As everyone with access to the news media now knows, the deadliest terrorist attack in human history took place in New York and Washington, D.C., on September 11, 2001. Terrorists simultaneously commandeered four wide body commercial jetliners and crashed three of them into the two 110-story towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Several thousand people from several dozen nations nations appear to have perished in the attacks; and in addition to the direct property damage of perhaps tens of billions of dollars, indirect economic losses stemming from the incident seem likely to climb into the hundreds of billions of dollars.
Was it a great victory for terrorists?
Maybe, maybe not. Consider the following facts.
First, since terrorist forces with the same intent had previously attacked the World Trade Center with subterranean bombs in 1993, measures had already been put into place at the World Trade Center to back up valuable financial data in other locations. As a result, after a lull in financial trading for a few days, Wall Street's financial markets opened the Monday following the attacks without any impediments to trading. Needless to say, since everyone now realizes that a future attack could be even more devastating, new measures will probably be conceived to protect the functioning of financial markets in the future, no matter what terrorists throw at them.
Second, there was the contribution of wireless technology in reporting on the nature of the attack and reducing its effects. Both passengers and flight attendants on the commandeered aircraft placed calls describing the terrorists, how they took control of the aircraft, and what they were doing. They spoke with relatives, airline ground support personnel, and telephone operators. Passengers on the only aircraft not to hit a building learned via wireless telephone calls that other aircraft had already been crashed into buildings killing many innocent people. That spurred them to attack the terrorists, which resulted in their aircraft crashing into an unpopulated area.
Third, wireless technology helped people inside the World Trade Center to learn the nature of the attack, plus get in touch with missing people after their escape. As strange as it seems, after the first aircraft hit the first tower, some people in the other tower saw papers flying around and thought a ticker tape parade was in progress. Even after their building was hit, some thought it was a earthquake. However, relatives outside the building contacted them via wireless telephone to tell them they were under terrorist attack. In one case, a recipient of a call was told a second plane was inbound!
One can easily imagine that as a result of this attack future wireless telephones and/or smart ID badges will be able to alert their owners to dangers in their building and inform them of what escape routes to use. However, technology can play a much greater role in preventing terrorism. Advanced computer applications such as facial feature scanning technology that already exists could be used to scan passengers to keep hijackers off the planes. And since jetliners are already computerized, remote control technologies could be used to take control of an aircraft away from people intent on crashing it into a building.
In short, if new technologies confounded the terrorists during this incident, they could absolutely make them miserable the next time around, depending on what's deployed. Those of us working on the TRON Project have long advocated using advanced computer technologies and networking strategies to make human life convenient, pleasant, and safe. Let's hope that this tragic incident of terrorism will serve as an impetus for realizing that dream.