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3 Oct 2014
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BBC Science

the internet

If you believe Winn Schwartau, one of the world's leading experts on cyberterrorism, we are on the edge of a technological upheaval "the like of which has never been seen before in the history of mankind". He passionately believes that the potential of the internet to undermine society and destabilise the world has yet to be recognised. It is, at least in his view, the world's most dangerous battleground.


This may all seem a bit far fetched, but there is little doubt that what we have seen so far in terms of the internet is only the tip of the iceberg. Riding the wave of change is Douglas Adams, who recognised nearly ten years ago that information technology was set to revolutionise the way in which we communicate, allowing for the first time connection between communities of people across the world. His 1990 BBC TV programme Hyperland envisaged a brave new world of networked computers, with Adams guiding the viewer through an imaginary multimedia landscape. His vision of the future proved remarkably accurate in many respects, and we have now become accustomed to the idea of the World Wide Web and the implications that it has for all of our lives. Now in a two-part radio series for BBC Radio Four, Adams is again prepared to give his prediction for the information age and beyond.


The internet may not really have the ability to overturn society as Winn Schwartau believes, but it does offer a new medium for a battleground of human endeavour and ideas. Douglas Adams believes that in this sense its potential is almost limitless. "We are seeing the possibility of a real fast forward in human culture," he claims, pointing to the internet's exceptionally fast take-up rate. It took around thirty years for radios to become household objects and about thirteen for us to get hooked on TV, yet access to the internet has been available for only five. It's estimated that by 2005 two billion people will be using it regularly, and that will represent around ninety percent of the buying power of the planet. For Adams, this has to be an exciting prospect. "It is the great completion of a model of human communication. In the past we were communicating one-to-one, using the technological model of the telephone, or one-to-many, with the advent of twentieth century broadcasting. Now, finally, we have put into place the many-to-many form of communication. This isn't just the world reaching out and touching you, it's about you reaching out and touching the world."

 

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