Two futures of the internet: next cold war or up in the clouds

Will the future be cyber-attacks and an uneasy balance of terror or cultural collaboration hosted by Google’s servers?“The future”, wrote the novelist William Gibson in a justifiably famous aphorism, “is already here: it’s just not evenly distributed”.The challenge is to spot those uneven­ly distributed peeks into our future. The Apple iPad launch provoked a storm of peeking: optimists saw it as a sign that the computer industry had finally got the message that most people can’t be bothered with the mysteries of operating systems and software updates and want an information appliance that “just works”; pessimists saw it as a glimpse into an authoritarian world dominated either by governments or a few powerful companies; sceptics saw it as just another product launch.Last week provided yet another enigmatic glimpse of what may lie in store. The Washington Post said Google, still reeling from the sophisticated cyber-attack that allegedly prompted a rethink of its activities in China, had turned to the US National Security Agency for help. The Post reported that there are delicate talks on teaming up with the spooks with the goal of “fortifying Google’s defences against the kind of espionage-oriented hacking attacks launched from China against it and dozens of other US companies in December”.

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