Posted in: Tattle, Technology

Oliver Letwin, the unlikely merchant of technological doom

After battling to stop a no-deal Brexit, the ex-MP has written a modern fable, Apocalypse How?, warning of the catastrophe our tech dependence could cause

Oliver Letwin’s strange and somewhat alarming new book begins at midnight on Thursday 31 December 2037. In Swindon – stay with me! – a man called Aameen Patel is working the graveyard shift at Highways England’s traffic HQ when his computer screen goes blank, and the room is plunged into darkness. He tries to report these things to his superiors, but can get no signal on his mobile. What’s going on? Looking at the motorway from the viewing window by his desk, he observes, not an orderly stream of traffic, but a dramatic pile-up of crashed cars and lorries – at which point he realises something is seriously amiss. In the Britain of 2037, everything, or almost everything, is controlled by 7G wireless technology, from the national grid to the traffic (not only are cars driverless; a vehicle cannot even join a motorway without logging into an “on-route guidance system”). There is, then, only one possible explanation: the entire 7G network must have gone down.

It sounds like I’m describing a novel – and it’s true that Aameen Patel will soon be joined by another fictional creation in the form of Bill Donoghue, who works at the Bank of England, and whose job it will be to tell the prime minister that the country is about to pay a heavy price for its cashless economy, given that even essential purchases will not be possible until the network is back up (Bill’s mother-in-law is also one of thousands of vulnerable people whose carers will soon be unable to get to them, the batteries in their electric cars having gone flat). But Apocalypse How? is not a novel. It’s a peculiar hybrid: part fable, part fact. Aameen, Bill and all Letwin’s other characters exist only to illustrate aspects of his wider thesis, which is that our increasing reliance on integrated digital technology may be leading us, and ultimately every country in the world, in the direction of a catastrophe. I exaggerate a little, but think TV’s Survivors minus the mystery virus (though at the moment, we handily have one of those on our hands, too).

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