Friday, December 18, 2020

"Werner Herzog is right about this terrifying apocalypse scenario"

My mother liked candles when the power went out.
She was also afraid of burning down the house.
There was a bit of a frisson at the first flicker
From Inverse:

Our demise may be at the hands of our greatest creation.

Monday morning, people up and down the United States' East Coast woke from their dreams to enter a living nightmare: Google was down.

The loss was short-lived, but nonetheless, work was halted, Google Nests left homes in darkness and undefended, and worst of all, Googling "Is Google down?" was an impossibility. Every time this happens — whether it is Google, Amazon Web Services, Twitter, or another online gathering place — our dependence on the internet becomes uncomfortably clear.

Luckily, Google returned after a few short hours. But what would we do if the internet was truly gone? For German director Werner Herzog, this is one of the top apocalyptic scenarios that keep him up at night. He is not wrong.

In an interview conducted in November, Herzog told Inverse' Jake Kleinman:

"The abrupt end of the internet would wipe out all almost all of you, the human race, except hunter-gatherers."

Cheery. But fair.

Here's the rub — Herzog's fear may sound like a Luddite conspiracy reminiscent of Y2K, but considering our increasing dependence on the internet and the devices we connect to it — the so-called Internet of Things — Herzog has every right to be worried.

The idea of the internet suddenly failing is typically framed as a "what if" discussion for future netizens, but partial internet blackouts and communications failures are already a regular occurrence in many parts of the world.

Countries like Eygpt, Turkey, and India in recent years have all implemented a version of an internet "kill switch" to control the spread of information. In the Indian state of Kashmir, for example, internet access has been blocked for as much as a year at a time — an act branded by some as censorship.

The United States' government technically has this power, too, via the Communications Act, but the House of Representatives proposed a new law in October to limit it.

But aside from overt government control of the internet, governmental negligence can also lead to mini-internet apocalypses. In Puerto Rico, the island's fragile communications networks took a massive hit in the wake of hurricanes Maria and Irma. A year after the storms, internet speeds were 10 times slower than those on the U.S. mainland. More than just a nuisance, this degree of infrastructure failure can make daily necessities, like reaching loved ones or emergency services, difficult.

These international incidents are comparatively isolated and short-lived compared to a widespread disintegration of the internet. So, how might the global internet be disrupted?

How it could happen — There are a few major areas to watch when it comes to a potential global internet apocalypse. They are:

  • Global communications satellites
  • Fiber-optic cables
  • Telecommunications software

Global communications satellites circle the planet, ensuring internet and other communications signals reach around the Earth. These satellites not only enable certain internet providers, like Viasat, but they also relay information to ground computers to enable GPS and other navigation systems. If satellite internet failed, then organizing large-scale delivery operations — for example, getting groceries to supermarkets — would become very difficult. Global shipping would be disrupted, too, meaning ships would need to use more traditional methods to reach their destinations.

Taking out internet satellites could be accomplished by human force (such as knocking them out of space) or at nature's whim by rogue solar flares....

....MUCH MORE. including video