Robot Wars

Day 23: Lecture titled, “The New Cold War: Hackers, Drones, and Cyber Spies,” by Shane Harris

I thought this talk sounded really interesting. I’m pretty much into anything about modern American history or politics. I realize that my interests in cultural events run a bit more academic than most. This is evidenced by the fact that I couldn’t get anyone to go to this talk with me and four friends showed up at that event about cheese.

I also wanted to go to this because it was at the Ford Presidential Library and I had never been there before. They had a pretty nice little Ford museum and exhibit in the lobby.

I had a conversation with Katie yesterday about where I feel comfortable. I was explaining to her that even though I never went to U of M, or really knew any of the buildings, I pretty much feel at home in any University type setting. I think it’s because I spent my entire adult life in college. There are a lot of places and situations in which I feel completely awkward, but even if I’m lost and have no idea where I’m going, if I’m in a university building or library I feel at ease.

HESSE Library at Purdue, my home away from home

Anyway, the Ford Library was nice. The talk was in, what seemed like either a very large conference room, or a very small lecture hall. There were probably around 100 people there, which would make this one of the most popular events I’ve attended so far. There were a lot of older people there (the dude in front of me had a neck like Grandpa Simpson) and a few younger people who looked like they were there for school extra credit.

The speaker, Shane Harris, was very witty and engaging. He was a journalist who was awarded the Gerald R. Ford Journalism Prize for reporting on national defense.

The talk was about national security in the 21st century and the way that new innovations in technology may usher in a new cold war. It was really good! Harris began his talk by stating that he thought the war on terror was over. He said that if you marked the beginning of the war on terror by the attacks on 9/11 then you can mark the end with the assassination of Osama bin Laden.

Harris outlined his ideas about a “new cold war.” He said that conflicts among nations and organized groups would take place in an arena not recognized as battlefields, i.e. on the web, and using new technology and weapons, i.e. automated drones.

He talked about the government, starting under the most recent Bush administration, trying to secure cyberspace. It sounded like the latest Die Hard movie. The government then turned to industry and made it their problem. They basically demanded that companies who have defense contracts keep the information and technology safe if they want to keep working for the American government. On one hand, that makes sense, but on the other, if mostly Chinese and Russian cyber spies are hacking these companies to get proprietary technology and government secrets shouldn’t the government also try to protect them? There is a Defense Industrial Base Initiative which is now under the purview of Homeland Security to try and make banks, power grids, and electric companies more secure from cyber attacks. Scary.

He said that the Obama administration really seems to get the newer threat and issues caused by technology, whereas W. Bush talked about “the google,” Obama has a twitter account.

Harris spent the end of his talk discussing drones and other technological advancements in weapons. He said that at this point unmanned drone technology was not really hampered by lack of capabilities, but rather by people’s unwillingness to unleash it. This made me fear Skynet.

Keep Skynet offline, you idiots!

At one point Harris actually used the phrase “robot wars.” In the future humans could fight wars with each other through technological proxies, though he actually didn’t think that would ever happen.

The talk was really good, and interesting, and I feel like I learned a lot, most of which freaked me out. On a side note I think that President Ford has an unfairly bad reputation.

Tomorrow night Katie and I are going to the Observatory Open House at Angel Hall at 8pm – weather permitting.

~ Kara

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