Thank You, Uncle Louie

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            Shortly after New Year’s Day, 2016, my uncle Louie saved the world. Well, actually he didn’t do it alone; he was part of the Gorsham team.
            Things were in a bad way. It was as if we had returned to the Cold War days. A North Korean airliner had gone off course, scared everybody, and been brought down by a South Korean destroyer, with a loss of 127 passengers and crew. You know the rest. Threats led to counter-threats. The United States promised to retaliate against any attack by the North. China stated that any U.S. action would be met “appropriately.” The European Union and Russia got into it, and for a while the world stumbled through its scariest hours since the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Then, while the major powers glared at one another, Uncle Louie came home and told us about the arrival of the Birmingham Computer. A public announcement was made the following morning. It was, the science guys said, “a breakthrough in quantum applications.” The last word in data analysis.
Nobody would ever have taken Louie for a genius. He was in his fifties, with too much belly, and a passion for cold beer. His hair was mostly gone, but he wore a constant smile, loved to watch football and baseball on TV, and his library consisted exclusively of physics manuals and thriller novels. He’d never been married. My mom claimed it wasn’t by choice, but because he was simply unable to hold onto women.
I was there when the Feds showed up and tried to get him to agree not to release details of the new computer. “It’s too late,” he told them. “No way to stop it now.” He was not entirely able to conceal a grin. Apparently the Gorsham people had expected trouble but moved to pre-empt it.
The agents were visibly upset and yelled at him. Something about whether he had any idea what he’d done? I was in high school at the time, and I got rattled by it all. I mean, those guys looked serious. After they’d left, he told me not to worry, everything would be okay. His name started showing up in the major blogs, and then he got interviewed by Morning Joe and Jon Stewart. “So you’ve got a quantum computer now,” my mom said. “What’s the big deal?”               
He glanced at our top-of-the-line unit, which was only a year old. “Compared to the Birmingham,” he said, “that thing’s not much better than a blackboard and a piece of chalk.”
“Uncle Louie,” I said, “you haven’t given any of these to the North Koreans, have you?”
“We haven’t given one of them to anybody,” he said. “But they’re going on sale in three days.”
The Feds tried to stop it. They succeeded in shutting down a few stores. Most stores, actually. Hundreds of them across the country. But it was too late. Some companies got injunctions, other outlets were simply overlooked. For the next couple of weeks the Birminghams were everywhere on TV.
When I asked him if he didn’t think he’d done the wrong thing letting the North Koreans and the Taliban and everybody else get their hands on what were by then being called a whole new generation of computers, he told me that the secret of American success lay in a free market. “That’s what we’re all about,” he said. “Anyhow, there’s no reason to worry, Billy. Take my word for it”
The Birmingham, one of the experts explained, has analytic capabilities that exceed anything they’d ever talked about on the news shows. “You can’t hide anything from it,” he said. The first thing to go was the standard security measures that protected people’s checking account information and social security numbers. It was a hacker’s dream. While the superpowers threatened one another with nuclear oblivion, looters were throwing parties across the western world. Our family savings account got cleaned out, and a second Uncle Louie showed up in Britain living the good life.
Hackers broke into websites and made off with pharmaceutical formulas, recipes for Brookheimer’s Stew, and security protocols. Codewords became useless. Information marked with terms like Top Secret Bongo were available to anyone who was interested.
The autocratic states had similar problems. No piece of correspondence that had ever been placed on the internet was difficult to find. Citizens in every country learned what their leaders really thought of them, in unvarnished language. And the kind of future they were planning. Dictators were caught sneering at everyone under their control, and generals mocking their own troops. It was all on TV and the internet. And a few of them learned the hard way that it’s not smart to laugh at your security detail.
Some of the experts celebrated, while others proclaimed the end of the world. There was no such thing as classified information anymore. Not unless you’re willing to send it packaged and under the care of armed guards. No cryptosystem can stand up against the Birmingham. Nobody can plan a military attack, or even make up reasons for launching one, without warning the people on the receiving end exactly what they’re up to. And why.
It was a rough ride for a while. But that all happened a half-century ago. We haven’t completely wiped out war. And there are still some inconveniences about social communication. But, compared to the old days, conflict isn’t much more than a few gunshots every few years. Even the religious fanatics have been put out of business. It’s not easy to organize acts of terrorism in a public venue.
Unfortunately, Uncle Louie didn’t live to see all this happen. But he knew it was coming. I still remember the way he smiled when the Feds came in the door. I’m not sure anymore where the world is headed. But it’s a better place than it used to be.
Thank you, Uncle Louie.              

About the Author: 
Former naval officer, English teacher, customs officer, management trainer, science fiction writer.

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