MindBullets 20 Years


Bio-engineered data haven also home to tax refugees

Somewhere in the mid-Atlantic, an island is taking shape. “Nothing like this has ever been built before,” says Leon Almara, the chief architect.

MinTelBay, the world’s biggest technology company, is building the world’s largest, and most complex data center. A specially treated titanium-chromium lattice has been mounted on a set of temporary floats and then a unique gel of coral polyps was poured into the surrounding waters.

“They’re genetically modified to produce a coral that is highly cross-linked with doped silicon. Basically, it’s a biologically manufactured microprocessor.” The polyps are building rapidly and the 15km square island will be complete in 12 months.

The process of converting this coral-silicon mass into a functioning data center is highly confidential. This correspondent couldn’t fail to notice what appears to be the world’s largest private navy reinforcing security around the island. An army worthy of a sovereign state.

“It’s not just a data haven, but a tax haven too,” says Monica Ramipundra, MinTelBay’s CFO. “Some of the most powerful business people and companies are looking to move their primary residence to our island.”

Which is not surprising. After all, it will be the world’s most exclusive tropical resort, as well as having fiscal independence.

This kind of secrecy means that the island is deliberately not displayed on any of the major online map tools. “Our investors own the satellites. They don’t want you to know where they’ll be living.”

The security cuts both ways, though. “We’ve suffered a large number of cyber-attacks against data centers and government information over the past few decades. The bandwidth here is almost infinite, and the site is as secure as we can make it.

Our customers can be sure that we are working to maintain the security of their information with absolute commitment,” says Ramipundra.

ANALYSIS >> SYNTHESIS: How this scenario came to be

In 1988, Bruce Stirling wrote Islands in the Net in which he imagined a world where data was stored confidentially in a network of secure data havens. A data haven is a computer or a network of computers (a “cloud”) that holds data protected from government action by both technical means (encryption) and location in a country that has either no laws – or poorly-enforced laws restricting use of data – and no extradition treaties.

In May 2000, Michael Bates of Leigh-on-sea, Essex, bought a former World War II anti-aircraft military fortress in the North Sea, renamed it Sealand and set up a secure data service called HavenCo. It is still operational and has parallels with the Neil Stephenson book, Cryptonomicon.

Also in 2000, a different service was released: Freenet. “I worry about my child and the Internet all the time, even though she’s too young to have logged on yet. Here’s what I worry about. I worry that 10 or 15 years from now, she will come to me and say: ‘Daddy, where were you when they took freedom of the press away from the Internet?'” said Mike Godwin, of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Freenet is a distributed data haven in which member’s computers link to the network and all data is shared in anonymous and encrypted bits all across the network.

Each service offers alternatives for creating a store of data that is kept isolated from mainstream laws and oversight. There are, however, concerns.

Even though the data may be kept in a remote site, there is nothing to stop a government dispatching their navy to destroy it. There is also nothing to stop a government’s courts from jailing the owners of such sites. The experiences of Napster, a distributed music download service, provide examples of what can happen.

Interest in data havens has not gone away, but a real and secure data haven can only be achieved if it is kept remote, physically secure, and difficult to find.

2017: Silicon Valley Matures
The hi-tech interest in computers and networks has been fading for five years. The smart money is now in biotechnology. The biotech industry is growing rapidly with breakthroughs in everything from cereal crop production, to cheap energy, to longevity and cancer. No-one is particularly interested in new blogging tools, or new ways for the world’s citizens to remain in permanent contact.

Massive consolidation follows. Microsoft, one of the most astute relationship-builders, quietly absorbs its long-term partners. Intel and eBay are lucky to get their names reflected in the new corporation. Facebook and Oracle aren’t so lucky. Google, in the other corner, has a more difficult time merging with Yahoo and Amazon, companies with very different corporate cultures.

MinTelBay executives have long been comfortable with managing a mature business in a mature industry. Googlehoo executives have a harder time of it, and many of their top executives retire to pursue interests in biotech, where the work experience is more fluid.

2025: 401 – The day 8 billion die
In April 2007 Estonia, once a slave-state of the Soviet empire, decided to distance itself from their past. The Bronze Soldier situated in the centre of the capital of Estonia, and commemorating the Soviet invasion of Estonia at the battle of Tallinn, was moved to a graveyard.

Vladimir Putin, Russia’s increasingly dictatorial leader, went on the offensive: “Those who are trying to belittle this invaluable experience, those who desecrate monuments to the heroes of the war, are insulting their own people and sowing discord and new distrust between states and people.”

