TED Conversations

Marc Goodman

INTERPOL-International Criminal Police Organization


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What is the greatest security challenge facing humanity today?

What do you see as the most pressing global security challenges of the 21st century? The broad themes are crime, terrorism, warfare and corruption.

Of course security is a theme which transcends many of the biggest issues facing our planet today, including environment change, access to clean water, poverty and disease/pandemic, to name but a few.

In your opinion, what do you view as the greatest security challenge facing mankind?

What steps can we take now to positively impact the greatest number of people from a global security perspective?

How might an innovative emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotech, biology, ubiquitous computing, genomics, synthetic biology, etc help resolve this challenge?

Thanks in advance for your input.


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    Mar 27 2011: I really want to thank all of you who have provided such excellent comments to my original question. Many offered perspectives that I had not previously considered.

    As I read through your messages, each falls broadly into one of the following categories:

    *Abuse of natural resources
    *Military spending
    *Lack of character or too much ego/selfishness/materialism
    *Lack of education
    *Cybercrime/emerging technologies/telerobotics

    My goal in posing my original question was not purely academic. Rather, I'm trying to positively influence our common global security and hope to make a true difference doing so. I know this may sound like "pie in the sky" thinking given all the challenges enumerated above. That said, one has to try and I believe that is what TED is all about.

    Since the "T" in TED stands for technology (and it is part of my own background and experience), I believe it has the potential to play a useful roll in promoting global security. That said, as many of you noted, technology can also pose a threat as well.

    I understand clearly the importance of character, education and the judicious use of our precious natural resources, but as a security professional, those are not my particular areas of deep expertise (though I'm always willing to learn more!)

    In considering some of the security threats I raised in the initial question: crime, terrorism, warfare and corruption--what specific steps might we take to reduce the harm to society that these challenges pose?

    More specifically, I would like to cleverly leverage technology (T in TED) to make a significant and positive impact in those domains, if possible. Of course I understand technology is no panacea, but I believe it can play a positive role in our common response.

    I welcome your continued co feedback on how we might credibly leverage technology to reduce the social harm caused by crime, terrorism, war and corruption. Thank you all.
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      Mar 28 2011: Here's what INTERPOL needs:

      1. A budget 100x larger than what's allocated to the UN itself.
      2. A full-spectrum of intelligence capabilities.
      3. A large network of state-of-the-art remote sensing platforms
      4. The world's largest network of informants
      5. A pool of case officers that covers the whole spectrum of the world's languages and at sufficient capacity
      6. The ability work in dual roles in a cooperative and coordinative role with national security forces and simultaneously act as an international honest broker when your allies violate their own and international laws

      Realistically, INTERPOL isn't going to get any of that with a budget of EUR 60 mil, and at best it'll probably only serve in a coordination role with very little authority. Although it may not have physical intelligence assets, it could use AI to gather and translate open source intelligence (OSI), and use it to collapse probability fields to make educated guesses in its areas of interest - which would simulate what actual domestic and foreign intelligence agencies do but at much lower costs. You need Common LISP programmers, physicists, psychologists, and cultural anthropologists.to develop your software, a supercomputer farm, an ITSEC team that can defend it, and a method of giving relevant information to interested stakeholders.
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        Apr 11 2011: Why not just cover the globe with video cameras, connect them to the internet (with replay) and let the public do the surveillance?

        This will happen. And a lot sooner then INTERPOL or any other govt bureaucracy gets up to speed.
        • Apr 15 2011: It's not the cheapest endeavor, something even second world countries can't afford.
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      Mar 28 2011: Marc, quickly I just want to say, I applaud your reasons and hopes for asking this question. You embody the essence of TED, and the orientation in character that I detailed in my post. Thanks and keep up the good work.
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      Mar 29 2011: Marc: "...what specific steps might we take to reduce the harm to society that these challenges pose?"
      Isn't that a little bit like the patient asking the doctor for some remedy against his head aches, instead having a check up to see what actually causes de head aches ?
      I think if we only try to reduce the impact of above mentioned challenges on society, we always will be a step behind.
      We need to look at the root causes responsible for crimes, and start working there. In other words, we need to work on prevention and on removing environments where crimes can breed.
      Tackling issues such as poverty and education would be something to start with.
    • Apr 11 2011: In terms of technology - the proliferation of electronic media, and the move away from print as the dominant form of media, is indirectly responsible for a great many security risks.

      As Neil Postman observed in "Amusing Ourselves to Death" electronic media doesn't just change how we communicate, it ends up changing the actual content of what we say. For example, more and more people understand the world through overly short, overly simplified data - news stories that last 30 seconds, then switch immediately to the next 30 second story so that the viewer doesn't have time to actually think about the first. We have info from all the over the world at near instant speeds, but we rarely say anything that delves beneath the surface of things. This shift in public discourse undeniably conditions the way our minds work and view the world.

      To give only one example of a consequence, some years ago Americans (and other Western nations) got involved in Somalia. The news said, "They're starving, let's send food and money" and showed some photos of skinny children. We sent food, money, personnel - for years, in fact. The truth is that famines are not a problem with farms, but with the market. Destabilization, violence, corruption, all escalated, while a few Americans and Somalis got rich. The public, meanwhile, makes their donation, feels good, then forgets all about it. The reality was too complex to make a good story - but you do more harm than good by blindly sending aid to a society much different than ours.

      The simplistic mindset of, "they are hungry, if we send them food everything will be ok" lead to tremendous amounts of suffering and death. While I wasn't around back in the days of a typographically-oriented society, the nature of print fosters the ability to follow a line of thought over several (or several hundred) pages - an ability that seems to be fading in our oversimple, culturally-amnesiac society. The Somali pirates of today are one direct result

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