Sunday 12 December 2010
I knew my father was always ahead of his time, but the Wikileaks phenomenon has made him seem even more prescient. I now realise he invented the Internet, the iPhone, Facebook and Wikileaks - in the late sixties!
In 1971 he published a book called ISOWORG, standing for the International Society for World Government. Its spy hero, Thorne, was able to ring a telephone number which was answered by a computer that spoke with his voice, thought as he did, behaved as he did, but was wired up to a collection of computers around the world that contained the sum of mankind's knowlege. Don't forget he was writing this in about 1967!
"The world's going to get more crowded, more heavily armed, emergent nations more ambitious. No assembly of men could ever be sufficiently competent or sufficiently objective to handle such a problem and the penalty for failure is annihilation. A computerised administration could do it. Isoworg is building up the most powerful computer in the world. It will be able to handle all the information and problems which would occur in the context of a world government. It has memory banks which contain all the information to which you could refer if you knew where to look. Plus, of course, a great deal that it acquires from its own resources. All Isoworg operatives are linked to it, linked together, in the same way that you will be if you join. This means it know what's going on in the lives of all other agents simultaneously. Also, the extent of these memory banks is almost unlimited. You will, as I said, have instant recourse to most of the world's available knowledge."
"How does it work?" asked Thorne.
"It works according to a new principle. Imagine a dish of acid. In one corner is an electrode connected to a wire. All the information about you gets coded into electrical impulses and fed through the wire into the electrode. This causes a growth to occur on the electrode in the acid - it looks like a fern. The more information that is fed in, the more the fern grows. Given your compliance, it will learn you totally - whims, weaknesses, experience, knowledge, the lot. It will grow and become what you are. It will be your alter ego."
So when the Internet started, he, quite rightly, used to jokingly boast, 'Oh I invented that', which, in theory or concept, he had.
The other thing I'd always known, but had thought absurd, was that Isoworg's agents were dedicated to finding every country's state secrets, and publishing them to the world! Their agents were therefore enemies to everyone and would be tracked, hunted and killed by alliances of otherwise mutually hostile governments. For Thorne, read Assange!
"The purpose of Isoworg is to glean top-secret information from all countries and publish it to the world, because secrecy breeds suspicion, suspicion fear, fear tension and tense people press nuclear buttons. It's not only military information, it's political, scientific, trade secrets - anything that inhibits world-wide free intercourse and development."
And the iPhone? Here's how Thorne communicates with his computer:
"There." She pointed to an object like a cigarette case. "It's a mini two-way radio. You can talk to it whenever you like. You can sit and talk to it for the rest of your life, I should think."
I wrote an In Memoriam website after he died, and there's a description of the book here.
It's actually on sale here at eBay too.
Posted by Tim Bentinck at 11:41