I’d come up with the premise for my latest novel a full year before it (partially) became reality.
In my novel, one day in the future all computers just stop working–except for those designed in the 1980s or earlier. Nostalgic adventure ensues. (I never thought I’d get to write a line like ‘It is pitch black. You have been eaten by a Grue.’)
Like a lot of science fiction, my thinking about this premise was based on what seemed possible, but taken to the kind of extreme that makes a good story. Meanwhile, what happened here in the real world is a pair of serious computer flaws called Spectre and Meltdown, affecting almost all modern computing hardware, across a wide spectrum of manufacturers. The exact technical details have been widely discussed elsewhere. The short answer is that motivated people have had the ability to extract secrets from your computer for many years, and until recently there hasn’t been a thing you could do about it. (And some of the software fixes slow down newer machines by as much as 30%!)
I may not have been aggressive enough in extrapolating how badly reliance on technology can backfire.
There’s a lesson in this: we don’t need aliens, asteroids, extradimensional invaders, supervolcanoes, magic, resurrected dinosaurs, or anything particularly speculative to send society reeling.
It gets worse.
Spectre and Meltdown seem to be genuine accidents. Beyond that, imagine how many deliberate bugs have been planted deep within our CPUs, communication protocols, ISPs, encryption routines, web browsers, operating systems, routers, and phones. You don’t think there’s deliberate bugs?
In the last few days, American intelligence agencies have warned Americans not to use any devices from the Chinese manufactuer Huawei due to information security concerns. It’s a safe assumption that if they’ve detected some kind of deliberate spying, they’ve sought to do the same to others. There’s about 200 countries in the world, and most of them are trying to hack in to most of the others. It’s a game of cat-and-mouse-and-mouse-and-mouse. It wouldn’t surprise me if intel agencies keep a database of their competitors’ hacks, in order to deploy counter-counter-measures.
It’s kind of amazing that anything works at all.
So in our story, a lowly protagonist who was barely ten years old when all the computers crashed, discovers a decade later that not everything is as it seems. He’s led on an increasingly complex journey through ancient code–manifested as video game worlds–to discover the ultimate secret that just might be able to explain what happened. Maybe even make it better.
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