POR: Randolph Mank

Blog

The COVID-19 pandemic has inflamed at least three other global risks: rising global debt, growing technological vulnerability, and increasing great power tensions.

All three pose potential threats to individuals, as well as to the existing liberal international order.

The second global risk, the growing technological vulnerability, made worse by the pandemic involves the increasing dependence on internet-based technology itself.

The extraordinary benefits of the internet and other technological advances are undeniable.

Yet, due to the internet’s success, citizens and systems everywhere are less and less able to function without access.

The COVID-19 pandemic has inflamed at least three other global risks: rising global debt, growing technological vulnerability, and increasing great power tensions.

Unfortunately, it can be turned off, both intentionally and unintentionally, as we have been reminded by such disparate events as the military coup in Myanmar, winter storms in Texas, and ransomware attacks on a major U.S. gas pipeline and a food processing company, all in the first half of 2021.

The internet itself depends on such fragile things as electricity supply, undersea cables, satellites, and server farms.

The more we rely on electronics connected to the internet, the more vulnerable we are.

No one wants to stifle the remarkable genius of individuals to create and innovate.

That has always been the basis for human progress.

At the same time, no one knows the precise limits of exponential technological development beyond which we might damage civilisation itself.

Already we can see the destructive environmental effects of technology-driven consumerism.

closeup photo of white robot arm

Big Tech now consists of only a handful of giant corporations without coherent government regulation or taxation in most places.

Nor are they all equally beneficial.

It’s one thing for a climate-conscious innovator like Elon Musk to establish separate companies to develop better electric vehicles, explore space, and create ways for humans to interface with machines, while also offering a $100 million XPRIZE for carbon removal from the atmosphere.

It’s quite another matter for a corporation like Amazon to seek to replace existing retail with online catalogues, creating a dystopian employment culture to drive environmentally damaging consumerism.

Using the same consumer data to build and commercially mine the world’s largest cloud platform, without any globally beneficial purpose in mind, compounds the problem.

For complex political and legal reasons, western governments have done little to break up monopolistic practices in this new Gilded Age.

Doing so would require great effort to get it right.

It’s quite another matter for a corporation like Amazon to seek to replace existing retail with online catalogues, creating a dystopian employment culture to drive environmentally damaging consumerism.

Instead, they have even recklessly delegated censorship of free speech to social networking corporations, rather than relying on rule of law adjudicated by courts.

The original dream of net neutrality based on a free and open internet is dead as a result.

At the other extreme, the Chinese government is determined to control any technologies that run counter to its interests.

In Orwellian fashion, it is perfecting the surveillance state, using artificial intelligence to mine data and control the behaviour of its people. It blocks U.S. social media platforms and requires its own corporations to share data with the security establishment.

Failure to comply has dire consequences, as we have seen recently with China’s Uber-equivalent ride-hailing giant, Didi Chuxing.

It’s IPO raised $4.4 billion in New York in June 2021, but within days was raided and its app deleted from all platforms by the Chinese government after failing to share data.

But China is far from alone in developing the surveillance state.

Failure to comply has dire consequences, as we have seen recently with China’s Uber-equivalent ride-hailing giant, Didi Chuxing.

Edward Snowden’s whistleblower revelations make American post-9/11 data gathering activities clear.

Less secretive, smart cities being developed around the world offer modern conveniences in exchange for advanced surveillance systems using facial recognition and artificial intelligence programs, increasingly on 5G networks.[i]  

Citizens can be controlled more closely by their government this way, with the unintended consequence of becoming more vulnerable to foreign hacking, as well.

With water and sanitation, telecommunications, transportation, and other systems all linked to the electrical grid and the internet, the vulnerabilities of the so-called Internet of Things mount exponentially.

With water and sanitation, telecommunications, transportation, and other systems all linked to the electrical grid and the internet, the vulnerabilities of the so-called Internet of Things mount exponentially.

