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Editorial July 16, 2009  RSS feed


In the course of American history, there have been three major industrial revolutions that helped transform the United States into a commercial superpower.

The first, which ran from 1712 to 1830, primarily centered around two inventions that led to a boom in the textile industry: the cotton gin, which made processing cotton easier; and the steam engine, which helped expand rail and boat service and allowed workers and goods to be moved across the growing nation faster.

Communication and further advances in travel dominated the second revolution, which took place from 1875 to 1905. That era saw the invention of the telegraph, telephone, incandescent light bulb, diesel engine and automobile as well as the first successful airplane flight.

These two revolutions resulted in other innovations over time and brought a new kind of prosperity to this country that became the envy of the world.

The third revolution began in the 1970s and continues to this day, as the growth of computers and the Internet have forever changed the way business is done both in America and around the world. While never actually given the title of a revolution, the Information Age nevertheless has built on the inventions of the first two industrial revolutions and redefined the way everything worked.

Love them or hate them, computers have become an integral part of everyday life. Many embrace the wonders of the computer and its components. They shop, read, study, stay in contact with friends and family and, in general, evolve their daily chores around or through the computer.

There are also those who don't trust the machines at all. They would rather make a phone call, visit a store, or write a letter than sit in front of the screen and live their lives through electronics.

The Internet has made the world a very small place. Emails can be sent in microseconds to every corner of the planet. Games can be played with people in Europe or the far reaches of Africa.

But this access does have its drawbacks. A series of cyberattacks starting on July 4—allegedly perpetrated by North Korea—reportedly hit several U.S. government websites as well as the webpages of the New York Stock Exchange, NASDAQ, Yahoo Finance and The Washington Post.

In April, current and former national security officials in Washington reported that cyberspies hacked into the U.S. electrical grid and left behind software programs that could be used to disrupt the system. The spies reportedly came from China, Russia and other countries and were believed to be on a mission to navigate the electrical network and its controls.

Cyberspies also reportedly broke into the Pentagon's $300 billion Joint Strike Fighter project; a probe linked China to the incident, even though that country denies any involvement.

Most of the computers we use are made in China and other countries. It may sound farfetched, but is it possible that a small device could be placed inside the works that allows access to cyberspies whose only aim is to weaken the United States and destroy the progress this nation has made?