Is decentralization inherently a good thing?
These days, there's a lot of talk about decentralization. Decentralized social media platforms can allow us to own our own data. Decentralized cryptocurrencies can enable bank-free financial transactions. Decentralized 3D printing can allow us to fabricate anything we want.
But if the world lives on Bitcoin, we may not be able to sanction nation states like Russia when they invade sovereign nations. If 3D printing is decentralized, anyone can print their own weapons at home. Decentralization takes on new meaning when we're talking about decentralizing the capacity for catastrophic destruction.
This week on Your Undivided Attention, we explore the history of decentralized weaponry, how social media is effectively a new decentralized weapon, and how to wisely navigate these threats. Guiding us through this exploration is Audrey Kurth Cronin — one of the world’s leading experts in security and terrorism. Audrey is a distinguished Professor of International Security at American University, and the author of several books — most recently: Power to the People: How Open Technological Innovation is Arming Tomorrow’s Terrorists.
Clarification: in the episode, Tristan refers to a video of Daniel Schmachtenberger's as "The Psychological Pitfalls of Working on Existential Risk." The correct name of the video is "Psychological Pitfalls of Engaging With X-Risks & Civilization Redesign."
Audrey Kurth Cronin is a Distinguished Professor of International Security and founding Director of the Center for Security, Innovation, and New Technology at American University in Washington, DC. Cronin’s best-known book is How Terrorism Ends: Understanding the Decline and Demise of Terrorist Campaigns, which the New Yorker called a “landmark study.” Her latest book, and the subject of our conversation, is Power to the People: How Open Technological Innovation is Arming Tomorrow’s Terrorists — which analyzes emerging technologies and devises a new framework for analyzing 21st century military innovation. Cronin has served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Policy, was Chairman of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Terrorism, and is a life member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
We also want to note the potential for info-hazard — philosopher Nick Bostrum’s term for a risk that arises from the dissemination of information that may cause harm. In that spirit, we wanted to share Audrey's 7-part framework for avoiding info-hazards:
Audrey Kurth Cronin's latest book, which analyzes emerging technologies and devises a new framework for analyzing 21st century military innovation
Daniel Schmachtenberger's talk discussing the psychological pitfalls of working on existential risks and civilization redesign
The Center for Humane Technology's toolkit for developing policies to protect the conditions that democracy needs to thrive: a comprehensively educated public, a citizenry that can check the power of market forces and bind predatory behavior