March 09, 2019

What the Speed of Life Means for Security and Society


March 6, 2019

Kathryn Bouskill, a social scientist at RAND

Photo by Diane Baldwin/RAND Corporation

The envelope arrived with no explanation but a New York City postmark. Kathryn Bouskill tore it open and shook out a small, silvery coin. It was stamped with a “20,” she saw as she turned it over in her hand—not 20 cents, or 20 dollars, but 20 minutes.

Bouskill studies health and human behavior as an anthropologist at RAND. She and another researcher, Seifu Chonde, teamed up to examine our scramble for new technology, our headlong rush to make everything go a little faster. We are hurtling toward a time of transformation, they concluded, without asking what all this speed means for our society, our security, and our sanity.

She knew the value of that coin right away.

Do We Have "Hurry Sickness"?

There's a word in German for that discombobulated feeling that life is just racing by: Eilkrankheit, “hurry sickness.” It means rushing home from work just to flip open your laptop. Or checking your cellphone more than 50 times a day, the U.S. average.

Bouskill wondered whether we might be coming down with a case of societal hurry sickness. She partnered with Chonde to test that idea. He came at the question from the opposite perspective, as an engineer and data scientist. He reminded Bouskill that a train can jump the tracks by going too fast, but also by going too slow.

He looked at how quickly technology will advance in the next 20 years. She looked at what that could mean for the human experience.

They concluded that we are about to shift into hyperdrive. The experts they interviewed, the research they reviewed, all pointed in the same direction. Dozens of technologies with the power to transform human life, from 3D printing to cognitive implants, could become as ordinary as a cellphone by 2040.

Society will have to adapt, on the fly, in ways it never has. It took the telephone 85 years to become a household mainstay; color television, 21 years; and the smartphone, 13 years. A key difference was the infrastructure involved. It took a long time to connect every household to a telephone line. In the digital world, it takes no time at all.

Years Until Technologies Became Mainstays of Life

TechnologyYearsSmartphone13Internet15Color Television21Car71Telephone85

As Technology Transforms Life, Can We Adapt?

The speed of change is already testing our ability to respond. In 2010, for example, a high-speed trader working from home executed a series of split-second sales by algorithm, triggering a “flash crash” that briefly wiped nearly $1 trillion from the Dow Jones Industrial Average. In 2013, a law student prompted a regulatory crisis by posting designs for a 3D-printed gun on the internet.

By 2040, the researchers concluded, the speed of life itself could pose a security challenge. In a crisis, the people making decisions will have less time to react, and more information coming at them. That's already a concern at the highest levels of national security and government. As Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned in a recent essay: “Decision space has collapsed and so our processes must adapt to keep pace.”

By 2040, the speed of life itself could pose a security challenge.

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“As we accept new technology, we need to question whether or not it's the right move in each situation,” Chonde said. “Our daily lives are going to get faster in many ways, and something I fear is that we might miss the consequences.”

He and Bouskill followed the technological trend lines—“deep into the sci-fi realm,” Chonde acknowledged—to start thinking through what those consequences might be.

By 2040, they imagined, it's possible that the sharing economy, heralded by the Ubers and Lyfts of the world, will have evolved to the point that we don't really own much at all. Superfast hyperloop trains might whisk commuters from Los Angeles to San Francisco in less than 30 minutes. Cognitive implants—the researchers called them “iBrains”—might allow us to learn faster, perform better, and communicate at the speed of thought.

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It was more than just an exercise in creative thinking. The researchers used those scenarios in a series of workshops to test how people around the country think about speed. Most accepted the accelerating pace of life as inevitable. They thought that they'd be left behind if they tried to slow down; better to burn out, one said, than to rust out. They worried about a loss of privacy, cultural traditions, and a sense of community, as well as worsening inequalities in a future defined by technology.

That's a conversation we need to have more often, the researchers concluded, before we find ourselves in a future we're not really prepared for. Their message was not “slow down,” but “watch for blind spots.” Hurry sickness, like motion sickness, might ease with a good look at the horizon.

