The man who was the first to blog in China, Isaac Mao, spoke to the UC Berkeley, I-School today about the internet in China and about the public’s problem of getting unlimited access to the World Wide Web. I don’t want to say or imply what he didn’t say but it seems that there is very restricted access to the internet outside of China for the chinese citizens. Many sites we take for granted like Picasa, Blogger, twitter, Facebook, WordPress, YouTube are totally blocked and even Google has been restricted. Apparently the governmental power doesn’t punish people for accessing forbidden materials; they just make it impossible for people to get certain stuff. Apparently there are huge lists of forbidden words which are watched by their site restricting scanners. It is like the silly American TV forbidden nasty words which are not permitted on the air except the Chinese effort is much more extensive and more political.
Mao spoke of China as being like an island with a sharp edge which is very difficult to cross. However, he and others have exerted a lot of effort to create openings in the Great Wall of China, which they now called The Great Firewall of China. The current authorities are threatened by the outside world and are trying to keep it out and they are threatened by the inside world and are trying to keep it in. The computer geeks have found many ways to circumvent the controls without breaking any laws using such techniques as embedding interesting materials in large quantities of mundane material. Another more technical and more powerful method was to use a site called Tor project which uses a matrix of computers to scramble messages and then reconstitute them at their targeted address. This site came on-line on Sept 24 and rocketed in popularity. No doubt the authorities are trying to circumvent Tor. It is a computer war game with very high stakes. The authorities have a serious problem because with data transfer rates so high a few seconds of access can let oceans of text data get through.
I have more ambivalence about what is going on with information transfer than most computer geeks. In general they want absolutely unlimited flow of data but I have this 7,000 year view of the human problem and in that long run there are certain kinds of information which will destroy humanity. For example, once someone leaks the exact details of how to build an H-bomb and the exact details of how all of these devices are made and readily available to everyone with a computer then forever more humanity will be at risk of some small group or who knows some individual of making an Earth shattering weapon. I have no inside information of the most horrendous weapons but I certainly wouldn’t want them to be common knowledge or everyone would be doomed. We are already doomed but hopefully not at the hands of any and every single individual. If we had only a few individuals like Leo Szilard with a truly creative genius for destruction the planet and all the people on it wouldn’t last long. He is a great hero at present but I doubt that he will be held in high regard after the world has been subject to his inventions.
After the lecture I had a conversation with a technology professor and his wife from The Norwegian University of Science and Technology. We discussed the lecture and world problems and found that we were in surprising agreement about almost everything. They were far more optimistic about the world and particularly America finding technological ways out of our impending problems than I am but then I am probably the most pessimistic person in the whole world. I consider the game lost and that is why I am trying to create The EarthArk Project to provide a backup plan for after the collapse.