The Romans brought cutting edge technology to our shores, including flat straight roads, magnificent stone buildings and heated baths. Once they had gone we could not replicate their skills for centuries. We went backwards into the dark ages.
Modern computers are an amazing invention, ushering in the internet. The access to any information, the enjoyment from watching videos and films and (for some) the delights of a life lived on Facebook. Technology has always shaped society and never more so than today. This is not something government controls. We are at the mercy of mankind’s endless ingenuity and creativity.
But government must respond to the infrastructure needs of new technology, which is why we have mobile phone masts everywhere and we are roiling out super-fast broadband as a high priority.
Every invention brings its downside. The motor car and aeroplane have opened up travel for most, but they also kill thousands every year.
The internet is now the basis on which we live our lives. Every business, hospital and most homes rely upon it. The downside is over-reliance upon machines. What happens when they crash? What happens if our enemies bring them down?
Over last weekend the Parliamentary e-mail system was hacked into by a foreign agency and some accounts accessed. Parliament’s techie people spent the weekend trying to fix it and building in new defences. The whole system was closed down. On Monday, therefore neither I nor my staff could not get into our computers to access e-mails or information. Apart from dealing with phone calls coming in, there was an eerie silence. What do we do? I decided to head for London early to escape the sense of vacuum. By the time I got there it had been sorted. I now have a new password so complicated that I am certain to forget it.
My point it that the internet is brilliant, but if outside agencies can hack into it and bring it down or abuse or exploit confidential information, that is a massive Achilles heel. I know that it is possible to build in strong cyber defences, but experience in other fields suggests that the criminal is always likely to be one step ahead.
In any future conflict, it is likely that the first asset attacked by geeky operatives will be our computer systems. We could end up going backwards, into a modern dark age. Don’t throw away your paper and pens just yet!