“We've sort of just been in this hamster wheel, and people are feeling the crunch, but they're not always thinking critically about when it might be better to go faster, or slower,” Bouskill said. “We live in a world where it's the tweet of the minute and we get lost in the here and now. We have forgotten to think deeply and considerately about what's coming down the pike.”

Do We Know the Value of Time?

Bouskill presented their findings at a recent TEDx conference. The title of her speech was “Stone Agers on Speed.”

Photo by Diane Baldwin/RAND Corporation

Afterward, she struck up a conversation with a fellow presenter, a New York artist named Otis Kriegel. He was just starting a new public art project, he explained. He was planning to hand out hundreds of coins starting in late spring, for 20 minutes each, with a request that people send him a sentence or two about how they spent their gift of time. A friend, for example, kept one of the coins in his pocket, a reminder not to waste time when he reached for his cellphone. After all, Kriegel said, “time is the common currency for all of us.”

“What could we do if we started a social movement where people would give themselves, or give one another, 20 minutes of time?” Bouskill asked. “What if we flipped 'time is money' to 'money is time'? What would that mean? What could we change? What would happen if we just stopped and talked to each other? What would we find out about ourselves?”

But in the hustle and hurry of modern life, those 20 minutes can be hard to come by. Bouskill decided the best thing she could do with her coin was save it as a reminder.

— Doug Irving

Skripal anniversary

This week marks a year since two GRU-linked Russian assassins travelled to the English town of Salisbury, posing as hapless tourists keen to view the 123-metre spire of Salisbury Cathedral, and smeared a deadly, military-grade nerve agent on the handle of ex-spy Sergei Skripal’s front door in a botched attempt to fatally poison him. The operation not only failed to kill Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, but its mishandling and public aftermath reaped spectacular humiliation for the Kremlin and the Russian intelligence services.
 Naturally, the pro-Kremlin disinformation machine has pursued frenetic damage control since news of the attack first broke, churning out all manner of denials, fabrications, and feverish conspiracy theories to obscure Russia’s responsibility for the poisoning, cast doubt on the findings of the British investigation, and find a scapegoat (or fifty) to blame for the attack. Here’s a look back at the (d)evolution of the pro-Kremlin media’s mendacious coverage of the Skripal case over the last year.
What happened to the Skripals? 150+ alternatives to choose from!
Since last March, EUvsDisinfo has compiled 151 disinformation cases about the poisoning that have been tailored to both international audiences and the domestic Russian public. The narratives can be roughly divided into seven categories:
1. It’s all just a Russophobic witch-hunt!
Following the tradition of much pro-Kremlin disinformation, most of the narratives about the Skripal case portray Russia as the victim of unfounded persecution, Russophobia, and anti-Russian provocation and conspiracy. According to Kremlin-aligned media, the Skripal affair is simply justification for increasing the NATO budget or fuelling anti-Russian hysteria in the West to lay the groundwork for a new Cold War. As a result of this deflection and obfuscation, only 3% of Russians believes that the Kremlin had something to do with the assassination attempt.
2. Britain did it!
At times, the originality of pro-Kremlin disinfo leaves something to be desired. Since the Skripal attack took place in the UK, suggesting that it was a British false flag operation was an obvious choice. Britain apparently had ample motive for such an attack: to trigger a boycott of the 2018 World Cup, to influence Russian elections, or to divert attention from Brexit (and from Britain’s “mass paedophilia” problem). The poisoning was most likely Theresa May’s idea, carried out by the British secret services at her request. Alternatively, though, the whole affair was an accident – the result of an internal control problem at Porton Down laboratory!
3. It was somebody else!
Even if Britain wasn’t responsible for the attack, there are plenty of other potential culprits to blame – but of course, Russia isn’t among them! Here, Kremlin-aligned media got creative, with a suspect list ranging from Georgia, Ukraine, Czechia, Slovakia, Sweden, and the US to terrorists and Yulia Skripal’s mother-in-law.
4. There is no evidence that Russia did it!
In its duty to deflect blame from Russian authorities and establish their “innocence”, the pro-Kremlin media regularly insist that there is no evidence in the Skripal case that implicates the Kremlin. Apparently, the British investigation into the attack has produced no proof of Russian involvement – the GRU agents identified as the would-be assassins were just “tourists” visiting Salisbury from London (twice in two days!) to see the “world-famous cathedral”. And anyway, neither the Soviet Union nor post-Soviet Russia have ever assassinated anyone!
5. It wasn’t Novichok!
Another set of narratives revolves around the use of Novichok in Salisbury. Pro-Kremlin media have not only claimed that no chemical weapon was used in the Skripal attack, but that Novichok doesn’t even exist – or, if it does, that it was manufactured by another country, and certainly not Russia! Most likely, Sergei Skripal just overdosed or tried to commit suicide.
6. The Skripals are kidnapped or hidden away!
Sergei and Yulia Skripal have either been kidnapped or deliberately hidden away to prevent them from telling the truth about the attack. The British secret services are most likely behind this, and are even preventing the Skripals from having any contact with their relatives.
7. The Skripals are dead!
After their alleged kidnapping, the Skripals were in fact killed and even cremated, according to pro-Kremlin media. London has sought to hide the truth of their death and even faked the interview with Yulia Skripal to bolster the deception. This conspiracy theory is likely to have a long life among pro-Kremlin sources, seeing as even the British ambassador’s official assurance that the Skripals are safe has failed to shut down this narrative.

