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Arms, Augmentation

This is not about guns.

The British Military is considering dropping tanks from their inventory and focusing more on cyber warfare, and this provokes thought. It has been a long time coming that military action was diffused away from two armies meeting on a battle field and attacking each other, crumbling in World War I and being completely obsolete by World War II. Lt. Gen. Charles A. Horner wrote that in Desert Storm “strategic air campaign” was “Air Force code for use of airpower aimed at the heart of the enemy and not at his ground forces.” It follows that the shift away from a distinct battlefield from an offensive point of view needs to be countered by a defence at the heart.

As what is often termed ‘liberal democracies’ come under increasing cyber/information warfare attack, we can learn from the wider military shifts. It is not enough to fight the incursions of enemy hackers (ground forces). We must also defend the heart of what the enemy is attacking. The enemy’s strategy is as as old as warfare itself: It is simply to conquer by dividing us. That is the purpose of Fake News, which The Road To Unfreedom chronicles well. Specially, it has been document how Russia uses cyberspace to disrupt U.S. infrastructure in order to erode confidence in the nation’s democratic processes. It is therefore clear that the democratic process itself needs defending and the democratic process takes place in the minds of the citizen. Defense against cyber attacks is not simply about defending physical infrastructure, it is about defending the values liberal democracies were founded upon. Importantly, cyber warfare is not only a military concern, it is an existentialist threat to the very existence of free democratic thought.

If we are to defend ourselves and our values we must quite simply stop thinking about a difference between combatant and civilian. The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution states “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” In this day and age we can read this to mean that we should arm our citizens with the information tools which uphold liberal democratic values–those which augment how we think and communicate, while controlling to some extent those which favour division and discord–those which favour sharing of information without thinking. This is not just an American issue.

This is the opposite of censorship, which itself is a tool of the enemy of our values. Our culture and institutions are based on the ideal that as long as we strive to communicate better and to learn more about the problems we face, the more open and prosperous our societies will become.

What to do, what to build

We cannot simply build and employ a magic app or an all-seeing and all-acting organization. There cannot be just one app or tool for all aspects of knowledge work. The military does not employ weapons; the military supports weapon ‘systems’. Similarly we must not look at ’silver bullets’ but we need to support the technical, social, economic and communication infrastructures which can truly arm the citizen against information propaganda, fake news and in general allow the citizen to become better able to survive and thrive in the overwhelming information load we all live under today. We cannot not simply outsource our information ‘weapon’ needs to corporations with their own agendas. We need more persistent engagement from all citizens, not just those whose job it is to engage in cyber warfare.

Citizen cyberwarfare engagement

For explicit cyberwar engagement we can learn from others, such as Taiwan, and their concepts of ‘radical transparency. Taiwan is harnessing the people – from civil society fact checkers, cooperating with social media platforms to thorough education in schools in order to counter disinformation.

I propose that we also arm and augment the citizen in every aspect of their knowledge work and that this augmentation will also better equip them to better deal with fake news and information overload, in a model of full-spectrum augmentation.

Citizen augmentation

There are many groups to augment, from the homemaker who is only digital for social media, to the office worker, the professional author and academic. There are also many types of text; from ever scrolling messaging and social media to documents in community shared from and published in journals. My work concerns documents entered discourse which is not at all fashionable at the moment but it is clear that much of our important conjunction and thinking takes place via documents, not only via streams of text. If you have watched the musical Hamilton you will have experienced what can be love story to how writing can create a nation and a way of life and by extension that we should nurture how we interact with this text to nurture what these documents created and to keep them vibrant and alive.

Tools for Thought

This is about tools for thought. This is about providing everyone with the tools for smarts to withstand encroachments on our liberty from those who want to outsource our thinking to demagogues. Companies have different agendas than their users, whether social media, traditional media or software companies. Serious, lasting can only come through community dialogue and ‘bootstrapping’ ourselves by building what we understand to be necessary today, then building on the knowledge we gain by using those tools tomorrow, and so on.

It is easy to say, to the point of it being trite, that those who do not agree with us are ‘ignorant’. Let’s put our effort behind those words and work to reduce ignorance by truly augmenting the citizen’s ability to think and communicate through cyberspace and watch democratic freedom bloom. There is much to be done, what I am doing and what I am proposing is but a small part, but I firmly believe a vital part.

Frode Alexander Hegland
London, late summer 2020

Published inThoughts

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