Two Google executives examine how emerging technologies will change the future of foreign affairs.
“Forget all the talk about machines taking over,” write Schmidt and Cohen (Children of Jihad: A Young American's Travels Among the Youth of the Middle East, 2007, etc.). “What happens in the future is up to us.” The pair met in Baghdad in 2009 while working on a memo for the State Department. While there, they found that Iraqis not only valued technology, they believed in its potential to improve their lives and their country. With that in mind, the authors look at our increasingly networked world and speculate on what new global connections could bring, particularly as it will change foreign affairs in a future that “will be more personal and participatory than we can even imagine.” The authors encapsulate a vast sweep of ideas, including personal citizenship online and off, censorship of electronic information as national policy (e.g., in China), and even what future revolutions (similar to the Arab Spring) will look like in years to come. The ability of technology to change the world for the better sometimes comes across as either excessively optimistic or bordering on science fiction. In one passage, the authors surmise that witch doctors, false holy men and procurers of child brides could all soon change their ways, since “[w]ith more data, everyone gains a better frame of reference.” Conversely, the chapter on the future of terrorism is especially chilling, offering such possibilities as mobile explosive devices made from parts easily bought online or a well-coordinated, simultaneous bomb explosion in multiple American cities, followed by cyberattacks to cripple emergency services. The likelihood that technology could create a future that is both better and worse, in different ways, is probably the book’s most accurate prediction.
A thoughtful and well-balanced prognostication of what lies ahead.