4 March 2017

As technology goes democratic, nations lose military control

For much of the 20th century, the most consequential technological breakthroughs were sponsored by government spending and were harnessed for military advantage. Military influence meant that the norms surrounding technologies were mainly determined by departments of defense, national governments, and international organizations. Today, technology developers focus more attention on the hundreds of millions of technology users around the world than on the smaller numbers of users within governments and militaries, leaving governments little scope for influence over technology’s development and use. Well-known technologies that challenge militaries’ traditional dominance and threaten their control over technology’s uses include autonomous vehicles, cyber technologies, and artificial intelligence. As future generations of consequential technologies mature, perhaps including quantum computing and virtual reality, the challenges faced by governments and militaries will only increase. Because governments and international institutions lack methods to successfully grapple with new or not-yet-developed technologies, societies as a whole must be vigilant to the threats that such technologies pose – and must address the stark imbalance between the resources dedicated to developing new technologies and the resources dedicated to governing them.