Sunday, 8 July 2012

The multipolar technological arms race

That we live in, and are increasingly moving towards, a multipolar world is frequently discussed in the media. An interesting parallel to this trend is that we are also moving towards an increasingly multipolar technological arms race (technological escalation), with an even broader set of participants.

The WWI naval arms race had a handful of key players (most significantly Britain, France, Germany and Russia), which, after the Triple Entente, really had two poles. The Cold War arms race again had two poles (the USSR and NATO). The sovereign participants in our current technological arms race number in the tens (the G-20, etc).

But in addition to the sovereign participants, we also have private sector participants, criminal participants and grassroots/activist participants (e.g. Anonymous).

Why is this an arms race? And who is racing against whom?

War, and in particular cyber war, still remains a possibility in our relatively peaceful world, driving much of the national technological arms race. Additionally, nations invest technologically to maintain or increase economic advantage over other nations, and to maintain law and order within their nation. In some cases, national technological investment may be undertaken to maintain the power of the ruling/influential elite over the common citizen.

Private sector technological investment is principally aimed at maintaining competitive advantage over other companies. However, there is trend where private sector technological investment is aimed at controlling the consumer (digitial rights management is an example). The private sector invests technologically to protect against foreign nations that would attack the private sector as a proxy, potentially against direct company-to-company cyber warfare, against criminal attack, and against grassroots/activist participants.

Criminal technological investment is principally aimed at facilitating the illegal accumulation of wealth from nations, companies and individuals. Criminal organisations must invest technologically to outwit the technological defences of their targets, and also to build defensive (i.e. anonymising) capability to protect against attacks from governments, companies and white-hat activist groups. There is an overlap between the criminal participants to the arms race and the activist participants, where the criminal intent is not obtaining wealth, but pursuing an activist cause.

The range of pursuits of grassroots/activist participants is broad. It could be: battling against government technology that infringes against freedom of speech; battling against private sector technology that takes advantage of the consumer; battling criminal technology that takes advantage individuals. Patriotic activist groups may support the technological capability of the nation. And in some cases, technological escalation may be directly between activist groups.

Conclusion: pretty much every category is racing against every other category in some way or another.

So what?

Well, as a non-criminal consumer and citizen, the activist participants best represent my interests, perhaps followed by the nation state of which I am a citizen and inhabitant (much potential for debate here!). I already support my nation state's technological investment via taxes, but I don't support activist participants. Perhaps I should, perhaps there need to be more obvious ways to do so, and perhaps there needs to be a wider awareness of the need to do so if the participants who best represent my interests are going to win.

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