Dr. Arlan Andrews Sr. has spent a lifetime thinking and writing about the future. A former White House Fellow and founder of the science fiction think tank, SIGMA, the man knows his stuff. In his newest novel, Silicon Blood, Dr. Andrews imagines what the intersection of crime and nanotechnology might hold for our future.
Here he offers up thoughts on a topic we have all come to think more about: data, and the fact it never dies.
Data Never Dies
© 2017 Arlan Andrews, Sr.
A few days ago I received an e-mail from a lady who was responding to a posting I had made on a genealogy website. After a short correspondence, we were able to figure out our common ancestry – her grandfather and my great-grandfather were brothers. (I am unable to calculate how many Nth-cousins-so-far-removed that is!)
After sharing family history and stories with this new-found cousin, I decided to check back on what I had written on that site to cause her to contact me. And there it was – from five years ago! These genealogical sites, it seems, are never out of date, maintaining their postings from here to eternity.
I remembered what some hackers told me years ago: “Data never dies.”
A while back, whilst doing my weekly Google on my own name (called a “vanity search for some odd reason…) I came across a thread of argumentative bulletin board postings from over twenty years ago. There I was, engaged in fiery rhetoric (“flame wars”) with assorted leftists, liberals and Marxists, setting the record straight on Jane Fonda’s infamous history, on the superiority of libertarian thought over collectivist theology, and on the inevitable victory of free people over totalitarianism. (Believe it or don’t, some people back then actually believed that communism was a viable system.)
Now the intervening years have been great for free minds and free markets, and I was happy to find that I’d been fairly consistent in my own mini-crusade for individual rights over the decades. However, back in those early days of electronic textual communication (it was all done over the Usenet, in that prehistoric era before the Web) my home machine of choice was a Commodore 64 and the interface was a 200-baud modem. Without a spell checker. Without any means of formatting. Needless to say, to look at those messages today is a lot like looking at an old-timey mimeographed handout sheets once used in radical political campaigns – that is, they have many typos, poor layout and entirely too much punctuation, lacking all the literary amenities that MS Word now gives us without effort.
I doubt if any of us back then, regardless of our politics or technical savvy, would have ever thought or even believed that our ephemeral electronic missives would find refuge in a dark and dismal digital dungeon, only to re-appear decades hence when the whole world was webbily wired.
The data didn’t die.
Nowadays, the eternal e-life might mean more ominous forebodings. More than likely, all of the keystrokes that I am using to type this article here in Crestwood, Kentucky, the second week of April 2017, are being simultaneously stored automatically in a mindless monitoring machine located elsewhere. I would not be surprised if, sometime in the next five to ten years, a cross-correlation program analyzes the content of this article, assigns a matrix of weighting values to its words and sentence structure, and sorts the results into a vast holding array, correlating my name and views with those of other known political malcontents and social subversives.
Recently-announced initiatives and continually-recurring rumors add fuel to the supposition that governments (not just ours), businesses (not just ours), intelligence agencies (not just ours), law enforcement organizations (not just ours) and shadowy, higher-level groups (n… j… o…) have been monitoring, recording and collecting all data of all kinds for a long time. Electronic data, transmitted openly or encoded, is easily intercepted and kept. Written data will take longer, but almost every state and nation is in the process of translating all records into the more accessible form, and this will continue: everything electronic, and electronic everything.
This is not to say that agenda-driven conspiracies do exist, or that they don’t. For your own enlightenment, though, it can be quite entertaining (or disturbing, take your pick) to Google all the following words, in groups or individually: Danny Casalaro, OCTOPUS, Jim Keith, MATRIX, Illuminati, Templar. If you have the time and inclination (either left-wing or right-wing), you have just uncovered a fascinating and lifelong time-sink.
Warning: a common dark-side thread runs through all the conspiracists’ reports and speculations: “Data never dies – but people do.”
And just this evening on FaceBook, I heard of a new government software program that can analyze enormous amounts of data to determine, for example, “Every brown-haired driver of a red Ford Escort that lives within twenty-five miles of a suspected terrorist incident.” I can believe it; in 1972 I wrote a short story about this exact detection and sorting capability. Since then, apparently, the software has been written, too.
Always be careful: Data never dies.
But privacy does.
About Arlan Andrews Sr.:
Hugo-nominated author Dr. Arlan Andrews, Sr., is the founder of SIGMA, the Science Fiction Think Tank, which works with the US government and non-profit organizations to provide the unique futurism of science fiction writers for those who need it most. See the SIGMA website at SigmaForum(dot)org for more details, and for a membership list of the outstanding authors who participate.
Arlan began his technical career working as a missile tracking telescope operator at White Sands Missile Range, where he also honed a lifelong interest in unusual phenomena by exploring the enchantment and mysteries of New Mexico while attending college. He worked for AT&T Bell Laboratories on the antiballistic missile program, spent time in China, was appointed as a Fellow in the White House Science Office, and co-founded both a Virtual Reality software company and a biotech equipment company.
All of these groundbreaking activities originated in his fascination with the future and the unknown. He expresses that wonderment by writing both fact and fiction, science and speculation.
During his career as engineer, entrepreneur and author, Arlan has published nearly 500 stories, articles, columns and other features in 100 venues worldwide, primarily in science fiction, the paranormal, futurism and the fringe areas of science and folklore. These have appeared in anthologies and in such publications as ANALOG, ASIMOV’S, SCIENCE FICTION AGE, SCIENCE FICTION REVIEW, PULPHOUSE, FATE, STRANGE, ATLANTIS RISING, NEW SCIENTIST, PURSUIT, ALT HISTORY.COM, IDEOMANCER, MENSA BULLETIN, INTEGRA, and a former column in UFO MAGAZINE. His ANALOG novella, “Flow”, was on the Hugo Award ballot in 2015, winning the Jovian Award for Best Novella that year. Many of Arlan’s stories and articles — plus new stories and several new novels — are now available in e-versions and paperback.
In addition to appearances at conventions and conferences, Arlan appeared on the History Channel cable presentation of “Ancient Aliens: Ancient Constructions”, in September 2011.
Recent publications available on Amazon.com include SILICON BLOOD (novel) and FUTURE FLASH (a short story collection), both in e-books and paperback versions.
About Silicon Blood:
In the near future, two technologies will emerge to control our lives:
Nanotechnology: produces microscopic machines — “nanobots” – that can create drugs in a human body. Or devour it from within.
Virtual Reality: generates computer-controlled artificial environments, just like reality. Only better.
The Guy. After a disastrous plague of destructive nanobots kills nearly a billion people and destroys nations, an unknown criminal mastermind, The Guy, sets up a new worldwide drug ring, controlling it witIn the near future, the drug cartels of South America establish their own criminal nation, Cordillera, and proceed to flood the world with cocaine and political corruption.
America responds by using the new science of nanotechnology to produce microscopic machines – “nanobots” – to eradicate such drugs once and for all. But these tiny devices can also be used to create new kinds of drugs inside a human body – a “pharm” — or to devour it from within.
After a catastrophic nano-plague, a new and powerful drug lord, El Hombre – “The Guy” – uses nanobots to set up a worldwide drug ring, harvesting new drugs from human bodies and enforcing obedience with threats of devourment.
Jerry Gade, a nano-engineer with a horrific secret, fights back.
The struggle between Gade and The Guy takes place in both the human domain and in the invisible world of their own nano-creations.
The outcome of their battle will determine the future of the human race.