Re: TERRORISM: looking for solutions

Date: Wed Sep 12 2001 - 10:57:02 MDT

One idea which we have discussed for being protected from danger is to
retreat from the physical world. Your vulnerable body would be protected
at home (maybe even in an underground bunker) while you interact with
the rest of the world electronically. Telepresence and virtual reality
systems would allow you to effectively travel anywhere in the world,
instantly and safely. Meanwhile cryptography would provide you with
privacy and untraceability even in a world dominated by physical

Of course, this is not a terribly appealing picture even to many of us
who embrace future technologies. For the average person it sounds like
a nightmare, being locked away from the world forever.

Nevertheless even early versions of these technologies could reduce our
vulnerability to terrorism. There is really little reason in this day
and age for huge numbers of people to congregate in skyscrapers for the
purpose of managing financial transactions. Finance is a business based
on information - bits not atoms. While it is convenient to be able to
travel for a few minutes to meet with others in the same industry, in
most cases a phone call would be just as effective. With the addition
of low-cost video conferencing capabilities, most of the benefits of
large offices could be eliminated.

Likewise a great deal of business travel is unnecessary and could be
replaced by improved telepresence systems. With the likely restrictions
and security complications to be introduced into air travel, along with
the fear that people will have of future terrorist activity, we may well
see increased demand for technological replacements. Today's systems
don't work all that well, but all that is needed is innovation along with
practice in using the system.

Telepresence isn't necessarily something that works naturally; you
may have to work at it and learn how to use it best. The same thing
happened when we learned to use the telephone but for most of us we
were pretty young. Given the tremendous human versatility and talent
for communicating, I believe that with practice people will be able to
use teleconferencing and other telepresence systems as effectively as
being there in person.

None of this will make the world safe, but if we work towards dispersing
the large concentrations of people which make such inviting targets,
we can reduce the actual costs of terrorist acts.


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