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We're Already Infected. Resistance is Futile

I started my career in the online, or digital world as it likes to be called today, in the mid 1980s. In those days we used incredibly slow modems to connect crude computers via phone lines at a whopping 240 bits a second. There are 8 bits in a byte, so that's just 30 bytes per second. You would watch the magic of characters slowly scroll across the screen as they were revealed one by one. Pictures wouldn't be transmitted for another decade or so and video took another twenty years to become widely available. Only a few people knew how to connect to it or what to do with it once they were. The forerunner to the internet was little more than email and a bit of data between banks. Very few of us guessed what was about to happen.

30 years later we think little of instantly accessing YouTube on our 4G mobiles. And with 5G just around the corner there will be nothing stopping full instant on-demand whatever zapping into our mobiles, watches or glasses.

We've all very suddenly become personally and deeply connected to the net. Everything we do, everything we say, everything we buy, everywhere we go, everything we read, everything we watch, everything that interests us, everything we like, all our relationships, all our entertainment, all our politics, all our feelings, all our medical history and even our vital signs are connected to the mysterious Cloud via our laptops, phones and tablets, our transport, our 'wearables', and even our homes and offices are becoming connected through Smart Cities and the Internet of Things. We're connected to it. And it's connected to us. Some will find this exciting - indeed I've made a career out of inventing ways to connect stuff digitally. But now I can a see a rather darker more sinister future in store for us. And we can't avoid it. Even if we wanted to, it's far too late. We're already completely infected.

When I was a kid, Doctor Who met the Cybermen - plastic suited zombies connected to a single collective. Their mission was to assimilate others into their 'hive'. Star Trek took up the idea with The Borg. Their epithet was "Resistance is futile". The wonderful and sadly departed Douglas Adams adapted this for his Vogons who strutted about in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy chanting "Resistance is useless". Are we waltzing unwittingly into a Borg-like existence where resistance is futile and useless? Are we already assimilated into a digitally attached and controlled collective?

We are a highly social species. Like bees, we can't survive as individuals. Once upon a time, the odd skilled and lucky hunter-gatherer might have survived on his own in the wild for a while without any help. But other than the likes of Bear Grylls there's not a human alive today who would survive more than a few days without help. Only by working and living in ever increasing sizes of collectives can we survive. And those collectives, known as cities and factories, have had to grow ever larger to find the efficiencies they need to exploit rapidly decreasing resources. Only scale continues to put food on our tables, power into our homes, and resources into our hospitals, schools and care homes. Living longer isn't helping either.

The bigger our cities become, the more efficient we have to be to feed them, protect them from the environment and provide them with energy. But by packing people into them ever more tightly, we also have to find ways of stopping them from rebelling. We not only need to keep them alive, we need to keep them happy and subdued. We do that by keeping them healthy, constantly entertained and believing that their safe.

In just one century we have seen a dramatic population shift where most of our species used to live in the countryside but now they live in cities. So our survival already depends on us adapting to congregating in ever increasing population densities. But by living on top of one-another, we have to cooperate in many ways that our ancestors never had to consider. To survive, we simply can't be allowed to become individuals or small family groups again. Our hunter-gatherer instincts therefore need to be rapidly and effectively suppressed. And the Cloud is evolving to do just that. If we can't be hunter-gatherers, we might as well switch off, stop fighting, drink ourselves to oblivion, have lots of sex until we're sick of it, and get fat.

By willingly connecting ourselves to this all encompassing digital network of labour-saving endless entertainment, we are being assimilated to a Borg controlled by corporations and governments herding us into cities. Like a virus, it's invading every cell of our bodies and every corner of our minds. It's increasingly and subtly affecting the way we think, feel and behave. It will eventually control everything we see, hear and believe (China is way ahead of us there - and they already control a quarter of all humans). It will make us think we're making our own decisions. Make us believe we're individually empowered. But we'll be utterly managed by it... unless we unplug ourselves from it. And if my kids are any indicator of the likelihood of this ever happening, forget it. Try taking their phones away from them.

We're addicted. And it only took 20 years from inception to assimilation.

Welcome to The Borg... Resistance is futile.


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