These topics are addressed in The New Digital Age: Transforming Nations, Businesses, and Our Lives, a book by Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen. Eric Schmidt, Ph.D., is the executive chairman of Google. He has a long history in the technology field. Jared Cohen is the founder and director of Google Ideas. He is a Rhodes Scholar and the author of two books, Children of Jihad and One Hundred Days of Silence. From 2006 to 2010 he served as a member of the secretary of state’s Policy Planning Staff and as a close advisor to both Condolezza Rice and Hillary Clinton. He is now an adjunct senior fellow and the Council of Foreign Relations. So it is clear that these gentlemen are experts in the areas of which they write. Moreover, they are widely traveled, having been to both war torn Iraq and Afghanistan.
For example, in Afghanistan they learned of an entire village that revolted against the Taliban when the extremist group tried to seize their phones. In Kenya, they visited Maasi nomads in Loodariak who live without electricity or running water, but carry, along with their swords, mobile devices that they use to pay for items at the market. In North Korea, citizens risk imprisonment in the gulags and in some cases death, which can also be applied to three generations of relatives, in order to obtain smuggled phones and tablets and make extremely risking trips to the Chinese border just to capture a signal.
There is simply too much material here to even attempt to summarize. Descriptions by the experts on the development of technology can certainly be regarded as authoritative. There are chapters on Our Future Selves, The Future of Identity, Citizenship, and Reporting, the Future of States, the Future of Revolution, the Future of Terrorism, the future of Conflict, Combat, and Intervention. If one is prone to worrying, you might want to reconsider reading this book, for there is much to worry about, many nightmare scenarios. Nevertheless , the discussion of cyberwarfare are detailed and informative.
Central to the discussion of terrorism is the question of what makes a person a terrorist? How can terrorism be fought? General Stanley McChrystal draws on his experience from commanding troops against terrorist offers these suggestions. “What defeats terrorism is really two things. It’s the rule of law and then it’s opportunity for people.” Young people need to be provide with context-rich alternatives and distractions that keep they from pursuing extremism. Outsiders do not need to provide content, they just need to create the space.”
I think highly of the general’s ideas and recommendations. However, I don’t think they provide a complete solution. The terrorists who flew planes into the Trade Towers and the Pentagon were well educated and well off. They had opportunity and context-rich alternatives. These people need to be addressed at another level with helpful narratives to replace their distorted versions of reality.
The authors do identify the Achilles Heel of Terrorism, and that is technology itself. To remain hidden, Osama bin Laden had to remain off-line to avoid capture. But when he was captured his flash drives and hard drives contained a trove of information to fight the terrorists.
The authors remain optimistic. They are especially optimistic about the future of reconstruction. So once disasters or attacks strike, if communications technology is set up enough has bee learned about receiving from these disasters that recovery, if done right, can be done with increasing efficiency.
The authors note that there are physical and virtual civilizations. Thy note that their case for optimism lies not in sci-fi gadgets or holograms, but in the check that technology and connectivity bring against the abuse, suffering, and distraction in our lives.
I hope the authors are correct, and they certainly know more than I do. But there remains the potential of technology to be used by totalitarian regimes to control and abuse their populations. RFID chips could be implanted in people so that their locations would always be known, and other technology could provide information on their activities. So, I hope the authors are correct and that technology will be used for good rather than evil.
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