I think a fitting start to this section of Treehouse Projects would be a post which, in some ways, reflects on how technology has completely added a new dimension to our lives within a time span of just a few decades.
Recently, I came across the following article on CNet: How you may have inadvertently participated in recent DDoS attacks. For most of us, we can read through articles like these without any issues – normal stuff. Yeah, there have been virus attacks, we know what they do, how they work, things like that. Even if we don’t understand every detail, we get the gist of it. But this article got me thinking, and made me wonder how completely irrelevant and meaningless this article would be to anyone on Earth just a few decades ago.
In general, what is necessary for a computer virus to spread? Well, first we need a medium for that to occur – let’s say, the World Wide Web (we’ll skip ARPANET). The World Wide Web was invented by Tim Berners-Lee during the 80′s while he was at CERN. Great, but a virus needs something to infect – let’s say, a computer. Sure, we can go back to Charles Babbage and his analytical engine (early 1840′s), but for all intents and purposes, the real first modern computer – in my opinion – was Konrad Zuse’s Z3 (1941). Finally, the first real computer virus which embodies the characteristics that define a modern virus was probably the Creeper Virus (1971, created by Bob Thomas).
Considering these facts, it seems obvious that before the 1970′s pretty much all humans should not have heard of the world wide web, or viruses – let alone imagine the ramifications of either in the physical world. That was only 43 years ago. Also important to note is the fact that the world population was only about 3.6 billion (doubled in 43 years)! Yet here we are, reading articles describing such intricate details founded upon the basic assumption that we know what all of these things are. I mean, if you just showed the excerpt for the article I linked above to someone roughly 43 years ago, today, let’s look at how many terms they wouldn’t know at all, or simply would not be able to put in context:
So you may be wondering why this is so spectacular. While it is common sense that as time moves forward, innovations occur and things change, I am just awestruck by the speed and magnitude of the change occurring in the technological age. Humans are by nurture (and some may argue by nature) trained to think linearly for the most part, but technology is moving at exponential rates. Technology as we know it has become such a prevalent part of our lives, and has the ability to do everything from crippling entire nations, to uniting millions regardless of geographical location in massive collaborative projects for social welfare. It’s hard to fathom the scope and potential of all this very modern technology.
Actually, I was inspired to write this post by a TED talk I watched. Andrew McAfee’s talk, Are Droids Taking Our Jobs?, opened my eyes to aspects of current technology which I was completely unaware of. For example, I would have never guessed that an article such as the following …
… was not written by a human. In fact, it is the product of machine learning – i.e. a computer compiled the relevant data, and ‘writes’ an article in a style which we are all very comfortable with because it has learned how to do that … from us. The irony of this whole situation is quite pronounced – and I may sound like a broken record, but I want to repeat that none of this existed not too long ago (including a company called Apple, which the above article is written about). I just find it amazing that things can change so fast, and it just makes me wonder what could possibly come next – more so, how fast it will arrive.