From the primitive spears wielded by our ancestors to the sophisticated drones operated by contemporary pilots, warfare has been inextricably tied to technological innovation. For as long as we have sought security – between individuals, tribes or states – we have developed innovative means of achieving it. Certain scientific advances, such as the invention of gunpowder or the atomic bomb, have had a particularly dramatic impact on how wars are fought and peace is achieved. More broadly, many technologies initially designed for benign purposes have later found unexpected applications as means of surveilling, controlling or killing.
Today, the rise of novel technologies such as artificial intelligence, big data and 5G is heralded by many as the key to solving humanity’s greatest challenges. New technologies, however, may also prompt new concerns, such as algorithmic bias and privacy concerns. Technological innovation therefore poses challenges and opportunities to how we understand and achieve security at every level: personal, local, national and global.
By its very nature, technology tends to move faster than those interrogating it. Academics, policymakers and populations are frequently left floundering at the dizzying pace of progress. For the best technologies, the brilliance of their outputs may distract us from the crucial questions of how and why. Paradoxically, Latour therefore notes, “the more science and technology succeed, the more opaque and obscure they become.” Like Pandora, by the time we discover the true significance of certain tools, it may be too late.
Critical thinkers have, over time, come to understand our methods of organising society as neither natural nor pre-ordained. In much the same way, today there is a growing awareness that technology is not neutral. Instead, it is increasingly recognised as the product of the societies in which it is created. In turn, technology may also have a dramatic influence on those same societies. By reflecting a particular worldview, the development, proliferation and adoption of certain technologies may serve to reinforce particular power relations, belief systems, and ways of understanding the world.
Only by pulling back the curtain and unpacking the black box of technology can we understand its true functions. What, precisely, do they do? How do they do it? For whom? And at what cost? By taking a critical, holistic approach, we hope to gain a fuller understanding of how humans shape technologies, and how technologies shape us.