Click here for the FULL COLLECTION of recent stories repeating disinformation.

March 05, 2019

A world and web divided


Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios


2019 has seen massive shifts in the way big countries reckon with the future of the web, a departure from years of optimism.

Why it matters: The next version of the internet could be balkanized by two emerging trends.

Autocratic regimes are looking to increase censorship.New internet tech, such as blockchain and 5G, is heating up conflicts between the U.S. and China.

Driving the news: India recently announced a proposal that would install a Chinese-style of internet censorship ahead of its elections.

The move brings India, which has the second-largest internet population, farther from other democratic republics around the globe.

Elsewhere, nations are using election security risks and geopolitical threats as a means to introduce heavy-handed censorship rules.

Russia is considering a plan to temporarily disconnect from the internet as a way to test its cyberdefenses. President Vladimir Putin has indicated that the country is mulling creating an autonomous Russian internet in the event that foreign adversaries cut off Russia from their networks.Some African nations are continuing to use censorship to manipulate elections. The Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria, for example, have faced international pressure to reduce efforts to censor or shut off the internet ahead of elections.China has long used a firewall to block access to certain sites from being accessed within its borders. Some users try to avoid such barriers by using illegal VPNs (or network access points).

What's next: New technology and shifting economics will also be driving forces in how the internet develops around the world.

Blockchain: Some experts see blockchain, the open-source technology that powers bitcoin, as a tool that will drive the expansion of an open web.5G: The fifth generation of mobile connectivity (5G) will be so much faster than the current network (4G) that experts think the first region or corporation to create an expansive 5G network will create its own version of the web.

"This is a fundamental strategic competition for who builds the platform for the next round of the internet. That is just as important if not more than who builds the state of the art harbors, railways and highways over the next 20 years ... I think it is the biggest strategic issue that overarches everything else."

— Janice Stein, political science professor, University of Toronto

Share this storyby Axios' Alison Snyder and me.

Negative energy: Berlin’s Trumpian turn on Nord Stream 2


European Council on Foreign Relations

Note from Berlin

Gustav Gressel 
27th February, 2019

Berlin's handling of the controversial Nord Stream 2 project reveals double standards and neglect of the pipeline's security repercussions. 

