What will you do when the Internet ends?

What will you do when the Internet ends? 1

I know, you think I’ve gone bonkers. “When the internet ends?” What is he talking about, you are asking yourself. It’s a question I posed to students who have only ever known the Internet. I explained that if the Internet ended, I still have a typewriter in the loft, so I can carry on writing. I’d need that because my cloud-based word processing would disappear. But my university students have never used a typewriter. So they would not know they needed to hit the return key at the end of each line. They may even not realise you need an ink ribbon for the characters to appear on paper. Us oldies who grew up in the pre-Internet era could more easily carry on.

Even so, you still think that the Internet will not end. It’s here to stay, isn’t it? Well, no. Sorry to shock you, but nothing is “forever”. I know, though, you are still thinking that the end of the Internet is so far off into the future that it’s not worth worrying about. You’re probably thinking you’ll be long gone, pushing up the daisies before the world needs to plan for a non-Internet era.

Except this is ignoring some significant events that are worrying very sensible and respected experts. Indeed, one worry is so concerning that the Financial Times has written about it in an article titled, “Quantum computing could break the internet”. Quantum computing is a significant advance in how technology works. It means that things like encrypted data could be opened within seconds, instead of the current 7.5m years for the best encryption systems now available. When that happens, you can say goodbye to online Government services, internet banking, and digital medical records in hospitals. There would be too much fear about data leakage.

Of course, you might think that quantum computing is still experimental and not ready for consumer use. Apart, that is, from one thing. A significant leap forward in quantum technology was announced this week, making quantum computing a much more immediate reality. That’s enough to worry the US Federal Reserve in the USA about the world’s financial systems.

But you are still sitting there, sipping your coffee, asking whether you really need to worry about this. “OK, Graham,” you are thinking, “but engineers will come up with ways of protecting us against the dangers of quantum technology.” Maybe they will.

However, how protected do you currently feel with what computing engineers have been able to achieve protecting you on the Internet already? It was announced recently that almost half the Internet traffic in the world is “bots”. Those are automated pieces of code, sniffing out what is going on – and they are alive and well on your computer or phone.

This is before you consider the fact that one of the world’s most respected authors and thinkers on technology, John Naughton, has recently pointed out that the Internet is becoming a “clown show”. Big tech companies have effectively given up on policing the nonsense that appears on their sites. It is just too big for them to cope with. Plus, recent legislation in the USA means they have a “get out of jail” card which allows them to have anything on their sites and not be prosecuted. Is it any wonder that to improve profitability, tech companies have made tens of thousands of staff redundant in the past couple of years – many in the area of moderation. That means more nonsense is appearing on sites you use. It is putting people off using what were once “must go” sites. Twitter, sorry “X”, is struggling. Even the Meta rival, Threads, has lost half of its users in the first two weeks…!

Even if quantum computing doesn’t lead to removal of key functions of the internet, the high presence of bots, and the unregulated “wild west” of many sites, will mean that people will just give up on various aspects of the online world.

And all of this is before you even consider that the Internet may be broken up. The increase in political concentration on nationalisation is leading to some countries and regions wanting to create their own internet, cutting out other parts of the world. China is part-way to doing this and recently took steps to gain control of significant portions of the undersea cables that power the internet. This will switch off the “inter”-net and make it a series of smaller networks, removing at a stroke the entire benefit of the international network that exists currently. Plus, politicians are increasingly taking control of the Internet if they don’t like what it is doing. The internet was switched off in Pakistan recently to reduce the amount of media coverage of the protests relating to the former Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post is not the only media outlet to consider the “internet apocolypse”. This is the notion that much of the world’s technology could be switched off due to solar storms. These are magnetic events from the activity of the sun that interfere with technology. They happen every 11 years and the next significant ones are due in 2025. The last time they happened they did cause some tech disruption. But that was “way back” in 2014. That’s before we used the internet the way we do these days. The everyday apps you use now, were not even a twinkle in the eye of their developer then. Hence, we are much more likely to be disrupted in 2025 than we were back in 2014.

And if I haven’t frightened you enough already, many people will soon have no internet access when 3G technology is switched off. This is before you even consider that the world’s rat population is growing at an alarming rate, meaning that if nothing else gets you, they will switch off the internet in your town.

We live in a world where the internet is “everyday”. At least that’s what we think. But that is going to be challenged significantly in the next few years. Are you ready? What plans do you have for your business in 2025 if the sun gets us, or if the rats chew the cables next week, or politicians switch off your access next month? These are not things that should be unexpected. So, I’m off up the loft ladder now to dust off that typewriter.

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