Posts Tagged ‘Robert W. Taylor’

LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media

January 13, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a book by P.W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking. Many of the immediately following posts will be based on or motivated by this book. The authors have been both exhaustive and creative in their offering. Since it is exhaustive only a sampling of the many important points can be included. Emphasis will be placed on the creative parts.

The very concept that led to the development of the internet was a paper written by two psychologists J.C.R Licklider and Robert W. Taylor titled “The Computer as a Communication Device.” Back in those days computers were large mainframes used for data processing. Licklider wrote another paper titled “Man Computer Symbiosis.” The idea here was that both computers and humans could benefit from the interaction between the two, a true symbiotic interaction. Unfortunately, this concept has been largely overlooked. Concentration was on replacing humans, who were regarded as slow and error prone, with computers. Today the fear is of the jobs lost by artificial intelligence. Attention needs to be focused on the interaction between humans and computers as advocated by Licklider.

But the notion of the computer as a communication device did catch on. More will be written on that in the following post.

The authors also bring Clausewitz into the discussion. Clausewitz was a military strategist famous for his saying, war is politics pursued in other means. More specifically he wrote, “the continuation of political intercourse with the addition of other means.” The two are intertwined, he explained. “War in itself does not suspend political intercourse or change it into something entirely different. In essentials that intercourse continues, irrespective of the means it employs.” War is political. And politics will always be at the heart of human conflict, the two inherently mixed. “The main lines along which military events progress, and to which they are restricted, are political lines that continue throughout the war into the subsequent peace.”

If only we could learn of what Clausewitz would think of today. Nuclear warfare was never realistic. Mutual Assured Destruction with the meaningful acronym (MAD) was never feasible. Conflicts need to be resolved, not the dissolution of the disagreeing parties. Today’s technology allows for the disruptions of financial systems, power grids, the very foundations of modern society. Would Clausewitz think that conventional warfare has become obsolete? There might be small skirmishes, but would standing militaries go all out to destroy each other. Having a technological interface rather than face to face human interactions seems to allow for more hostile and disruptive
interactions. Have politics become weaponized? Is that what the title of Singer and Brooking’s book implies?

The authors write that their research has taken them around the world and into the infinite reaches of the internet. Yet they continually found themselves circling back to five core principles, which form the foundation of the book.
First, the internet has left adolescence.

Second, the internet has become a battlefield.

Third, this battlefield changes how conflicts are fought.

Fourth, this battle changes what “war” means.

Fifth, and finally, we’re all part of this war.

Here are the final two paragraphs of the first chapter.

“The modern internet is not just a network but an ecosystem of nearly 4 billion souls, each with their own thoughts and aspirations, each capable of imprinting a tiny piece of themselves on the vast digital commons. They are the targets not of a single information war but of thousands and potentially millions of them. Those who can manipulate this swirling tide, to steer its direction and flow, can accomplish incredible good. They can free people, expose crimes, save lives, and seed far-reaching reforms. But they can also accomplish astonishing evil. They can foment violence, stoke hate, sow falsehoods, incite wars, and even erode the pillar of democracy itself.

Which side succeeds depends, in large part, on how much the rest of us learn to recognize this new warfare for what it is. Our goal in “LikeWar” is to explain exactly what’s going on and to prepare us all for what comes next.”

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