In 1961, in his farewell address to the nation as our 34th President, Dwight Eisenhower warned that “we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.” (Click) His words are often repeated, a reminder that we should avoid the concentration of too much money and power in these entities. In the 21st Century, we should add a third actor to that roster. Technology.
Technology’s ability to gather mountains of personal data about each of us and to monetize that information for commercial profit can pose a threat to our free society. (Click) When Edward Snowdon (Click) revealed the National Security Agency’s (NSA) invasive surveillance of the public, he may have little known its data paled when compared to incursions from the private sector.
Amazon, for example, began as a purveyor of books. Today, it has moved on and created a new industry known as cloud computing. Monolithic in its abilities, it can accommodate almost infinite data storage, analytics, machine learning and beyond (“Tech’s Military Dilemma,” by Jacob Silverman, July/August, The New Republic, pg. 14) (Click) No wonder the government came knocking with pots of money. When competitors saw the potential, like bees to a clover filed, they rushed to develop similar technologies. Google was one of them. Recently, they were under contract with the Air Force to improve drone technology. When 3,000 employees objected, however, the company didn’t renew its contract. (Ibid, pg. 15.) But no one should be complacent about that. Eric Schmidt, (Click) the former head of Alphabet, parent company of Google, continues to sit on Pentagon advisory boards. (Ibid, pg. 5.)
The military may well need the expertise of the tech giants, the question is to what extent? And are there boundaries?
As writer Jacob Silver points out, how these tech giants answer these questions will have huge implications for society. Can these companies retain their liberal ideas and serve big government as well? More importantly, are these questions for them to answer, alone? Or does the public have a role?
Presumably, our elected leaders should protect our interests, but they are so far behind the curve in their understanding of technology, their ignorance poses a danger. (Click) Without public oversight, the country could be headed down a dangerous road.
(Originally published 7/30/2018)