Black Holes and Technical Collapsegreenspun.com : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread
I have tried to step back from the specifics of Y2K for awhile to consider a larger question. Is a societal collapse inevitable given a globally homogenous technical infrastructure? Western megacorps create and market technically sophisticated infrastructure 'vital' products which become necessary to achieving ever greater carrying capacity. The easiest example is the vast array of communication, including GPS, satellites. Today, these conduits for information are absolutely essential for the conduct of international business and banking. Consider the problems that occured when ONE satellite failed last year and took out 1/3 of all the pager traffic and a lot of POS terminals. Coming over the technical horizon are immensely powerful biological tools (cloning and genetic manipulation) that will affect many parts of our food supply. Herds of genetically identical cows will supply meat and milk. Fields of wheat 'designed' to be disease resistant, etc, etc. Can you think of a technical 'oops' scenario involving genetically engineered crops that could lead to the loss of say half the food supply in a few months? Can you think of a technical way to lose all the satellites in one day that doesn't involve software or meteors? I can. Lastly, consider the current drive in software engineering for a 'dominant' and universal computer language. JAVA is touted by some as this answer and MS is pushing their version very hard. What would it mean 25 years from now if all programming, from PLC's to big iron mainframes, were all based on a common language? Maybe this is too subtle for the non-geeks, but I assure you that no existant language is without certain bugs/foibles/quirks/eccentricities etc. There are a number of OTHER date problems PAST 2000 that we already know exist in certain operating systems and languages. (OH, but surely we won't be running THOSE languages by then! SOMEBODY will replace them.)
It seems to me that on the other side of Y2K, we must find a way to keep our technical systems heterogenous and redundant, much like organic systems. Otherwise the Y2K debacle may truly be seen as a 'minor' premonition of the coming collapse. The imagery I get in this regard revolves around the physics of a black hole. At a certain distance from a black hole, anything approaching that limit from the outside can never escape. This limit point is called an 'event horizon'. I suspect that there may be a corresponding level of homeogenous technical infrastructure complexity beyond which a collapse is inevitable.
-- RD. ->H (email@example.com), January 21, 1999
All together now, class, M...O...N...O...culture. For over four billion years nature has offered the example of a robust sustainable system. Its most important attribute is diversity, multifarious elements in a dance of cooperation/competition, ever-evolving and changing, mostly a little at a time. If any portion of that system is stressed or even destroyed, the remainder pick up the slack and compensate, either by supporting or by replacing the weakened system.
We come along with our limited intellects and, in the name of efficiency, attempt to establish homogenous systems---agricultural, sociological, technological. Now all it takes is one pest or disease, one devastating "-ism" or "-ology", one short-sighted programming decision to wipe out most of the system. And there is precious little diversity of other systems to compensate.
Of the thousands of posters and lurkers on this forum, I'll wager that "most" of you understand this better than the so-called decision makers, the ultimate DGIs. I guess this is just one of those silly, irrelevant philosophical conundra. There are much more important bottom-lines to be concerned about.
"What if from the beginning of life, nature were perceived as teacher, guide, source; as important to us as our families? How differently would we live?"---Anita Barrows
-- Hallyx (Hallyx@aol.com), January 22, 1999.
I'm a 10 on a 10 scale. Mission critical facilities are often in or around large cities and will be exposed to the dangers of civil disorder. People talk about recovery taking anywhere from a month to generations.
What percent of "mission critical" facilities _must remain physically intact and usable to ensure physical ability to recover a society wide techno society? And most especially, what percent of the "mission critical" workforce _must be alive, well, willing, able, and in the area, to perform, enabling recovery?
What are the "Mission Critical" facilities, who are the keyworkers that make it all run?
What contingency plans are achievable ensuring operating plants, worker willingness to remain on job, and overall safety in the face of the standard 5 or above scenario?
-- Mitchell Barnes (firstname.lastname@example.org), January 22, 1999.