As for global regulation, the Council of Europe’s 2001 Budapest Convention on Cybercrime has so far made limited progress towards harmonizing criminal law around illicit cyber activities. It still has only sixty-seven signatories.[ii]

Elsewhere, in March 2021, alarmed by cyber-attacks during the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.N. Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) set forth voluntary norms of behaviour in the field of information and telecommunications.[iii]

Important as this is, it expressly refrains from establishing new international law, and remains focused entirely on cyber activity, rather than the weaponization of the full list of emerging technologies.

New international law is precisely what is needed.

Apart from important treaties prohibiting the use of nuclear and biological weapons, which themselves are decades old and eroding, the world could benefit from fully elaborated diplomacy to control the threats from the Quantum Age in which we live. [iv]

The ability of monopolistic enterprises to own and monetize individual data, censor free speech, de-platform users and evade taxes, should also be constrained by coordinated domestic and international policy measures.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) could be called upon to coordinate this effort.

At the same time, new initiatives are needed to redirect emerging technologies towards solving global problems rather than garnering strategic advantage.

While still in its infancy, the race to develop quantum computing, for example, should be redirected towards deliberately cooperative efforts to improve the global commons.

A global project on the scale of the Conseil européen pour la recherche nucléaire (CERN) on particle physics, or the International Space Station, should be undertaken.

Middle powers like Canada can participate with constructive ideas and material support.

Canadian company D-Wave, for example, is currently the only company that sells commercially available quantum computers, though so far these are limited to narrowly defined experimental tasks.

D-Wave 2x, el nuevo ordenador cuántico de la NASA y Google

Initiatives that could be undertaken to advance technological security include:

  • The G7/G20 should initiate plurilateral negotiations on a treaty to prevent the weaponization of artificial intelligence, robotics, biotech, and cyber technologies, and to prevent cyber-attacks on critical infrastructure, including electrical grids, water systems, and the internet itself.
  • Modelled on its Partners for Progress initiative to promote corporate social responsibility, the OECD should promote standardized backup systems in case of disruption to member-state infrastructure.
  • The OECD should also develop standards on data sovereignty for individuals, including measures in support of privacy and against censorship.
  • The G7/G20 should coordinate application of existing anti-monopoly and anti-trust laws to reduce the power of the major Big Tech corporations.
  • The G20 should launch a cooperative global quantum computing initiative focused on blockchain development, rationalization of global shipping, protein folding for the development of new drug therapies, and other such beneficial applications.

[i] Muggah, R., & Walton, G. (2021, April 17). ‘Smart’ cities are surveilled cities. Foreign Policy. https://foreignpolicy.com/2021/04/17/smart-cities-surveillance-privacy-digital-threats-internet-of-things-5g/

[ii] Council of Europe. (2001). Convention on cybercrime. Council of Europe. https://rm.coe.int/1680081561

[iii] United Nations General Assembly. (2021, March 10). Open-ended working group on developments in the field of information and telecommunications in the context of international security. United Nations General Assembly. https://front.un-arm.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Final-report-A-AC.290-2021-CRP.2.pdf

[iv] These themes are developed more fully in: Mank, R. (2017, December). Quantum diplomacy for a new technological age. Canadian Global Affairs Institute. https://www.cgai.ca/quantum_diplomacy_for_a_new_technological_age.

The author is a three-time Canadian ambassador and former VP of BlackBerry, who also served as Director for Foreign Policy and DG for Asia.

He currently heads MankGlobal Inc. and serves as a Fellow of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and the Balsillie School of International Affairs.

He is co-author of a forthcoming book: Crisis and Pandemic Planning: Quarantine, Evacuation and Back Again.


The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of CEIM. Any content provided by our bloggers or authors are of their opinion. The content on this site does not constitute endorsement of any political affiliation and does not reflect opinions from members of the staff and board.

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FECHA DE PUBLICACIÓN

noviembre 02, 2021

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