Net Force Or Net Farce?
I'm not much of a TV watcher, nor am I a Tom Clancy fan. It's not that I
think there's anything wrong with Tom Clancy, but I prefer my science
fiction with a little more futurism and a little less turbo-testosterone. I
did, however, watch the recently screened made-for-television version of Tom
Clancy's Net Force. It was less a matter of choice and more a result
of being too tired and lazy to get up off the couch to fish the remote
control out from under a stack of junk mail.
For anyone who missed the TV version or didn't read the book, here's the
synopsis-in-a-can. The year is 2010, and the Internet is the only method of
conducting business, entertainment, transportation and communication.
Nothing operates free of the Web: traffic control; police, fire and
emergency response; artificial intelligence; voice communications;
virtual-reality-facilitated "face-to-face" meetings; the global
finance market; medical processes; air trafficit's a world in which basic
human decision-making seems to have been rendered helpless without the
Internet. (One might argue that we've already arrived at that scenario, but
that's another story.)
To maintain order in this Web-enabled world, the FBI has created a
special branch called the Net Force, a group of technically superior ber-Geeks
who protect the whole system from Bad Guys. (In the TV version, everyone who
works for Net Force is buff, stylishly dressed, fantastically coiffed,
supremely attractive and always lip-glossedthis may be the most science
fiction element of the whole story.) In any case, the Bad Guys begin causing
chaos, as Bad Guys will do, and the world goes haywire during subsequent
attacks: road traffic slows to a stand-still, urban chaos results, financial
markets implode, patients die on the operating table and massive power
losses occur (though luckily, no catastrophic lip gloss shortage results).
During and after the movie, I couldn't help wondering why a scenario like
this would even merit surprise, let alone suspense. This is the equivalent
of being startled that you ran out of gas when you failed to fill your tank
for several hundred miles.
Let's examine the scenario that could occur between now in 2002, in which
some parts of life are facilitated by the Internet, and 2010, when according
to Tom Clancy, all aspects of life will be controlled by the Internet.
Microsoft Creates NetPatient, Web-Based Software For Surgical
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Finkleheimer, I tried very hard to save your husband,
but just at the moment I was about to remove his gallbladder, NetPatient's
customized surgery plan froze and then the whole system crashed. We tried to
control-alt-delete Mr. Finkleheimer, but his program was not responding.
Please accept my condolences."
The Air-Traffic Control System Forms An Alliance With AOL
"Roger, flight 2233, you are a go for an approach to O'Hare runway
number 7. Flight 67, you are approved for an approach to runway number 7no,
Cheerful AOL Voice: "Good-bye!"
"Tower, this is flight 67hello? Are you there? You said runway 7,
Bored Teenagers Have Nothing To Do In The Summer Months
"Dear Citizens of Planet Earth: We, the Global Light & Power
Company, do apologize for the five-week power outage experienced through
most of Western Europe, the entire North American continent and the Horn of
Africa. It appears that a 14-year-old boy in Cleveland thought it would be
groovy to launch a denial-of-service attack against the servers that control
our gridthings should be sorted out within the next month. Please be
Goods In Transit Disappear Into The Mist
The U.S. Department of Agriculture issues a formal apology to the
families of the 972 people who died of E. coli poisoning, explaining that
because of slow Web traffic, officials failed to realize that 1,500 pounds
of ground beef on its way from the meat packing plant in Dallas to a
Wal-Mart super store in Minneapolis sat in the Texas sun at the Dallas-Fort
Worth airport for 17 hours.
Hackers Cause Big Business To Lose Trillions Each Year
"Bert the Broker, I instructed you to sell my 5,000,000 shares of
Zippy-Doo, Inc. stock when it dropped below $229 a share. Now it's at eight
cents a share and you never sold it. I'm ruined!"
"Sorry, sir, but when I tried to access the trading system, it had
been hacked by porn spammers and all I could see was a Web site offering
pictures of Naughty College Co-Eds In Saran Wrap."
Human Errors Go Untraced For Dangerous Periods Of Time
Jim the Military Leader: "Hello, State Department? U.S. forces are
under attack by a rogue group of Nepalese Yak Farmer Rebels. Why haven't you
sent us the codes to launch the yurt-flattening missiles on them?"
State Department: "We did send the codes! Aren't you JimBob7996@earthlink.net?"
Jim the Military Leader: "No! No! I'm JimBob7966@earthlink.net!"
ATM Machines Indiscriminately Spill Money
"Agnes, I know we've been married for 50 wonderful years, and I
said I'd always take care of you, but our life savings has disappeared due
to a database error. I don't think we're going to be able to survive on what
we've gotwait! Is that ATM machine spewing $100 bills?
With all due respect to Tom Clancy, the world he envisions in Net
Force scares me a bit. I won't even put a credit card number onto the
Internet today in 2002. Chances are good in the next eight years, nothing is
going to happen that will change my mind and make me feel happy to
Web-enable my health, my safety, my finances and my personal information.
Not with the major players still squabbling over who owns instant messaging,
how long to archive sent messages and how the CEO can come clean about the
hidden corporate balance sheet losses without losing the villa in Tuscany.
On a final note, I highly doubt that if such a scenario occurs, our Net Force
agents will be much like Scott Bakula, an intelligent and intense
techno-genius, trotting around the country with his concerned frown and
toned physique. When I think of an FBI branch dedicated to Internet
security, I can't help but conjure up images of bored, under-trained agents
shooting rubber bands at one another and arguing over whose turn it is to
bring in the doughnuts, while the Bad Guys download Fort Knox into their
personal underground bunkers.
But maybe I'm just a cynic.
The author may be contacted at email@example.com.