Years ago, a comic book told about the exploits of super detective Dick Tracy, who had access to all kinds of special devices that helped keep him ahead of, and on top of, dangerous, evil-hearted individuals. He had a two-way wrist radio and later a two-way wrist television.
On a radio show titled “Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy,” listeners could learn about pieces of equipment that helped Armstrong in his various challenging adventures.
Other comic book artists and writers had spaceships traveling to other parts of the universe, and humans flying solo with the help of various types of jet devices. Superman could see through buildings, hear far-off conversations and had incredible strength.
The point of this is that, many years ago, comic book writers and artists were telling stories of exploits carried out with amazing, as-yet-never-seen equipment and know-how almost beyond a person’s imagination. And, yet, a relative few years later, here today, all of these devices and more are accepted by most individuals and not considered as anything too surprising or exceptional.
Years ago, Kansas University hosted an international group of “futurists,” a collection of some of the world’s greatest thinkers and visionaries. KU faculty members Bill Conboy and Jim Gunn were the hosts, and it was a smashing success. (A similar conference should be brought back to the campus.)
Events of just the past several years offer evidence there is a growing need for individuals with the intelligence and vision to think about the future and the challenges that lie ahead — both for individuals and for this country.
This writer often has said complacency is one, if not the most, dangerous affliction for individuals, businesses, universities, countries, athletics and most every facet of our lives. Very few things or conditions are guaranteed.
Several years ago, well-known author Tom Clancy started writing a novel titled “Threat Vector.” This current best seller tells a story of a long, well-planned project by Chinese leaders to build an extremely powerful cybersystem able to cripple and render useless most every important operation in the United States.
This system allowed Chinese leaders and military strategists to hack into the highest levels of the American government, cause nuclear systems to shut down or overheat, intercept U.S. drone aircraft and misdirect them to target American military positions and, in a way, bring America to its knees.
Clancy must have had this idea for a book several years ago, but, this week, President Obama used his State of the Union address to warn the country about the growing threat of increased cyberattacks. There have been an increasing number of stories in recent weeks about American companies and industries being hacked by the Chinese. Have our top military offices been compromised?
Is this situation far more dangerous than anyone in top government, military or utility companies has acknowledged? Is the current level of danger similar to what Clancy describes in his book?
Some might say “no way” but that’s probably what a good share of the public thought about the exploits and devices used by comic book characters 40, 50 or more years ago.
What if Clancy’s vision is fairly accurate? Is there reason to believe and have confidence that our top military and government officials are on top of the situation with systems to counter or, better yet, to put hackers out of business? Is the U.S. engaged in developing cyberhacking to an even higher level to use against other nations or maybe, more worrying, to use to keep tabs on Americans here at home?
It would be a serious mistake to sell short the Chinese threat or, for that matter, the ability and determination of leaders or schemers in other countries to use cyber or space technology to make America — for years the world’s most powerful and respected country — into a damaged shell of itself as an international leader.
Cyberthreats are real. Hacking is not merely a threat; it is a clear and present danger as well as a growing concern as it relates to the government invading the privacy of U.S. citizens.
Clancy’s book, the president’s inclusion of cybersecurity in his State of the Union address and the increasing realization by American business that they have been, or are being, hacked all point to the seriousness of this threat.
This is not a comic book fantasy.