Always-on: Disconnection will mean death

Friday, 1 February, 2019

Here’s a quote from Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari that gives sinister meaning to the notion of “always-on”:

“Eventually, we may reach a point when it will be impossible to disconnect from this all-knowing network even for a moment. Disconnection will mean death. If medical hopes are realised, future people will incorporate into their bodies a host of biometric devices, bionic organs and nano-robots, which will monitor our health and defend us from infections, illnesses and damage. Yet these devices will have to be online 24/7, both in order to be updated with the latest medical news, and in order to protect them from the new plagues of cyberspace. Just as my home computer is constantly attacked by viruses, worms and Trojan horses, so will be my pacemaker, my hearing aid and my nanotech immune system. If I don’t update my body’s anti-virus program regularly, I will wake up one day to discover that the millions of nano-robots coursing through my veins are now controlled by a North Korean hacker.”

History: As computing became more pervasive around the start of this century, “always-on” systems began to replace “on-demand” systems. Typical examples of always-on systems are cable modems and DSL connections. Yesterday’s dial-up connections were only “on” when they were connected through the public telephone network. Today’s systems are continuously available, plugged in to power sources and networks. Like so many digital natives, they don’t take breaks, but continue to hum along through all hours of the day and night.

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