By Herbert O. Yardley, guest editor.
A friend of mine likes to joke that if the Grid ever goes down, everyone under the age of 35 will be dead within 3 days from starvation, media withdrawal and having to think for themselves. This fits well with the claim that “We are just 7 meals away from anarchy” thanks to the introduction of Just-In-Time inventory control to the nation’s (and world’s) food delivery system. So perhaps there is something to this Cyber Treaty thing after all.
But, as one who has never owned a cell phone, does not have Internet access, has never banked, traded stocks or made a purchase online I see things from a different perspective. Sure a Cyber Attack could throw the global financial system into chaos; but can it really do more harm than the World’s Central Banks or the large cadre of Harvard MBAs trading trillions of dollars, marks and yen unsupervised on a 24/7 global basis have already done? I doubt it. And even if some high level global Strategist tries to meltdown a few “enemy” nuclear reactors, or shutdown Facebook or Amazon for a few weeks; is that any more dangerous than Curtis Lemay (the Head of SAC) purportedly violating Soviet airspace at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis in hopes of provoking an incident that would justify a US first strike? Estimated “fallout”, 150-250 million dead, but the near total destruction of the USSR’s military capability. So let’s put things into perspective here.
The real question – which no one is even asking, let alone trying to solve – is this: “How can we improve basic Human Nature so that War of any kind, Hate, and the so-called “Strategic” calculus that has contributed so much to the present sorry state of the World are no longer acceptable to even the most Neanderthal Governments and persons?”. I may be crazy, but I believe this problem can be solved, and in less than 3 generations if the “best and brightest” from all nations and fields resist the temptation to work for and enable the worst elements which seem to dominate Government and Business.
For reasons that remain obscure, I read the Bible last Summer for the first time, and among other things the story of the Tower of Babel stands out in my mind, particularly in the current context. For me there are two key lessons: First, the God of the Bible is a jealous, hateful, petty god, who feared the potential power of a united Mankind, particularly one that could build a tower to Heaven (This, like everything else, was explored in a classic South Park which provides further insight into the matter). As a result He destroyed the Tower, and replaced a universal language with a multiplicity of tongues so that men could not communicate with each other. The rest as they say is History. But perhaps even more disturbing is the idea that Man was made in this God’s image. While that would seem to explain everything, it almost certainly guarantees a future Cyber War since new technologies provide a vehicle for seamless global communication which poses a serious threat to current national and international institutions and the established global power structure. Roche and I have addressed this issue elsewhere using a new concept we call Asygnosis. Unfortunately, the idea was universally panned by the academic community and remains unknown, although we still discuss it occasionally.
The problem, of course, is that to those desperately seeking to maintain their fragile grip on global Wealth, Power and Control, Cyber Weapons and Cyber Warfare seem like a cheap, expedient option. And since the old “Military-Industrial Complex” has been replaced by a Military-Technology alliance, “What’s good for Google is good for the global strategic position of the US” as Charlie Wilson might have said – although we can rest assured that he’s rolling over in his grave at the very thought of such a thing. The same goes for tech companies in other countries. In a world defined by two-dimensional computer and cell phone screens, whoever controls the flow of data, financial and economic transactions, and communications thinks they control everything. But as a former Painter I can assure you that no matter how closely a two-dimensional surface appears to represent Reality, it is at best no more than an Illusion. And in the case of many new technologies, they promote a very convincing “illusion” which has a plethora of dangerous implications; the threat of Cyber Warfare being just one of them.
The main problem with much new Telecommunication and Internet Technology (and I have been talking about this for at least a decade) is the “de-humanizing” – for lack of a better word – effect it has on users. This is clearly evident in the general loss of “intimacy” among people, and the inability of almost everyone to deal effectively with simple social interactions and situations. For me, the epiphany came a few years ago during a family Christmas gathering when my nieces and nephew – who were sitting on a couch next to each other – texted among themselves rather than turning their heads and speaking face to face, which would of course have included anyone present in their conversation. It is important to stress that it is exactly this type of technology-driven social interaction that makes the likelihood of a Cyber War so high. As “reality” becomes condensed to a computer or cell phone screen, the real “human” costs and consequences of any action become irrelevant. Instead, the calculus becomes: “How many hits would a major Cyber Attack get on YouTube or other Social Media platforms, and how can that response be controlled and monetized to the fullest?” And don’t think some of the “smartest” minds haven’t already figured this out. In fact a recent study of the top ten topics on Social Media in 2015 included no less than 6 major disasters, including the 2 Paris Bombings and the Earthquake in Nepal. So don’t discount a Cyber War as part of a major Corporate or Political advertising campaign.
The other major problem with many new technologies is the false sense of knowledge and reliability they offer users. Once again Roche and I explored this subject in a widely rejected study of an Intelligence-based software product. The only difference we could find in the results of this product versus conventional methods was that its users were far more confident in their mediocre results. Once again this bodes ill for the coming Cyber War, since Strategist are likely to downplay or neglect altogether the true costs of attack and at the same time feel extremely confident about their (mis-) calculations. Wikepedia is a poor substitute for Knowledge. Of course, the irony here is that the most developed nations have the most to lose in an all-out Cyber War, since the third or more of global population that still struggles for food and clean water on a daily basis would remain largely unaffected by a major Cyber Attack.
There is, however, one thing for sure. The day after the Great Cyber War the Sun will still rise, birds will still sing, and the Earth’s vegetation will continue to convert sunlight, water and carbon dioxide into energy for growth and oxygen. (Note that this may not have been the case after the Great Nuclear – Nuckuler for you Republicans – War that so many dreamed of for so long.) There is unfortunately another (near) certainty. And that is that the remnants of Human Civilization will soon reassemble, led by the most malevolent, egomaniacal elements to quickly rebuild barriers to fellowship and free expression. It will not take long before the lessons of the last Cyber War lead to the development of even more powerful methods to address perceived threats and control the “masses”. So, Cyber War or Cyber Treaty? The answer lies in whichever suites the whims and perceived interests of the most powerful at the moment, especially if the projected results might hurt their competitors even more than themselves. Flip a coin. Either way we all lose.
I like to say that we have the ability to turn this World into a true Paradise – eliminate Hunger, Disease, Fear and Want; and that’s all before breakfast. The only barrier is Human Nature. Improving that is a problem worthy of our full attention and dedication. But what do I know? I’ve been wrong about everything lately.