Berlin has handled the dispute over the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline with unilateralism and clumsiness worthy of US President Donald Trump. On 8 February, the EU Committee of Permanent Representatives was to vote on a proposal to tighten the rules of the common energy market – which have thus far enabled states and companies, particularly Germany and Gazprom, to circumvent EU law. Paris signalled on 7 February that it would support the proposal, igniting debate among European policy analysts and prompting hasty diplomatic interventions from Berlin. Although this eventually led to a Franco-German compromise of sorts, the incident reflected Germany’s increasing isolation on the issue.

While it loves to rant about Trump’s disruptive and confrontational behaviour, the German government hardly behaves any differently when its interests are at stake.

Paris has a direct interest in Nord Stream 2 through French firm Engie’s involvement in the project. Yet the French government appears to be less worried about commercial interests than the prospect that German insistence on completing Nord Stream 2 will drive other EU member states into the hands of the Trump administration. Portraying itself as a fearsome opponent of the project, the administration likely sees Poland and other opponents of Nord Stream 2 as potential allies in a coming trade war with the European Union. For Eurosceptic-led governments such as that in Italy, the debacle over the pipeline vindicates their view of the EU as a club whose rules twist to accommodate the tactical preferences of Berlin.

What happened to the proposal?

The proposal would probably not have prohibited the construction of the pipeline outright but rather made it more expensive and transparent. The proposal would also have given concerned EU countries a greater say in the project and the European Commission a pivotal role in supervising energy contracts, thereby diminishing Gazprom’s ability to distort the European gas market.

When it came out in support of the proposal, France did not perceive this as being an affront to Germany: the pipeline had drawn increasing criticism from across the EU and constant attacks from Trump. Greater EU oversight of the project would have allowed the German government to deflect much of this condemnation without giving in to Trump (which is widely seen as something close to domestic political suicide). By bridging the political divide, the proposal would not only have reduced Germany’s isolation but also reduced the risk that the United States would exploit disagreements over Nord Stream 2 to split the EU.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has only added to the confusion with her inconsistency on the matter. She voted down the European Commission’s first attempt to change EU energy regulations in November 2017, but acknowledged the following spring that Germany needed to addressthe security concerns about Nord Stream 2 of Ukraine and other countries. Hence, many diplomats thought she would accept the proposal.

The EU’s reaction

Nonetheless, Berlin’s reaction was far from accepting. Merkel and President Frank-Walter Steinmeier immediately pressured Paris and, particularly, Bucharest (which currently holds the EU presidency) to water down the proposal. The resulting compromise denies other EU member states and the European Commission any influence on the process of commissioning the pipeline. Gazprom will still be forced to transfer operative ownership of the project to another company – most likely, a Gazprom subsidiary similar to the one that operates the European Gas Pipeline Link interconnector – and to allow other providers to access to the pipeline. Neither provision will change much: such a subsidiary would have the opportunity to hire loyal politicians as board members and thereby widen the Russian corruption network in Germany. And other, non-Russian suppliers cannot access the pipeline because it lies on the seabed. The decision of whether to involve other Russian companies in Nord Stream 2 rests with President Vladimir Putin. As such, the watered-down version of the proposal is only a compromise in the sense that it is better than nothing.

The German government’s handling of the project will cause lasting damage. Several of the arguments Berlin put forward in support of Nord Stream 2 have been revealed as lies:

