Speaker: Bray, D. (Atlantic Council)
Date: 6 February 2020
SMA hosted a speaker session presented by Dr. David Bray (Atlantic Council) as a part of its SMA General Speaker Series. Dr. Bray first explained that the democratization of the Internet does not necessarily lead to the democratization of societies. In fact, it may lead to the strengthening of autocracies instead. He highlighted a series of monumental events that have occurred in technology since 1977 and stated that the future remains unclear. He then provided the following questions for consideration: “Will we have navigated the current turbulence in modern societies? Will we have widened or reduced social disparities? Will technology empower only a few or all? Will humans have identified new ways of coexisting?” Dr. Bray explained that technology itself is amoral; it how humans choose to use the technology that renders it immoral or moral in its usage. He then compared the creation of the Internet to the creation of the printing press. When the printing press was released, the Catholic Church did not foresee that the machine would be used against it in the form of Martin Luther’s 95 theses. Similarly, the Internet has ultimately created significant problems for those that use it. Next, Dr. Bray discussed several challenges of the exponential era, including: 1) everyone can find information that supports their beliefs, and thus, facts often fail to sway perceptions; 2) repetition makes individuals more likely to believe something, and thus, countering misinformation often helps spread it; and 3) emotional headlines and content sell, but they also lead to polarized sides. Technology also super-empowers individuals to do things that only states or nation states could previously do. Consequently, individuals are capable of doing both monumentally good and monumentally bad things. Dr. Bray discussed a series of tensions in open societies as well. He posed the following questions: 1) “Will technology continue to erode social cohesion?”; 2) “Can we ‘act locally’ and use a combination of AI and other technologies to ‘think globally’ safely?”; 3) “Will cognitive cold wars misuse the Internet?”; 4) “Will globalization’s ‘low tide’ decimate rural areas?”; and 5) “Can tech balance national and ecological interests?” He then explained that technology also creates tensions in closed societies, as a connected world order challenges some regimes, creates taller “waller gardens,” and encourages some individuals to seek a new world order. To conclude, Dr. Bray provided three tools to help illuminate paths beyond the status quo and create a better future: 1) the power of diversity, 2) the power of the edge, and 3) the power of the abstract made visible.