Revolution. He argued that the means by which countries amass wealth is reflected in the way in which they wage war. Thus, war in the information age would likely depend largely upon the use of information technology.
 Peter F. Drucker was a writer, management consultant and university professor. He coined the term ‘knowledge worker’ and is known for his works describing the knowledge economy.
 inCode, acquired by Verisign in 2006, has been publishing its wireless predictions annually since 2003. See www.verisign.com/verisigninc/news-and-events/news-archive/us-news-2007/page_043246.html