Of course the title of this entry might immediately invoke thoughts that the phrase itself is oxymoronic. Is there in fact intelligent life on the Internet? What with the inane information on Facebook and Tweeter one could make the case that the Internet is nothing but a salvage yard of useless ideas. But one can only hope that it also provides a useful tool for the betterment of Mankind. Today there is a countless plethora of data flowing across the Internet that runs our economies, industries and even our personal financial affairs not to mention our personal personal affairs. The news outlets of all stripe have been filled the last few weeks with stories about breaches of security on Banks, governments, militaries, and even the Internet providers themselves. The hacking exposure threatens identity theft and our national security and vital infrastructure such as utilities, airlines, banks and government agencies of all kinds. We are being spied on in the Internet and spying is all about gathering Intelligence by crooks or enemies to cause of loss or harm. Such spying and threats to our economy is not new. We’ve had an “Internet” for millennia and societies have worried about its breach of security from the beginning of time.
The modern version of the Internet moves with the speed of light and carries more data but it is in theory and actuality no more than an updated adaptation to the collection and use of information that Man has employed since recorded time. Since Biblical times Man has wanted to spy on foreign lands and societies to advance their hopes of conquest or trade relations. The very oceans and seas are a vast “Internet” of flowing information as are all the ancient trades routes across the continents of the Northern Hemisphere. Before the Jews began their advance into the promised land they sent forth spies to check things out, to steal information about the possible opponents and to report on the economic promise of the foreign lands. History is replete with such missions from China to Western Europe. Travelers from far lands were prized because of the intelligence they could bring back with their exploits and even the ordinary events of the day were newsworthy to those running the economies. This all started as soon as we moved out of the caves into settled communities and cities. People reached out and brought back information–intelligence. It was slower than today but there was a pretty constant stream of information to digest and access to that information was a treasure to governments and traders and even the man on the street because it affected the availability and price of goods and luxury items.
In Roman days the Mediterranean Sea was one large Internet connection. Ships plied those waves constantly and with those ships flowed information about new crops, mineral supplies, wars, preparation for wars, building of fleets for invasions, plagues and the overthrow of governments. The first ship from Alexandria to Ostia (port for Rome) that brought news of the grain crops along the Nile for that season had a real advantage for those buying and selling the crops and the Roman government itself wanted this information. Of course, just as today on the Internet you had to use judgement to discern the truth of the reports; false information made its way across the seas then just as it does through the Cloud today. There was closely guarded “trade secrets” held by many in the world of commerce and the governments. The shoals, reefs, bays of all locations around the world were vital for commerce and wars, in addition to the actual news brought to land. More than once a foreign fleet was foiled in an attempt to conquer a particular land because they ran aground due to lack of accurate knowledge about local conditions. The Greeks at Syracuse, the Spanish Armada, the Persians at port of Athens are only a few such examples.
In times past maps were closely guarded by those employing them. They were a huge advantage for both trade and war and the mapmakers were often hired directly by the King or the most powerful of the commercial traders and the mapmakers were in a dangerous business if suspicion fell on them for letting the maps fall into the “wrong” hands. Foreigners coming to a local port were almost always required to utilize local pilots to guide the ships through the last few miles to avoid the reefs, shoals and headlands and dock safely at port. That practice continues to this day mostly for different reasons. Ships going through the Panama Canal for example are steered through there by the captains but by local pilots familiar with the lay of the land as it were. And it protects local jobs and inc0me. When explorers figured out a new route for trade they didn’t come home and announce all the details to the world, they said I can show you how to make money using my knowledge of a new route. They were reluctant to reveal the information to their sponsors just as Columbus was with Isabella and Ferdinand.
Mankind has always had a flow of valuable and vital information that could cause harm if revealed to a party no intended to be the recipient. It just moved slower but was a steady drumbeat of data. The Carthaginians long prior to Alexander the Great had a trade route through the Straits of Gibraltar to Cornwall in England for the tin which they brought back for bronze production. It was valuable information and they kept it secret as long as they could. They sure didn’t reveal the details of the route to their historical ancestors the Phoenicians. By Alexander age a Greek from Marseilles found the same route on an epic voyage of discovery and the world suddenly had two sources of tin but by then the Iron Age had arrived.
The technology has changed rather dramatically but the flow of data across and around the world is nothing new at all and the desire to hold such information close the vest of the recipient is nothing new. As has been said, knowledge is power. Thus the counter force of spying or hacking we call it today.
“The first destroyer of the liberties of a people is he who first gave them bounties and largesses.” Plutarch, Greek historian. http://www.olcranky.wordpress.com