In his essay for Foreign Affairs, Sean P. Larkin credits the explosion of surveillance technology with a new transparency in the world order. (“The Age of Transparency,” by Sean P. Larkin, Foreign Affairs May/June 2016, pg. 136.) The ability to monitor human behavior — from treaty compliance, to troop movements, to the building of illicit nuclear facilities — makes clandestine activity difficult and the consequences of public exposure inevitable. Not only can data about events in the world be collected on a large scale with satellites, but drones and miniature spyware can hone in on an object as small as a deck of cards. In sum, having nowhere to hide, governments will be brought into treaty compliance because everyone will know what they do in real time.
Unfortunately, this utopian world has a dark side. As I noted in an earlier blog, collecting data on a massive scale requires massive capabilities to store and analyze the information. (Blog 4/29/2016) Even governments need help, which is why Silicon Valley is prospering. Sophisticated systems of artificial intelligence are necessary to monitor that flow. (Ibid pg. 140.) Third world governments and individuals are unprepared to handle large tracks of information that are bundled in inscrutable ways. As a result, a two-tiered information system is developing where some are in the know and others aren’t. That’s not transparency.
Worse, countries and individuals who lack technological savvy are vulnerable to cyber attacks. And that’s not the half of it. Autocrats who control technology are likely to keep their citizens ignorant, meaning they will consolidate power rather than allow democratic seedlings to grow.
Larkin appears to ignore this bifurcation which can be disruptive to societies. He welcomes the coming transparency because it will “weaken strategies that rely on secrecy…” (Ibid pg. 146..) For reasons I’ve stated, I can’t accept his rosy projection. Left out of the equation is the lack of universal access and human nature.
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