New America Senior Fellow Peter W. Singer has been described in the Wall Street Journal as “the premier futurist in the national security environment.” He is considered one of the most influential voices in the world on cybersecurity.
And he likes what he sees happening at FIU around the future of technology – and its impact on U.S. intelligence and national security.
“There is an energy around these topics at this university and it is very exciting,’’ said Singer, who spoke at FIU’s first annual Critical Technology and Intelligence Summit hosted by the Jack D. Gordon Institute for Public Policy, a part of the Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs.
“It’s happening at multiple levels,’’ Singer explained. “You’re adding new programs in cyber that are taking off, you’re leaning into AI (artificial intelligence) and you’ve got energy within the Green School and the Gordon Institute to have a real impact.”
“You also have a group of students – the intelligence fellows – who are incredibly engaged.”
Many of those intelligence fellows – enrolled in the Gordon Institute’s Intelligence Community Center for Academic Excellence (IC-CAE) program – lined up to speak to Singer after his talk Sept. 17.
This year, the IC-CAE program – specifically created to help prepare tomorrow’s intelligence community workforce - celebrates its 14th anniversary.
“I cannot think of a topic more prescient and needed than what we are doing here today,’’ said John F. Stack Jr., founding dean of the Green School and director of the Gordon Institute when the intelligence fellows program was created.
“It is so critical for academic institutions to work with partners like the CIA, NSA, the U.S. Army and other intelligence community agencies to ensure the proper cultivation of our nation’s national security workforce.’’
In addition to the intelligence fellows program, the Green School will offer a cybersecurity and technology policy track as part of its Master of Arts in Global Affairs program, said Brian Fonseca, director of the Gordon Institute.
“We are announcing that here today,’’ he said, adding that classes in this fully online program will begin Spring 2020.
The new curriculum will include a combination of technical and non-technical courses – in areas like policy formation, computer science, law, ethics, business and international relations - as well as emerging technologies, internet governance, cyberwarfare, critical infrastructure, data security and supply chain management.
By the time Singer’s presentation concluded, the new cyber and technology program may have had a few more recruits.
Here are a few takeaways from his talk:
Technology is shaping politics.
The rapid advances the world is seeing in technology today – and the myriad of ways in which they influence geopolitics – is less about missiles that go farther or faster and more about the types of advances seen when the steam engine was built or the first aircraft was flown at Kitty Hawk, Singer explained.
“This new technology is revolutionary and disruptive and all those other buzzwords we are hearing today,’’ he said. “It gives us an entirely new set of questions that we can’t answer yet. Questions about what is possible and what is proper or right.”
Singer compared a recent conversation he had with U.S. Naval officers in California about the use of armed robots in warfare to something that previously might have been the subject of a futuristic talk at a comic book convention.
“What once would have been a panel at Comic-Con is now taking place at the U.S. Navy,’’ he said. “What once was science fiction is now real and it’s poised to change the intelligence game.”
“It’s not unlike seeing a swarm of small drones carrying out a strike – what we just witnessed in Saudia Arabia,” he added, referring to recent drone attacks on Saudi oil installations.
Social media has become a weapon of war.
Singer, whose books have been named to more military officials’ top reading lists than any other author, explores how social media has changed war and politics in his latest book, LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media, with co-author Emerson Brooking.
Examples of the use of social media in warfare are unprecedented, he said, with military leaders posting “combat selfies” online, terrorists livestreaming their attacks and ISIS copying the Instagram tactics of Taylor Swift to recruit new members.
“There were 143 million Americans exposed to Russian propaganda on Facebook” in the months leading up to the 2016 presidential election, Singer said. “That is half of America.’’
Artificial intelligence is everywhere
Today’s artificial intelligence is so pervasive, Singer said, that it is almost like electricity, operating quietly in the background with little notice.
But the consequences of its use are significant, he explained.
For example, if a Marine is using artificial intelligence to advise him on a course of action based on the number of casualties it could cause, when the Marine doesn’t follow that advice and the casualties are significant, there might be new legal and ethical questions raised about his decision.
“Individuals who don’t face these new challenges are actually making a choice through their inactivity to lose the future,’’he said. “These are things George Orwell never imagined. And we have to not only detect them but determine what we will do to build our resilience and defend against them.’’