Armageddon: How it might happen…
I’d been prepared to write off something that happened to me this morning as a private, although quite profound, experience. But tonight at work, one of the guys brought in Terminator II; and after what happened this morning, I chewed on keeping it quiet… and decided not to.
I had an experience this morning of a very profound nature. For the first time in 27 or so years, and only the second time in my life, I was absolutely, stone-cold convinced that the blinding flash of light was about to come, followed shortly thereafter by the 400c oven of heat that would cook you alive as you screamed freakishly your last breath. I was absolutely convinced that nuclear war was imminent. Not “in the near future” imminent, but “warheads in the air” imminent. I spent 15-20 minutes in a state of abject terror, convinced that the the thought was so real that it had to be a premonition, and I better hit the basement. It was 74 in the house, and I was shaking like I had a bad case of hypothermia.
The last time I felt that was in the early 80s….1981 or 82 as I recall… we lived about 18 miles from Mather AFB, were directly under the landing path of the B52’s… about 18 miles from ground zero. I was on my front porch one night watching the stars and the sunset when I saw a rocket launch from Vandenburg, going up, then arcing east. Followed by another one shortly thereafter on the same arc. It was just like a scene out of The Day After, but if I remember right, it was a year or so before even that came out.
It could have been a Minuteman test (if memory serves, this is what it was) but, unlike most west coast launches, there was no warning, no heads up in the news services, -nothing-. Suffice it to say, one rocket is pretty easy to write off as some kind of useful satellite…weather, research, climate surveying; but two rockets in tandem… hard to think of anything but nukes. Especially when you had the Soviets in Afghanistan, increasing tension in Europe, and a couple other full-scale wars dotting the globe such as India/Pakistan, and Iran/Iraq.
So what dredged up this image of imminent death?
The logical conclusion of several thoughts, floating around in my head until the jigsaw pieces went “click” in the loudest, and clearest of ways. The concepts I’m about to bring up are nothing new. Scientists have said many of them for years. Respected minds the world over have levied cautions abound. Hollywood has latched onto several of them and made award-winning movies out of the scariest. But the real question remains…
Has Anyone Listened?
Scenario number one, the first one to cross my mind this morning… is hearing in my mind’s ear the Iranian President laughing to himself off camera “Stupid Americans. I have no intention of building a bomb with my reactors, because I already have one. I’m just trying to figure out where to use it!” I honestly would not put it past any of these guys to throw enough money at someone to get their hands on a real, bona-fide H-bomb. You can chew on that one all you like. It’s obvious, it’s there, and it’s been discussed. Hashing it out here would be redundant, so it’s only here for the sake of thoroughness. Same with the “Ya know, we could do the world a favor by nuking Washington. They’d be too paralyzed to react!” scenario played out in more than one cold war novel.
No, the one that really chilled me grew out of an entirely different train of thought: Computers, human beings, and the internet as a symbiotic, colony organism. For better or for worse, as we develop and integrate technology into our daily lives, we become essentially dependent on that technology for our ongoing existence. For example… food distribution into cities forced the development of mega-farms to feed the populace. The presence of mega-farms forces population to the cities where they can earn a living not by farming. Oversimplified, but the cyclic nature here is what is important to illustrate… the change feeds itself in an ongoing cycle. We are a technology-dependent, electricity-dependent, fuel-driven society whose very foundations could be destroyed by the simple loss of electricity. No water pump? Dead city. Period.
We also have an incredible, fascinating capability with computers and the net. Each thought a person has, each idea, each fact, each inspiration, can be shared with others instantly. Colony mindset. A discovery in Australia can be Engineered in Germany, patented in the US, and produced in Japan… virtually overnight. The power to innovate and collaborate, to assemble the collected intelligentsia in a virtual world, where the collective IQ can be far greater than the mere sum of the intelligences involved. But the flip side is… in doing so, we sacrifice some of the God-given individuality and freedoms in likening ourselves to the ants, birds, an other colony organisms. Where do we draw THAT line?
So that got me to thinking… Why should just human minds collaborate on the net? Many, many projects around the world just might benefit from a more in-depth version of SETI@home than currently exists. What is the vast internet could be scheduled as a supercomputer? Say, publicize some research that needs to be done… Pi cranked out to the 10-trillionth digit (on the useless end) or quantitatively proving or disproving N-fold space by running 4 quadrillion iterations of calculations (on the definitely interesting, but probably equally useless end) to running a full scale simulated earth weather system analysis to better learn to predict deadly storms, climate change, or any other number of useful things.
So, everybody downloads xyz program onto their computer, then 400,000,000 computers around the globe all sign on, link up, and in one shining moment create the largest distributed supercomputer ever to exist.
It’s that “Then what?” that had me shaking. What would prevent… or cause… such a large, distributed entity to gain its own intelligence, its own awareness of self. What trigger would take it from being a computer, to being alive? How long would it take to occur? What would it think if it knew it’s lifespan was a few hours? What would -you- think if you knew? Would it pull a “Skynet” and obliterate the planet like the Terminator movies? Would it try to confront its creator like Roy Batty in Blade Runner? Would it try to enslave and kill humanity like Frank Herbert would suggest in his writings around which the Butlerian Jihad were based? What if it determined that the biggest threat to the survival of the human race was a city, and tried it’s best to help us?
Today we have microchips everywhere. Microchips that get smarter, faster, and more adaptable by half again with each generation. We have them in every aspect of our lives, from the toaster to the television, in our cars, desks, pda’s, even our credit cards. We have unmanned aircraft taking to the skies with weapons. We have inventories of weapons, controlled by microchips, moved by more microchips, launched by microchips, armed by microchips, and detonated by microchips. And we trust those microchips to do the job we told them to do… and in the case of nuclear weapons, what we tell them NOT to do.
But will they?
If that thought doesn’t give you the shakes… I don’t know what will.
So I put out the call… Make sure… make damned sure… that human beings stay in the firing loop at all times. Because only a Human Being knows the value of a Human Life.