“Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds”
As an atomic bomb detonated in the New Mexican desert in July 1945, these were the words that came to Robert Oppenheimer, the scientist in charge of the world’s first nuclear test.
Shockwaves radiating from the Manhattan Project have given us the microchip, the personal computer, the graphical user interface, the computer mouse, and the Internet – the fundamental elements of our digital lives. The extraordinary narrative that links them together features a cast of visionaries, mavericks and oddballs. Hackers, phone phreaks, rock stars, Nobel Prize winners and mythical beings all played their role.
When an atom is split, it releases a small amount of energy, just enough to cause one or more atoms to divide. Individually, each fission is innocuous. Combined, the ramifications are uncontrollable. A fitting metaphor for our networked world. Oppenheimer’s prophecy has come to pass, but it’s not the terrestrial world that’s been destroyed, it’s the analogue world. The Trinity Test signified the birth of the Atomic Age, but it also laid the foundations of the Information Age, the fallout of which we are only just beginning to understand.
The fuse has been lit. The chain-reaction is in motion. What does the future hold?