Lawfare Research Paper Series

Richard Danzig on The Technology Tsunami and the Liberal World Order

By Jack Goldsmith
Monday, August 28, 2017, 4:45 PM

The always-interesting Richard Danzig has a new Lawfare Working Paper, forthcoming for the Aspen Strategy Group this fall, on how rapid multiple technological innovation might challenge the liberal world order.  From the introduction:

The invention and proliferation of the printing press and Galileo’s use of the telescope undermined the Church. The industrial revolution gave birth to the modern state as well as capitalist and Marxist economies. In our own lifetimes, birth control technologies combined with other forces to encourage a fundamental rethinking of women’s roles in society, overturning views and practices maintained for millennia. To this observer the soundest expectation is that the present technology tsunami will have similar transformative impacts on the theory and practice of American liberal democracy and on the trajectory it has followed since the Second World War seeking to achieve a liberal world order.

That there is a technology tsunami can hardly be doubted. Digital, silicon based information technologies dominate present discussions, but other technologies are developing as rapidly and have analogous transformative capabilities.  No one can accurately predict the causes, character and scope of the resulting revolutions, but promising and already robust technologies that may have great impact include: additive manufacturing, artificial intelligence, big data analytics, biology, nano-technology and new materials, robotics and unmanned systems, quantum computing, operations in space and systems for creating virtual realities.  The rate of invention, adaptation and dissemination in all these technologies has risen, is rising and can be expected to continue to rise.  This is because information and communication technology breakthroughs empower other technologies. Powerful, relatively easy to use, devices and instruments are simplifying invention, communication, collaboration and proliferation of ideas, tools and products. These trends are amplified by increases in world population, the spread of technological literacy, and the expansion of capital markets.

Technology often functions as an intensifier. When, for example, it makes communication and calculation faster, it serves as a means for all ends—good, ill, important, or trivial.  However, as the historical examples cited at the outset suggest, it also has broad effects that taken as a totality challenge the status quo in political and social institutions. These pages sketch four ways in which I think the contemporary technological tsunami is likely fundamentally to challenge the liberal order.   I start at the level of the individual, move to terrorist groups and private corporations, then to nation-states and conclude by highlighting rising risks of accidents and unintended emergent effects. 

Worth a read.