Nord Stream 2 is a commercial project. 
This argument holds that the pipeline will fit within the EU’s legal framework and that there are no grounds to interfere with business initiatives unless they violate existing rules. It is now clear that the German government actively intervenes to preserve a regulatory ecosystem in which the project can survive.
 German energy supply is separate from German foreign policy. 
German pipelines only come about due to the heavy political support they receive. This erodes the trust placed in Germany to uphold EU sanctions, for two reasons. Firstly, because the Yamal gas field – which feeds the Nord Stream pipelines – is difficult to exploit, the project will only be a long-term commercial success if the EU lifts its sanctions on the Russian energy sector. Secondly, if many smaller states are prevented from conducting business with Russia but Berlin provides political cover to deals with the country it sees as strategically important, the European sanctions debate will descend into cynicism.
 The Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) have substantively different views of Nord Stream 2. 
In the past, SPD cadres led the way in openly advocating for the pipeline project, while the chancellery remained silent on the issue. Many of Germany’s European allies hoped a new German government would take a different approach to Nord Stream 2 or that Merkel and other key figures would prove trustworthy because they had no personal involvement in pushing for the project. But Merkel has now personally defended the project, citing the usual arguments of lobbyists for Nord Stream 2 and thereby toxifying her and the CDU on the European stage. Indeed, many European opponents of the project now see Germany as a whole as the problem.
 The German government is a multilateralist protector of the rules-based order. 
Germany’s behaviour shows that it only accepts the rules when convenient, and otherwise uses unilateral bullying tactics to preserve regulatory loopholes that favour German interests. While it loves to rant about Trump’s disruptive and confrontational behaviour, the German government hardly behaves any differently when its interests are at stake.
 The EU is a rules-based organisation in which all member-states have equal rights. 
While this is the case on paper, the Nord Stream 2 case is widely perceived as one more example of double standards that favour Germany. The EU has prevented Italy, Bulgaria, Hungary, Greece, and Slovakia from engaging in bilateral pipeline projects with Russia under its Third Energy Package. Yet Germany has used a loophole in European regulations to launch the kind of project that others have been denied, and to strengthen its position in the European gas market. Having seen another major European power become increasingly willing to bend and break the rules, Italy is now more likely than ever to demand exemptions from the Stability and Growth Pact.

Security concerns

While southern EU member states perceive Nord Stream 2 as further proof of unjust German economic hegemony in Europe, eastern and northern European states will probably adopt an ever more sceptical, if not hostile, attitude towards Berlin on security issues. Germany’s role as an advocate for Gazprom in Europe, combined with its failure to live up to its commitments on defence, reinforces fears that the Russo-German cosiness of the Schröder era is now a permanent feature of Berlin’s strategy. Efforts to hedge against German influence will become all the more essential in post-Brexit Europe (although they may take more a polite form in Stockholm than in Warsaw). Poland may recognise that siding with the US in a trade war against Germany will have negative economic side-effects, but its security fears are likely to come before economics.

Meanwhile, Belarus and Ukraine will experience most of the negative consequences of the Russian-German energy partnership. Nord Stream 2 will make pipelines that pass through Ukraine and Belarus redundant. And it is not just the loss in transit money that worries these countries. The Russian regime relies on exports of oil and gas. And dependence on access to pipelines in Belarus and Ukraine currently constrains Russian military activity in these countries. For example, in 2014 Moscow refrained from providing military support to pro-Russian separatist groups in Kharkiv due to the presence of important installations on the gas transit line in the north and northwest of the city. Yet, after initiating the Nord Stream 2 project, Russia started to militarise the Belgorod-Kursk border region, deploying the 20th Guards Army just across the frontier. Under growing pressure to cede its sovereignty to Russia, Belarus may accept an increased Russian troop presence in its territory and subordinate its armed forces to the Russian general staff. This would drastically change the security situation in Poland, Ukraine, and Lithuania.

Thus, there is little sense to Berlin’s argument that Russia was a reliable supplier of gas to Germany even during the cold war. In that era, the Russian gas-delivery system had no effect on the military security or sovereignty of other neutral and non-allied states – thereby allowing for the separation of energy policy and security policy. This is no longer the case. However, because it does not see Russia as a direct threat, the German political establishment tends to ignore the security implications of Nord Stream 2.

Germany has no capacity or domestic mandate to deal with the geopolitical fallout of its choices on Nord Stream 2. It cannot prevent Russia from absorbing Belarus, nor from escalating the war in Ukraine. In environmental and climate politics, German leaders often emphasise that one should not commit to policies whose ramifications one cannot control. But, in a mirror image of Trump’s approach to climate policy, Merkel simply bows to ideological stubbornness and the lobbying efforts of domestic industry and special interest groups.

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. This commentary, like all publications of the European Council on Foreign Relations, represents only the views of its authors.