David Bray, chief information officer at the Federal Communications Commission, is currently on a five-week Eisenhower Fellowship overseas, traveling in a personal capacity to meet with government in Taiwan and Australia regarding cyber strategies for the Internet of Everything. His views are strictly personal and represent solely his own in an Eisenhower Fellowship capacity. This is his third report. Last week, he wrote about “Cyber-civic lessons from Taiwan.”
Over the last week I’ve been in both Canberra and Sydney, Australia meeting with industry and government leaders regarding cyber strategies for the Internet of Everything (IoE) as part of a five-week Eisenhower Fellowship. During the week, I’ve been reflecting upon the different views I’ve heard across sectors, pondering how I could synthesize these conversations differently than my two previous personal observations on Taiwan and the IoE and on open government and cybersecurity in Taiwan.
Of note, Australia and Taiwan both are “bridges” between the West and the East. They both are export-driven economies which might be summed up this way: “Australia = raw materials, Taiwan = manufacturing.”
Both nations are home to approximately 23 million to 24 million people, though with sizable differences in national land mass. As multi-party democratic nations (noting Australia’s parliamentary system and ties to a constitutional monarchy), they both are experiencing changes in how the public electronically interfaces with industry and with government through the Internet.
Australia poses a similar set of themes compared to the IoE in Taiwan – particularly regarding the disruptive nature of advances in technology not only to industry, but also to modern national governments.
If one adopts a world view that technology itself is amoral – just as nuclear energy can be used both to power homes and create bombs, gunpowder can provide self-defense or aid in committing murder and biotechnology can feed millions or create weapons of mass destruction – then a central question becomes:
How do we as a world organize to make deliberate choices in how we use globally accelerating advances in digital and physical Internet technologies?
Nation-States and the Peace of Westphalia
Ever since the Peace of Westphalia (1648), the concept of co-existing sovereign states has been one means by which we humans organized our social use of technology to live our lives, grow economies and operate political systems to determine state goals.
Yet for democratic nations, rarely does the Internet stop at national borders. Ideas and intellectual property can be digitized and shared transnationally. The rise of the IoE, combined with the rise of 3D mass fabricators, means that new inventions developed in one nation can be digitized and transmitted half a world away for fabrication.
This means as both consumer adoption of the Internet and the IoE accelerates, this adoption will also disrupt some of the concepts of Westphalian nation state to include the idea of national physical borders.
The speed of information sharing and decision-making on the Internet also may disrupt the democratic multi-party system for nations that historically relied on tension between different parties to provide checks-and-balances in making decisions.
Those tensions within multi-party democratic systems intentionally slow down the process of committing to a course of action and moving forward to implement it in exchange for introducing safeguards against corruption and abuse of power.
While I, for one, like the checks-and-balances present in a democratic multi-party system, as technology and globalize accelerates it is worth asking: will single-party systems be able to capitalize on technology change faster?
For example, every ten years, Singapore as a government adjusts its “50-year” plan for the nation’s success. By the admission of several leaders in Australia, Singapore over the last 30 years has surpassed them in transnational shipping on global exports partly due to their ability to focus on a continuously updated 50-year plan.
In contrast, Australia currently faces challenges of friction between parties and a combination of election cycles and the ability to launch a “no confidence debate” against the prime minister that generates significant uncertainty for both government agencies and businesses planning for two years ahead, let alone 10 or 50 years ahead.
The transparency of the Internet also removes the ability for multiple parties in a democracy to return to their constituents and claim victory over a political compromise, without revealing what they gave up as part of the compromise to other parties.
It could be that Internet transparency erodes the ability for moderate members of any party to work in collaboration with members of other parties. What might this mean for the health of long-term, modern democratic processes?
One refrain I heard in Australia was a lament that government was “too slow” or “too uncertain”, that the individuals wanted “faster, concerted action” – yet it’s worth asking, if such multi-party systems were to move faster, would it be at the expense of checks-and-balances or even being a multi-party democratic system?
Are there ways we can achieve both speed and democratic representation without becoming single-party political systems?
The IoE and 3D fabricators
I have no doubt that significant benefits from 3D mass fabricators will be realized by society. Yet one would be remiss if we didn’t consider already troubling signs that 3D mass fabricators may in the future allow production of items at home once limited to only nation-states or sophisticated companies.
Unfortunately when the terrorists attacks occurred in Mumbai in 2008, the same technologies used by consumers for benefit in our lives – mobile phones, GPS, search engines, and social network sites – were also used to plan and execute the tragic attacks.
Human nature hasn’t changed: as a species we use technology to do great things and also do not-so-great things to each other.
3D printing no doubt will have both great and not-so-great uses by individuals. In the future, bad actors could use the Internet for distribution of digital designs to build explosive drones or other incendiary devices using 3D mass fabricators. In addition, the fact that 3D printing of bio-materials currently is both a reality today and one that’s rapidly maturing should give pause.
How will either the public or private sectors provide stability and security to people in a world 10-12 years from now, when commercially available 3D printers will allow individuals to print custom-designed biological or chemical materials?
Also from my conversations in Australia (and also Taiwan) – at what point does the accelerating future of the IoE, combined with the rise of 3D mass fabricators, challenge the central tenets of multi-party democracies to adapt both to a changing global, technological environment and also provide stability and security to its people?
In 2013 there were 7 billion network devices on the planet; in 2015 there will be 14 billion; and by 2020 experts expect between 50 and 200 billion network devices globally. At the same time the amount of digital content on the planet is doubling every two years, such that by 2022 there will be more digital content than all human eyes on the planet see in the course of one year.
When does the speed of the public sector relative to such global, technological change disrupt the successful model of a Westphalian nation-state?
Closing Thoughts (For Now)
Personally I hope that we can use 2015 and the next few years ahead to make deliberate choices now on how we can reinforce the tenets of multi-party democracies with Internet technologies to empower the people further, protect privacy and security in concert, and improve global collaborations.
Yet human nature hasn’t fundamentally changed. That raises the question I began with: How do we as a world organize to make deliberate choices in how we use globally accelerating advances in digital and physical Internet technologies?
Some early ideas are starting to arise from my conversations in Australia. Together we need to experiment in how we organize to make and provide choices regarding technology.
It could be a combination of public empowerment and bottoms-up, public-private hybrids that might offer solutions for our changing world ahead. However I’ll save details until next week after I’ve had further conversations in Sydney and Melbourne.
Until then, as always, feedback and comments are welcomed.
Read David Bray’s other columns on the Internet of Everything:
What Taiwan can teach us about the Internet of Everything – How the Internet of Everything is taking root in Taiwan and what it portends for U.S. leaders
Cyber-civic lessons from Taiwan – How the Internet is transforming open government – and cybersecurity – in Taiwan.
Democracies and the Internet of Everything – Just as disease control requires collective action, the Internet of Everything needs similar private and public sector partnerships to address privacy and resiliency by design.
IoE’s future, human nature and the choices ahead – Federal IT executive David Bray says a key question of the Internet of Everything is what future do we, as humans, want to choose.