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Technology: tipping the balance

Roger Cohen in the New York Times:

Something immense is happening as the world transitions to a hyperconnected state where, for many, the distinction between the real and virtual worlds has ceased to exist. All the trailing paraphernalia of states and borders and government-to-government palavers, not to mention privacy laws, look so 20th century.

The more I speak and write about “the future of the Internet,” the more I realize that I’m talking about the future of the human world. Cohen goes on to say “that technology and international relations are becoming interchangeable topics. There are many more networks in our future than treaties.”

Clueful, yes. Also interesting is the article’s mention of Google Ideas and Jared Cohen’s thinking

that technology is agnostic: It can be used in the cause of freedom — and has been to great effect from Tunis to Cairo — just as it can be used in the cause of repression. So how do you “tip the balance in favor of the net positive?”

There’s seven billion people in the world, population’s growing every day. We’ve been organized as nations, and more recently corporations have been taking power and authority for action (though they still work through legacy forms, i.e. legislatures that are influenced by various means, including contributions of money and personal persuasion). We see a tendency for people to want to have something we call “freedom,” though the meaning of that label, and its limits, are not always clear. Traditionally effective action has been associated with authority and leadership, and the nature and meaning of leadership in a democratized world is unclear. (Also the pervasive influence of corruption, and how it will play out if systems of authority are diminished, as we have more “freedom.”)

We live in exciting and “interesting” times, but we should be skeptical – and I appreciate Jared Cohen’s point about the uncertain potential in social technology. We should be exploring how to tip the balance.

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