Founder's Statement

New technologies are creating winners and losers, and the political backlash against their direct and indirect effects is well underway. In drawing together interdisciplinary research teams at American University, our center is dedicated to maximizing the gains and minimizing the losses for humankind.

Our aim is to encourage honest dialogue that accurately and effectively reflects both the positive impacts and potential pitfalls of emerging technologies. Few research programs avoid either techno-hype or fearmongering, but this center will rigorously consider both sides.

It is true that many new technologies hold great promise for advancing human development and security. For example, faster information flow facilitates immediate mobilization in times of disaster and gives us access to the larger global community within seconds.

But each of these wonderful new developments carries a parallel downside: a faster information flow offers the so-called Islamic State a way to recruit naïve teenagers, and our means of connecting with each other has proven vulnerable to exploitation.

These new technologies also affect international security by empowering individuals and undercutting the state’s traditional ability to mobilize and project force. The worldwide dispersal of emerging technologies such as drones, cyber weapons, additive manufacturing (or “3-D printing”), smart devices, military robotics, and autonomous systems is exposing gaping fissures between modern conventional armed force and the growing capabilities of non-state actors. In the absence of more serious analysis of the strategic and tactical implications of new technologies, their rapid diffusion may be destabilizing. 

Even as new technologies tip the balance toward individual threats, we are also opening a huge chasm on the vulnerability side, through the Internet of Things (IoT). The Internet of Things is the millions of devices designed and sold with Internet-connected technology, making them convenient, popular, and efficient. Private sector companies strive to get them to market quickly and cheaply – an Amazon Echo Dot is just under $50 – but software engineers rarely incorporate serious security into their designs. This means that they are very easily hacked and vulnerable to a range of threats, from state intelligence agencies to individual criminals. 

As these new technologies emerge, we are confronted with important ethical, political, and societal dilemmas that require thoughtful and forward-looking answers. This center is a nexus of innovative research where scholars from a variety of fields think critically about how the future of technology will impact human development and security in a myriad of ways.

I encourage those interested in these important issues to engage with our scholars, attend our events, follow our work on social media, and collaborate with us. We are dedicated to shaping the future of technology to create positive societal change. Please join us.

Audrey Kurth Cronin
January 2019