It took a global pandemic and stay-at-home orders for 1.5 billion people worldwide, but something is finally occurring to us: The future we thought we expected may not be the one we get.
We know that things will change; how they'll change is a mystery. To envision a future altered by coronavirus, Quartz asked dozens of experts for their best predictions on how the world will be different in five years.
Below is an answer from Bruce Schneier, a security expert focused on technology. He is a fellow at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University and a lecturer in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. He is also the author of more than a dozen books—his latest, Click Here to Kill Everybody, was published in 2018.
For decades, we have prized efficiency in our economy.
This essay appeared as part of a round table on "How the Coronavirus Pandemic Will Permanently Expand Government Powers."
There’s been a fundamental battle in Western societies about the use of personal data, one that pits the individual’s right to privacy against the value of that data to all of us collectively. Until now, most of that discussion has focused on surveillance capitalism. For example, Google Maps shows us real-time traffic, but it does so by collecting location data from everyone using the service.
COVID-19 adds a new urgency to the debate and brings in new actors such as public health authorities and the medical sector.
Intelligence services have a long history of manipulating information on health issues, and an epidemic is especially tempting for interference. Why aren’t we better prepared?
The world is racing to contain the new coronavirus that is spreading around the globe with alarming speed. Right now, pandemic disease experts at the World Health Organization (WHO), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and other public-health agencies are gathering information to learn how and where the virus is spreading. To do so, they are using a variety of digital communications and surveillance systems.
Sometime around 1993 or 1994, during the first Crypto Wars, I was part of a group of cryptography experts that went to Washington to advocate for strong encryption. Matt Blaze and Ron Rivest were with me; I don’t remember who else. We met with then Massachusetts Representative Ed Markey. (He didn’t become a senator until 2013.) Back then, he and Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy were the most knowledgeable on this issue and our biggest supporters against government backdoors.
The whole point of modern surveillance is to treat people differently, and facial recognition technologies are only a small part of that.
Communities across the United States are starting to ban facial recognition technologies. In May of last year, San Francisco banned facial recognition; the neighboring city of Oakland soon followed, as did Somerville and Brookline in Massachusetts (a statewide ban may follow). In December, San Diego suspended a facial recognition program in advance of a new statewide law, which declared it illegal, coming into effect. Forty major music festivals pledged not to use the technology, and activists are calling for a nationwide ban.
The network has plenty of other security weaknesses, including ones the United States doesn’t want to fix since they help its own surveillance efforts.
The security risks inherent in Chinese-made 5G networking equipment are easy to understand. Because the companies that make the equipment are subservient to the Chinese government, they could be forced to include backdoors in the hardware or software to give Beijing remote access. Eavesdropping is also a risk, although efforts to listen in would almost certainly be detectable. More insidious is the possibility that Beijing could use its access to degrade or disrupt communications services in the event of a larger geopolitical conflict.
They’re mouthpieces for foreign actors, domestic political groups, even the candidates themselves. And soon you won’t be able to tell they’re bots.
Presidential-campaign season is officially, officially, upon us now, which means it's time to confront the weird and insidious ways in which technology is warping politics. One of the biggest threats on the horizon: Artificial personas are coming, and they're poised to take over political debate. The risk arises from two separate threads coming together: artificial-intelligence-driven text generation and social-media chatbots. These computer-generated "people" will drown out actual human discussions on the internet.
This essay also appeared in The OECD Forum Network.
Technologists and policymakers largely inhabit two separate worlds. It's an old problem, one that the British scientist CP Snow identified in a 1959 essay entitled The Two Cultures. He called them sciences and humanities, and pointed to the split as a major hindrance to solving the world's problems. The essay was influential - but 60 years later, nothing has changed.
When it comes to 5G technology, we have to build a trustworthy system out of untrustworthy parts.
The United States government's continuing disagreement with the Chinese company Huawei underscores a much larger problem with computer technologies in general: We have no choice but to trust them completely, and it's impossible to verify that they're trustworthy. Solving this problem — which is increasingly a national security issue — will require us to both make major policy changes and invent new technologies.
The Huawei problem is simple to explain. The company is based in China and subject to the rules and dictates of the Chinese government.
The trade war with China has reached a new industry: subway cars. Congress is considering legislation that would prevent the world's largest train maker, the Chinese-owned CRRC Corporation, from competing on new contracts in the United States.
Part of the reasoning behind this legislation is economic, and stems from worries about Chinese industries undercutting the competition and dominating key global industries. But another part involves fears about national security.
Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.