Thursday, November 05, 2020

Universal Recipe for Disaster: Works in Cyberspace as well as Meatspace (a plea to heed experts)

Image says Recipe for disaster that works in both cyberspace and meatspace: rapid embrace of global connectivity and complex interdependence, at scale and absent universally agreed enforceable norms of behavior.

Getting people to heed your warnings is one of the toughest aspects of being an expert, whether your specialty is epidemiology or criminology, virology or malicious code, biology or botnets. How do you get people to pay attention to a problem that seems very urgent to you, but not urgent enough to others? One approach is to just keep trying. 

One of my recent efforts was to describe "The COVID Effect." Another effort was "The Malware Factor." Today, I give you: Recipe for Disaster.

This Recipe for Disaster works in both cyberspace and meatspace. You simply combine these ingredients: rapid embrace of global connectivity and complex interdependence, at scale, absent universally agreed enforceable norms of behavior.

In other words, you create a situation where everything and everybody is not only connected to every other thing and person, but also heavily dependent upon those things and people and connections. Obviously this creates some level of risk that things could go wrong, but the trick to maximizing the potential for disaster is to do all this without everyone involved first committing to abide by an agreed set of rules as to what is permissible, or figuring out how you can and will censure anyone who breaks the rules. 

What you get from this recipe is a situation in which every kind of human endeavor is at serious risk of failing, badly, and with potentially dire consequences. 

A meatspace example would be a global pandemic caused by a deadly biological virus. A cyberspace example would be a digital infrastructure that enables a crisis like a biological pandemic to be abused for selfish ends by criminals wielding malicious code, potentially hindering efforts to deal with the crisis.

Of course, it is now clear that many experts in many fields were right in many ways. As has happened far too often in human history, we are finding out far too late that, like the song says: "What they've been saying all these years is true"* Had experts been heeded in the past, we could have avoided the deadly mess we're in today. 

I can already hear some people saying "Okay, so we should have listened back then, but is there anything you can tell us now that will help us get out of this mess?" Well, as it happens, there is. For a start, I can tell you that increasing the number of people who recognize the mess for what it is will be critical for getting out of it. 

And that's why I will keep trying to improve the effectiveness of my efforts to get people to pay attention.

Please feel free to share the recipe card at the top of the page, or make your own version.



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*The song being quoted is Bonnie Dobson's 1962 classic "Morning Dew," popularised in the late sixties by the late Tim Rose whose version is used to great effect by Japanese director Mori Masaki is this anti-war video, which some readers might find upsetting.