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The Interface of Technology and Politics Lucas Kello

Why Study It?

Modern technology evolves constantly and rapidly. It intersects closely with developments in the political and social world. In many instances, technological change outpaces the design of policies to realise its benefits and limit its risks. Hence there is a pressing need to ask: how do politics and technology interact in ways that disrupt prevailing policy and thinking?

The impact of technological change

The tendency among political scientists and international relations specialists has largely been to deny the influence of technology on political and social affairs. A clear exception to this trend is the case of nuclear weapons. Since their invention, nuclear weapons have captured the attention of prominent thinkers, seeking to explain, for example, the historically anomalous absence of major war among large nations. In most other technological realms, however, the tendency in our discipline has been either to downplay or to neglect the impact of technology.

Such theoretical preconceptions are no longer viable, if they ever were. We live in intensely technological times. Never before has technology permeated society so completely or affected the affairs of states and their peoples so intricately. It is time to correct the lack of scholarly literature within our field, in political science, on recent inventions such as social media or even on established ones such as space technology.

At the Centre for Technology and Global Affairs, our affiliated faculty, visiting fellows and experts conduct research on some of the most salient yet under studied questions facing the contemporary world. Our research agenda encompasses developments across a broad spectrum of technological dimensions – cyber studies, artificial intelligence, blockchain, robotics, outer space, and nuclear issues. These questions are wide-ranging and include the effects of computer hacking operations on the integrity of democratic elections, or the implications of distributed ledger technology (i.e. blockchain) for the protection of governmental and financial data.

Challenges faced by practitioners

Public officials and industry executives often lack the luxury of time to consider the impact of new technology on security and welfare. Consequently, new technology frequently changes faster than analysts’ ability to interpret its benefits and pitfalls to society. The current ‘cyber revolution’ is a prime example of this problem. As Russia’s increasingly disruptive cyber operations against liberal democratic institutions show, Western security strategy lags far behind the new realities of offensive action. Because the consequences of these activities are not overtly violent or destructive, like acts of war, many countries struggle to determine how best to respond.

The Centre’s core mission is policy-oriented: our research agenda reflects a concern with pressing real-world issues. Our experts harness their findings to guide the design of policies that seek to manage the impact of new technology in the public domain as well as in the development of industry practices. External parties are also crucial to the work of the Centre: we foster a global network of leading representatives from governments, technology firms, and private investors and offer them expertise on emerging technologies as well as opportunities to partner with world class researchers.

Enhancing research in the social sciences

Machine learning is a prime example of the potential for new technology to enhance understanding of today’s society. More information about human activity is available for scholarly scrutiny than perhaps ever before in the history of political science research. Consequently, machine learning techniques that apply probabilistic reasoning could greatly support the study of international security by enabling, for example, the design of new predictive models about conflict dynamics.

The core premise of our work is simple: the study of politics today should include the new technologies which define our era – such as cyberspace and robotics – as central aspects of investigation. The researchers’ work emphasises the sheer speed and volatility of change. By integrating new inventions into the core intellectual agenda of political science and its various sub-disciplines, the Centre will further the Department’s efforts to lead the way in understanding the rapidly changing technological forces that are transforming politics and society in the twenty-first century.

The Centre's establishment was made possible by a generous donation from founding donor Artur Kluz.

Lucas Kello is Senior Lecturer in International Relations, Director of CTGA, and Co-Director of the Centre for Doctoral Training in Cyber Security (Department of Computer Science)

Follow CTGA on Twitter @OxfordCTGA

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Photo Credits: Esaias Tan "Aesthetic"; WikiImages "Earth world lighting night globe global continents"; Muadek "glass scifi violet"; Goh Rhy Yan - "Flying a drone at dusk in the city"

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