Technology in Wartime conference remarks
Another thread of the day has been the question of whether the north American public is too un-concerned with the prospects of cyber warfare. Some speakers feel that the public will need a cyber-equivalent to Pearl Harbor in order to develop an ingrained sense of vulnerability. Other speakers, notably Herb Lin from the National Academy of Science, say that another way to look at it is to see that the cyber-Pearl Harbor is already happening, it's just happening too slowly for most people to notice. Keynote speaker Bruce Schneier expressed the opinion that a computer crash, or hack, may have started the snowball that led to the August '04 blackout that hit the whole Northeast U.S.
Throughout the day's talks, "wartime" is consistently presented and conceived as state-based conflict, and the several speakers with ties to U.S. government have naturally presented the ethical and strategic problems facing fighters of cyber-war in very national/istic terms. Quite understandable, of course. But it nevertheless feels a little odd to me in the context of the history of broadly-conceived civil liberties and populist movements (both domestic and international) from which the discourse of social responsibility emerges. Luckily CPSR founder Terry Winograd wound up the day, and had the presence of mind to speak for many about the alternate view. Whereas many speakers of the day took war for granted, Winograd was the only one to explicitly state that we should always question the wars themselves, not just how computer professionals can make war "better."
Leading to that remark, the most unsettling panel today was the morning session on the possibility of programming ethics into robots in battlefields and robot soldiers. All three panelists, one right after the other, expressed no contrary opinions, instead merely varying degrees of optimism about the hope that robots can ultimately be more ethical soldiers than human beings (!!!!).
On an up note, everyone should go to stopthespying.org and submit their picture to be counted in the battle against NSA spying. As Cindy Cohn pointed out: the U.S. government behaves as if a public consensus in favor of government spying exists, when in fact it does not! And the EFF's remedy is to create a literal picture of the constituency against spying. --MSP