Despite the fact that my family classify me as a "doom and gloomer", I actually think that I have a naive optimistic view of the world. That partly comes from being a baby boomer - growing up in the fifties and sixties of the 20th century, it seemed that the normal course of events in the world was for things in general to get better. In the UK we had free schooling, free healthcare from the National Health Service and in the sixties The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Radio Luxembourg and stereo record players. And it was possible to hitch-hike from my home in Edinburgh to the south of France.
The only serious doom and gloom bit that I recall was a few days around the Cuban Missile Crisis when I was outside school looking up at the sky and wondering whether there were actually US and Soviet nuclear bombs being delivered over our heads by ICBM. Well, of course, there was the assassination of John Kennedy. That was a serious break in the everything gets better all the time trend.
Anyway, three news items last weekend put me into a doom and gloom perspective on world affairs:
The Bush regime has the characteristics of a Mafiosi organization
But, somehow, the extensive matter of fact inventory of known evidence wiped away all hope that somehow things might come right in the USA, in the end.
The former KGB men who run Russia
Then there was a piece in The Economist of last week about how the KGB has gained control of Russia.
"The Soviet Union is dead and communism long buried. But Mr Putin wants you to know that the Russian bear is back—wearing a snarl with its designer sunglasses.
"How has this situation come about? It is tempting to search for mistakes by Western governments, to look for the culprits who “lost Russia”. Yet as our briefing this week explains (see article), the role of outsiders has been secondary. The best way to understand both Mr Putin's ascent into the Kremlin and his rule since is to see them as the remarkable recovery of the culture, mentality and view of the world of the old KGB."
So, those happy visions of peace, democracy, freedom and prosperity spreading eastwards from rubble of the Berlin wall are also consigned to the scrapbook of the early nineties.
Thirdly there was a piece of Gartner research circulating in the office entitled "Google's Million Servers Show Prominence in Global-Class Systems". Key findings are:
- Google's spending patterns indicate that it has accumulated at least 1 million servers worldwide.
- Google is the industry leader in building global-class systems capable of performing tasks that were previously impossible.
- Gartner believes Google intends to expand into other market opportunities, including healthcare and financial services.
- An IT infrastructure "arms race" is emerging as Microsoft and others try to match Google.
The scary thing here is the extent of the power and influence of this one corporation. And the power of governments and other dark forces who can get access to the content of those million servers.
"Google intends never to limit itself from launching new services."
"Clearly the world does not need an IT infrastructure like this to cut more paychecks or to do so more quickly. But such infrastructure will be necessary tomorrow for things we can scarcely imagine today."
It seems like only yesterday that I was driving on Highway 101 in the Bay Area amazed at URLs appearing in the billboard advertisements. It was hard to imagine such a thing occurring in advertising back home in Europe. Yet here I am now sitting at home in old Europe with a 100 Mbps Internet connection over glass fibre. I think the server this blog is on is in California, USA, but really I have no idea - maybe it is in Amsterdam - or both. I guess I will find out when the earthquake or the flood comes. (Doom and gloom again.) And long ago the http:// bit was dropped from the URLs on billboards. And now the www has disappeared and most literate people recognise .com, .org, .nl, .nu, or .be as part of a domain name.
All nice, positive "things in general get better" kind of stuff. So why does the power of 1 million Google servers seem scary. I suppose it comes from the downside of a mafia organization in the Whitehouse, the KGB in the Kremlin and US wrought anarchy in the Middle East. Who is going to get control of those Google servers? What kind of world will my children and grand children be living in? Will they find their way out of the Matrix?
This week's 'The Economist' seems to share my concern about Google in a piece in this week's issue - "Who's Afraid of Google?"
"Google is often compared to Microsoft (another enemy, incidentally); but its evolution is actually closer to that of the banking industry. Just as financial institutions grew to become repositories of people's money, and thus guardians of private information about their finances, Google is now turning into a custodian of a far wider and more intimate range of information about individuals. Yes, this applies also to rivals such as Yahoo! and Microsoft. But Google, through the sheer speed with which it accumulates the treasure of information, will be the one to test the limits of what society can tolerate."
"One obvious strategy is to allay concerns over Google's trustworthiness by becoming more transparent and opening up more of its processes and plans to scrutiny. But it also needs a deeper change of heart. Pretending that, just because your founders are nice young men and you give away lots of services, society has no right to question your motives no longer seems sensible."