Belmont Club

Perhaps Before We Know It

What do strategists do when they can’t predict the future? Eleanor Roy of the Palm Beach Daily News summarized a talk by former NSA director Michael Hayden warning of a growing level of uncertainty in the world. The old international system is failing from multiple causes, he said, and no one is sure what comes next.

“The system that the world has relied on for self-governance for the last three-quarters of a century is pretty much at the end of its fiscal life,” … He predicted that not long from now, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Lybia will not exist in the form we know now.

“Frankly, they don’t exist now,” Hayden said. “The only organized military force in Iraq today fighting on behalf of what you and I think of as Iraq are the 5,100 Americans. No one else in that country under arms is fighting for Iraq; they’re fighting for Sunni Iraq, Shia Iraq, Kurdish Iraq, Turkmen Iraq.”

He called the process a natural erosion that can’t be contributed to one factor.

“We’re not just [faced] with fixing the problem of the current system. I’m telling you the current system is going under and cannot survive. It is a macro-tectonic issue here,” Hayden said.

He described Russian President Vladimir Putin as not having “more than a pair of 7s in his hand,” and predicted that Russia soon will be forced to reconcile with its nation’s problem of low life expectancy.

In the face of such warnings naturally we have to do something.  The instinctive reaction of politicians when visibility is poor is to repeat the actions which stabilized things in the past. To bar the same doors.  To brick up the same windows.  Toot the same horn.  Thus they do things like reinforcing NATO defenses on Russia’s western border; watch North Korea and China. They try to get a grip on the amorphous problem in the Middle East.

Such steps may help, but none of these precautions are necessarily sufficient when the nature of impending dangers is still unknown. Some experts believe the biggest challenge in any future war is to recognize it has started. “The first day of the next major conflict shouldn’t look like war at all according to William Roper, who runs the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office, or SCO. Instead, imagine a sort of digital collection blitzkrieg, with data-gathering software and sensors setting of alarms left and right as they vacuum up info for a massive AI. Whoever collects the most data on Day One just might win the war before a single shot is fired.”

“My prediction for the future is that when we go out to fly planes on the first day of battle, whether they are manned or unmanned, that the purpose of the first day or the second day will not be to go out and destroy enemy aircraft or other systems. It’s to go out, collect data, do data reconnaissance, so that our learning system gets smarter than [the enemy’s],” Roper said Tuesday at an Air Force Association event on Tuesday. “Every day you fly, you get that exponential increase in sophistication.”

Not being able to recognize a threat may seem puzzling at first.  But Bruce Schneier warns that the next attack might come from your refrigerator. “Last year, on October 21, your digital video recorder — or at least a DVR like yours — knocked Twitter off the internet. Someone used your DVR, along with millions of insecure webcams, routers, and other connected devices, to launch an attack that started a chain reaction, resulting in Twitter, Reddit, Netflix, and many sites going off the internet. You probably didn’t realize that your DVR had that kind of power. But it does.”

We no longer have things with computers embedded in them. We have computers with things attached to them.

Your modern refrigerator is a computer that keeps things cold. Your oven, similarly, is a computer that makes things hot. An ATM is a computer with money inside. Your car is no longer a mechanical device with some computers inside; it’s a computer with four wheels and an engine. Actually, it’s a distributed system of over 100 computers with four wheels and an engine. And, of course, your phones became full-power general-purpose computers in 2007, when the iPhone was introduced.

We wear computers: fitness trackers and computer-enabled medical devices — and, of course, we carry our smartphones everywhere. …

This is the classic definition of a robot. We’re building a world-size robot, and we don’t even realize it.

And we don’t even realize our cars can turn on us.  Schneier’s warning sounds quite ominous, but should we relax because the William Roper plans another world-sized robot to find out what is attacking us on the day?  It’s all contingent on our finding out in time.  Thus Michael Hayden’s observation that the current world is eroding proves less helpful than it seems is because no one can quite say what is approaching behind the fog of future developments.

Perhaps one reason for the current revolt against giant institutions like the EU, the UN and the Federal government  is a subconscious realization among Western voters that technological and social change has gotten inside the loop of bureaucratic response; that whatever is pounding on the door will prove too fast for the sclerotic central planning bureaucracies to handle.  There is no longer much confidence in the capacity of legacy institutions to identify problems at long range and to intercept them before it’s too late.  Perhaps the most frightening thing about the Obama years was how he laughed at “Governor Romney” for warning Russia might be a problem.

They couldn’t see it coming.  They couldn’t seem to see anything coming.  Consequently the voters have decided to downsize, not necessarily in the interests of quality leadership but to optimize for reaction time; to appoint someone who will actually act — even in error — before it is too late.

The public may not know precisely what the weathers of the world bring but they misgive the wind they are feeling on their faces. Of course the future may simply bring a gentle breeze, but then you never know.

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Support the Belmont Club by purchasing from Amazon through the links below.


War With Russia: An urgent warning from senior military command, Author General Sir Richard Shirreff, former Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe. Russia’s invasion and seizure of Georgia in 2008 was our ‘Rhineland moment’. We ignored the warning signs – as we did back in the 1930s – and we made it ‘business as usual’.Crimea in 2014 was the President’s ‘Sudetenland moment’ and again he got away with it. Since 2014 Russia has invaded Ukraine. The Baltics could be next. Our political leaders assume that nuclear deterrence will save us. General Sir Richard Shirreff shows us why this will not wash.

American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson, Author Joseph J. Ellis sifts the facts shrewdly from the legends and the rumors, treading a path between vilification and hero worship in order to formulate a plausible portrait of the man who still today “hover[s] over the political scene like one of those dirigibles cruising above a crowded football stadium, flashing words of inspiration to both teams.”

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg. In this book, Duhigg takes the reader to the thrilling edge of scientific discoveries that explain why habits exist and how they can be changed. He presents a whole new understanding of human nature and its potential. By harnessing this new science and understanding how habits work, he believes we can transform our businesses, our communities and our lives.

Race Against the Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy, Authors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee of MIT bring together a range of statistics, examples, and arguments to show that technological progress is accelerating, and that this trend has deep consequences for skills, wages, and jobs. They make the case that employment prospects are grim for many today not because technology has stagnated, but because we humans and our organizations aren’t keeping up.

For a list of books most frequently purchased by readers, visit my homepage.

Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with your friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.
The War of the Words, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres
Rebranding Christianity, or why the truth shall make you free
The Three Conjectures, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age
Storming the Castle, why government should get small
No Way In at Amazon Kindle. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.
Storm Over the South China Sea, how China is restarting history in the Pacific
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