Violent clashes at the Estonian embassy in Russia were followed by a systematic and aggressive attempt to bring down the entire Estonian Internet infrastructure; disabling the websites of government ministries, political parties, newspapers, banks, and companies.

This type of attack is known as a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack. CERT, a software security organization located at Carnegie-Melon University in the US characterizes DDoS as “an explicit attempt by attackers to prevent legitimate users of a service from using that service”.

It was the world’s first cyber war.

Governments and private security experts had studied the attack, but the difficulty of containing such attacks – especially if supported by a large government – were clear. In the 18 years that followed, sporadic attacks had taken place, but nothing prepared anyone for 1 April 2025.

On 1 April, a series of massive DDoS attacks are launched at state servers in the UK, US, EU, China and India. The data traffic is massive but security experts aren’t clear on what is happening, and so aren’t sure of how to stop it. Within hours it becomes clear as millions of pensioners around the world are turned away as they attempt to collect their state pensions. Everyone is dead!

“It’s chaos! According to our records, everyone has died. And dead people can’t draw pensions or collect pay cheques, or access their bank-accounts,” says a spokesman for the US central records department.

Panic breaks out as people are unable to access their bank accounts or even use their public transport systems. “We all took it for granted – access to information – it was only when it wasn’t there anymore…” says Mohandra Mumtaz, a security expert in Mumbai. The systems are restored within hours from backups, but confidence is shattered.

A series of anonymous messages are released: “We are the BotNet. We will destroy the world.”

Terrorism experts gather to discuss the situation. “It’s a bit like 9/11 2001, only here we have no idea where this terrorist is hiding or even who it is,” says David Chu, head of the anti-terrorism global taskforce set up to counter the threat.

Companies realize that they will soon be targeted and start banding together to set up secure backup systems to restore their data, in the event of an attack.

2032: Bio-Silicon Breakthrough
Biotechnology and microchips finally come together as Syngenta develops a set of genes that code for silicon cross-linking that can be produced by micro-organisms. MinTelBay wins this round, having purchased Syngenta a decade before, but Googlehoo isn’t far behind with their own innovations.

It is the first major breakthrough to reduce the cost and complexity of microchips in almost a decade. “We’re pretty much at the quantum level now, but manufacturing mechanically means that most of what we produce has too many errors to use,” says Juliane Schmernitz, the lead scientist at Syngenta. “The only way to deal with the quantum effects, and the difficulty of producing viable nano-processors, is if we can create vast numbers of simple, repeating structures, that can be annealed to each other through a biological process.”

The obvious biological candidate for such work is coral. The largest built structure on earth is the barrier reef off Australia. “We knew it had to be coral, and we rapidly developed a way of getting them to grow exactly where we wanted them, and much faster,” says Schmernitz.

Security experts realize quickly that this may allow them their first advantage in five years against the still-unknown threat of the BotNet. “MinTelBay approached us and wanted to know if it would be possible to engineer a full-sized island out of this stuff,” says Leon Almara, chief engineer at GE-Samsung. “I said, Yes.”

The CEOs of MinTelBay and Googlehoo meet. “I agreed that we would keep their data haven off the map, if they did the same for ours. After all, it’s obvious that they will do this soon and I think we need quite a few data havens. No point in relying on just one,” says Monica Ramipundra, MinTelBay’s CFO.

With the two companies controlling the two most comprehensive map services, this was the most sophisticated means of protecting their haven’s security. The more physical aspect was solved.

“Let’s just say that someone with a large amount of money approached us and offered to secure the place with a navy, as long as he was allowed to live on the island,” says Ramipundra.

“They asked me if I could make the island larger so people could live on it. I said, Yes,” says Almara.

2037: MinTelBay Island Open for Business
“It took Dubai eight years to build The Palm island. We built MinTelBay in just five, and it’s four times the size,” says a proud Leon Almara.

“The site is designed to withstand direct warhead strikes. If every electronic device in the world was turned against MinTelBay Island in order to swamp the bandwidth, it still wouldn’t absorb even 1% of its capacity. With time, I’m sure some genius will come up with a way to attack the place but, for now, we’re secure,” says Alistair Hodges, chief of security on the island.

In the mean time, helicopters are flying in from all over and dropping off the new residents of what is now the most exclusive address on earth.

Warning: Hazardous thinking at work

Despite appearances to the contrary, Futureworld cannot and does not predict the future. Our Mindbullets scenarios are fictitious and designed purely to explore possible futures, challenge and stimulate strategic thinking. Use these at your own risk. Any reference to actual people, entities or events is entirely allegorical. Copyright Futureworld International Limited. Reproduction or distribution permitted only with recognition of Copyright and the inclusion of this disclaimer.