peter singer during podcast interview

Author P.W. Singer on the Future of Technology (Todd Lecture Series 2017)

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Norwich University had the privilege of hosting author and futurist P.W. Singer on Wednesday, June 21st as part of the 2017 Todd Lecture Series and the annual Residency Conference. Singer’s talk was entitled, “NextTech: The Future of Technology, Security, and Threats,” in which the author addressed the evolution of cyber warfare and defense.

Peter Warren Singer is a senior strategist at New America, a non-partisan think tank dedicated to guiding America through the Digital Age. Singer is also an editor at Popular Science magazine and is consistently named by top publications as one of the 100 most influential thinkers in defense, emerging technologies and cyber affairs. For his participation in the Todd Lecture Series, Singer discussed the rapid evolution of technology and the ways in which these advancements drive further innovation whilst simultaneously posing complicated legal and ethical questions.

Prior to Singer’s Todd Lecture talk, graduating students from the College of Graduate and Continuing Studies (CGCS) participated in discussion sessions with writer August Cole, who co-authored Singer’s latest novel, Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War, which was selected for the Last Read program as part of the 2017 Residency Conference. Incoming Norwich undergraduate students participate in a program called “First Read,” which promotes dialogue between classmates and primes students for thoughtful and rigorous engagement in the classroom; the Last Read program is an adaptation of this initiative and is designed to engage graduating CGCS students with the Todd Lecture Series. Over the course of three discussion sessions with the co-authors, attendees dissected the themes present in Ghost Fleet and were able to analyze the technological and political ramifications of a theoretical world war between Russia, China and the United States. The Last Read included a visual component as well, featuring classic propaganda posters reimagined to reflect 21st century national security concerns in an exhibit called, “The Art of World War III.”

Additionally, Singer was interviewed by a pair of graduates for the Norwich University Podcast Channel; he talks the NSA and Cyber Command [shown below] with Lieutenant Colonel Corby Myles of the Master of Science in Leadership Program (and a Leadership & Change Institute Fellow), and Cyber Hucksterism [shown below] with Alycia Farrell of the Master of Arts in International Relations program.

During the evening in his Todd Lecture Series talk, Singer tackled the extremely complex topic of study by focusing first on emerging disruptive trends in the technological space; that is to say, technological advancements that represent a massive leap forward for the medium, illustrated by Singer’s comparison of the rotary telephone to smart phones. In particular, Singer discussed five subcategories of technological research that have captured the human imagination and will someday bridge the gap between science fiction and reality. These five disciplines are: hardware and the principles of robotics, software and the science of interconnectivity, waveware and the transformation of energy, “ware” (meaning modes of direct digital manufacturing) and wetware and the possibilities for human interface with technology. Singer expounded upon the potential for human performance enhancement through modification breakthroughs that hack our biochemistry; he illustrated this with the example of a suggested technology that converts brain impulses to binary and allows the user to type on a computer without his or her hands, or fly a drone using only his or her thoughts to control the machine. Significant advancements such as the aforementioned not only change our relationship with robotics, but welcome a host of possibilities and new vulnerabilities therein.

Singer then shifted the discussion to the sociocultural and geopolitical implications of emerging technology, describing a new “Cold War” of sorts that simmers beneath the surface as nations compete to dominate cyberspace. He stressed the power of information—the ability to collect and distribute said same—and the ways in which secrecy and privacy are becoming increasingly limited on the Internet. Singer posited that the accrual of data is not the only way to weaponize information; blocking or altering crucial communications, he argues, is just as damaging as leveraging intelligence for blackmail purposes. Finally, he discussed the hot-button topic of election hacking and state-sanctioned cybercrimes. According to Singer, the Internet has replaced outer space as the next critical arena for competition between nations, spurring a complicated virtual “Game of Thrones.” Cyberterrorists are adept not only at stealing competing nations’ technology and information, but also at hobbling rival nations with false intelligence and the disruption of social and political processes—such as democratic elections. The sensitivity of information is such that while nations clamor to bolster their cyber defenses, even the tiniest act of aggression has the potential to turn the so-called “New Cold War” into a full-scale military conflict with global consequences.

For those who were unable to attend the Todd Lecture Series with P.W. Singer and would like to learn more, the talk can be found in its entirety on the Todd Lecture Series website.