Maybe you never thought violence had a future. It’s been drilled into us since we were very young that violence was awful, even immoral or unethical. We saw role modeling of famous non-violent demonstrations from the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., and throughout history, many passive rather than aggressive reactions to perceived unfavorable change.
However, this new best-seller says differently. The Future of Violence: Robots and Germs, Hackers and Drones – Confronting a New Age of Threat (Basic Books, 2015) paints a grim picture of a future filled with fear, and suggesting that the role of government in protecting us must change.
The authors, Benjamin Wittes and Gabriella Blum, are highly qualified to expand upon their thesis.
From the Brookings Institution web site, Wittes is listed as “a senior fellow in Governance Studies at The Brookings Institution. He co-founded and is the editor-in-chief of the Lawfare blog, which is devoted to sober and serious discussion of “Hard National Security Choices,” and is a member of the Hoover Institution’s Task Force on National Security and Law. He is the author of Detention and Denial: The Case for Candor After Guantanamo, published in November 2011, co-editor of Constitution 3.0: Freedom and Technological Change, published in December 2011, and editor of Campaign 2012: Twelve Independent Ideas for Improving American Public Policy (Brookings Institution Press, May 2012). He is also writing a book on data and technology proliferation and their implications for security. He is the author of Law and the Long War: The Future of Justice in the Age of Terror, published in June 2008 by The Penguin Press, and the editor of the 2009 Brookings book, Legislating the War on Terror: An Agenda for Reform.”
From the Harvard University Law School website, Blum is labeled as “the Rita E. Hauser Professor of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law at Harvard Law School, specializing in public international law, international negotiations, the law of armed conflict, and counterterrorism. She is also the Co-Director of the HLS-Brookings Project on Law and Security and a member of the Program on Negotiation Executive Board. Prior to joining the Harvard faculty in the fall of 2005, Blum served for seven years as a Senior Legal Advisor in the International Law Department of the Military Advocate General’s Corps in the Israel Defense Forces, and for another year, as a Strategy Advisor to the Israeli National Security Council….Blum is the author of Islands of Agreement: Managing Enduring Armed Rivalries, (Harvard University Press, 2007), and of Laws, Outlaws, and Terrorists (MIT Press, 2010) (co-authored with Philip Heymann and recipient of the Roy C. Palmer Civil Liberties Prize), as well as of journal articles in the fields of public international law and the law and morality of war.”
The book has hit the Amazon.com best-selling list with a furor. It is #1 in Intelligence and Espionage, and #2 in both Terrorism and Globalization. It will have to do more on some other best-seller lists in order for us to present this at the First Friday Book Synopsis, but since it was only released on March 10, 2015, we need to give it time. The book certainly has a chance for us to feature it one month at our program.
What is this book about? I found this interesting summary on KirkusReviews.com, stating that “the authors 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.”
Wow! That is eye-opening. Did you notice the spider on the cover? In Matt Welch‘s review of the book, he notes “Imagine a future in which a competitor assassinates you via a robotic spider. That’s one way to see new technology’s potential.” Read his full review by clicking here.
I wonder how many readers will remain open-minded to the grim possibility of a future like this. Regardless, I don’t think we can ignore it.