Ambitious yet dry treatise regarding a particular terror of modern life: the increasing ubiquity of potential harm spawned by technological transformations.
Brookings Institution senior fellow Wittes and Blum (Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law/Harvard Law School; Islands of Agreement: Managing Enduring Armed Rivalries, 2007, etc.) begin by articulating the many ways in which our fundamental connectedness, along with related advances in computing, biotechnology, 3-D printing, gene synthesis and other awe-inspiring technologies, could easily go awry or be turned to evil ends by lone sociopaths or wannabe jihadi: “Technologies that put destructive power traditionally confined to states in the hands of small groups and individuals have proliferated remarkably far,” write the authors. They initially focus on the destructive possibilities of technologies that have quickly become familiar, hypothesizing, for example, that ordinary people will soon be able to harass their rivals with tiny drones. In our transformative moment, “distance does not protect you…you are at once a figure of great power and great vulnerability.” Yet much of the authors’ discussion focuses on the changing nature of the state itself, weighing Hobbes’ concept of the “Leviathan” in the face of new and diverse threats. They first focus on how technology has “distributed” both vulnerability and the capacity to cause harm widely: “[W]e live in a fishbowl even as we exploit the fact that others live in a fishbowl too,” a principle embodied by recent “sextortion” cases. This inevitably forces a reconsideration of privacy and liberty on many levels, as revealed by events ranging from the Boston Marathon bombing investigation to hacker attacks on Israel and Iran. The authors raise fascinating questions but discuss them utilizing a formal legalistic framework. Ironically, they illuminate the coming age of “many-to-many” threats via a language few laypeople will find comprehensible.
A thoughtful yet obscure Cassandra warning of great vulnerabilities disguised as gifts.