With an increase in cyber crime, digital technology is becoming a crucial security issue. France is planning to allocate a million euros to an armed cyber command by 2020.
Against a background of upheaval in our democracies, of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump – which dominated the year 2016 – comes the numerical revolution, which has changed its face. Upheaval has been mainly economic, upsetting value chains and company hierarchy. It has also been political and strategic with a wave of populism supported by middle-class destabilization and the social media, as when conventional ideas on regime change in democracies were turned upside down by means of Russia’s cyber-intervention in favor of Donald Trump during the American presidential elections.
The digital revolution is characterized by the fact that it imposes digital transformation on all fields of activity. Economic and social life is being reconfigured, centering on connected objects which will number over 20 billion by 2020. Data management is becoming central to production and distribution, therefore central to company strategy. Company structure is evolving with the rise of service platforms that monopolize value. Employment in developed countries is therefore more affected by robotization than by competition from emerging countries.
Artificial intelligence has also made great strides, symbolized by AlphaGo, a machine that was not programmed by humans but which has learned to play Go by itself and against itself, and which beat the world champion Go player, Lee Sedol. AI is unsettling all realms of knowledge and all sectors of activity. It is giving rise to ethical problems because it places humans in the situation of being able to master, possess and manipulate their own nature.
The Web is now revealing its darker side. Cyber crime is fast increasing, netting an estimated 450 billion dollars a year. It hits not just individuals but companies as well – and companies are still not protecting themselves nearly enough. In Europe, only 12% of them encrypt their data. Cyber warfare, which has been waged against Estonia, Georgia and Ukraine, is turning out to be a formidably effective one-sided weapon in the hands of the Chinese and Russian démocratures (a combination of democracy and dictatorship) who use it to cancel out the technological superiority of Western armies, of powers fighting for a place in the world order – Iran and North Korea – and of the Jihadists as well. Islamic terrorism is a chameleon whose next mutation will be in the form of a social network nesting in the heart of developed societies. Furthermore, the intensive use of social media by populist parties is contributing to the destabilization of democracies, whilst Russia’s hacking into the Democratic Party’s website – in which WikiLeaks was instrumental – played a part in the unexpected outcome of the American presidential elections.
With no insitutionalized rules or regulations, the cyber world is moving from the libertarian myth of self-regulation, neutrality and altruistic sharing towards balkanisation and power struggles. The Net is being reconfigured around layers of regional and state systems which pose a risk to its global infrastructure and to the providers that keep it going. Disparate regulatory bodies exist alongside each other: the United States defends the GAFA oligopoly, China and Russia favour state control, and Europe attempts to preserve its citizens’ freedom by means of the Privacy Shield which was adopted on 12th July 2016.
Digital technology is not only crucial for competitiveness but is also becoming an issue of security and sovereignty. Democracies have to react on a global basis. On the technological side, investment and innovation must be encouraged – and we must not limit ourselves just to services or leave the USA and China with a monopoly of Internet infrastructure. On the economic and social side, priority must be given to inclusive development which comprises a massive amount of life-long training. On the legal side, the Internet must be removed from the tutelage of the USA – just as ICANN was removed from the stewardship of the United States Department of Commerce – and put under the ægis of a global agency, as nuclear energy was in the 1950s. Finally, we must invest heavily in digital security. France has done this by providing itself with a cyber command consisting of 3,200 soldiers and 4,400 reservists and by planning to allocate a billion euros to the unit by 2020.
The Internet is an asset to humanity but is also a new area of confrontation. The digital revolution may energize growth, relaunch social progress, strengthen democracy and contribute to peace, or it may increase inequalities, propagate violence and pose a threat to freedom. It will not replace either politics or human action, both of which are needed in order to regain control over the Information Age.
(Column published in Le Figaro,16th January 2017)