Emerging Technologies and Society

The Emerging Technologies and Society project is a collaboration between Singapore's Risk Assessment Horizon Scanning Programme Office (RPO) in the National Security Coordination Secretariat (NSCS) and the Atlantic Council Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security's Strategic Foresight Initiative (SFI). Initiated by RPO, the project focuses on the political, economic, and societal impacts of significant innovations arising from the science and technology fields. Through a series of meetings with leading researchers and private enterprises in the Silicon Valley, the project explores topics ranging from ubiquitous robotics and its impact on human capital developments, to algorithmic risk, quantum computing, and their challenges to national security.
  • Keeping a Global Competitive Advantage with STEM Education

    Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workers play an integral role in maintaining or advancing a nation’s economic and societal competitiveness. A recent report of the eight most valuable startup companies in the US further emphasizes the impact of STEM disciplines in the creation of new industries and domains. The success of a majority of these startups heavily relies on STEM skillsets that include software/app development, data analytics and machine learning expertise, and the seamless integration of technologies that enhance user experiences. While the demand for STEM degrees continues to increase, the time needed to attain a higher education degree remains relatively constant and typically exceeds fifty-two months, well beyond the projected forty-eight months that students prefer. Several questions emerge from these findings:

    1. Is the rate of attaining a STEM degree or skillset keeping up with the evolving needs of society?
    2. Will advancements in automation and artificial intelligence reduce the demand for STEM workers?
    3. What policies should be considered to increase a nation’s competitiveness, in the age of artificial intelligence and automation?

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  • Cognitive Systems and the Policy Challenges of the Twenty-First Century

    This blog is the first in a series exploring the implications of different policies on the development and deployment of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and cognitive systems.

    The term “cognition” is defined as “of, relating to, being, or involving conscious intellectual activity”.1 Our world is surrounded by cognitive organisms that range in complexity from an ant to the most intellectually-capable cognitive organism that is known today – a human. A fundamental characteristic of cognitive organisms is their ability to form higher-level abstractions of cognition that mimic or surpass their individual levels of cognition.2 A cognitive system is a human-made system that is able to interact with their human counterparts and understand human expression mechanisms that are primarily delivered via visual, audial, and textual communication.3 For clarity, this article defines cognitive organisms as being nature made, and cognitive systems as being human-made (…for now). By understanding human tendencies, cognitive systems should therefore be able to anticipate human intent and either be prepared to respond instantly, or be proactive and respond preemptively.

    Given the transient nature of humans, cognitive systems must be able to evolve their interactions with their human counterparts. For that to happen, they must learn from new input data, and augment their decision making models based on feedback from both humans and their environments. The need to learn about their environment through data presents a fundamental question; i.e., how do policy decisions pertaining to data acquisition, transmission, storage, and communication impact the ability of cognitive systems to learn and achieve their operational objectives?

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  • Communications, Public Diplomacy, and National Security

    Part One: Understanding the evolution of audiences

    (Note: This article is taken from a forthcoming report by the Atlantic Council on public diplomacy and its role in national security due to be released this fall.)


    Much has been written about public diplomacy in the 21st century and its need to evolve. In order to do that, one must understand the larger changes in the communications field that underpins a discipline like PD. Specifically, appreciating the growing influence and power of the audience in the communications loop is key. While the sender by nature retains the narrative, the ability of that narrative to have its desired impact is now as much about the recipient as it is the transmitter, having profound impacts on the success of communications and related PD efforts. The audience can increasingly influence the rhythm of the exchange to include the flow of information, what type of information to absorb, and the need for that information to be verifiable.

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  • Technology Will Keep Changing Everything— and Will Do It Faster

    It is impossible to predict what the accelerating pace of change in technology will lead to in the next twenty years. However, one can already foresee some potential geopolitical and societal impacts building on current technological developments, such as faster computers, wider and more advanced use of 3D and 4D printing, ubiquitous robotics, enhanced mobile computing with the individual at the center, widespread use of virtual and augmented reality, and creation of new designer organisms with biological building blocks. In this report, writer and independent consultant Banning Garrett lays out how these technologies are combining to create new, disruptive breakthroughs with potentially unforeseen second- and third-order effects that will alter the way we live forever.


    pdfRead the Report (PDF)





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  • The Rise of ‘Social Machines’

    Increasingly, Computer Systems May Harness Us and Our Data to Machines, Often Without Our Knowledge. How Should We Regulate That?


    Back in 1999, Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, envisioned a time when computers would be used “to create abstract social machines on the Web: processes in which the people do the creative work and the machine does the administration.” More than 15 years later, the idea of social machines remains both arcane and relatively unexamined. Yet such machines are all around us. Many are built on social networks such as Facebook, in which human interactions—from organizing a birthday party to protesting terrorist attacks—are underpinned by an engineered computing environment. Others are to be found in massively multiplayer online games, where a persistent online environment facilitates interactions concerning virtual resources between real people.

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  • Moore's Law 2.0?

    In 1965, Dr. Gordon E. Moore wrote an article (PDF) based on a trend he noticed that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit (IC) doubles approximately every two years. Fueled by unrelenting demands from more complex software, faster games, and greater broadband video, this observation was later dubbed Moore’s Law and has held true for nearly 50 years. It became the de facto roadmap against which the semiconductor industry drives its research and development. But that roadmap may be faltering now due to fundamental physics limitations incurred at the incredibly small scales at which we fabricate chips. Can we find novel ways to circumvent these limits and thereby achieve Moore’s Law 2.0? If we are successful, what implications might such computational capacity have for society?


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  • Working Group on Emerging Technologies and Innovation in the Gulf

    As Paul Saffo, a senior fellow with the Brent Scowcroft Center and noted futurist, said, we have moved on from a consumer economy to a creative economy where makers and doers produce high economic and societal value with original ideas. Three-dimensional printing, do-it-yourself biology, and crowd-sourced ventures are just a few examples of this transformative shift.

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  • Emerging Technologies and the Future of Global Security

    Emerging and disruptive technologies are going to have extensive effects on national and international security in the future. Despite the challenge in determining the scale of these impacts on international power, governments must prepare effective security strategies now that incorporate a vision of technology's impact on the future. In an effort to address the challenges posed by technology, Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos National Laboratories in partnership with the US National Intelligence Council (NIC), composed a volume of essays on Strategic Latency and World Power: How Technology Is Changing Our Concepts of Security.


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  • Dempsey Calls for Innovation in Defense

    Keynote Address by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey

    Today, General Dempsey noted, is the forty-ninth anniversary of the founding of the long-defunct Warsaw Pact. Back then, in 1955, he was three years old. In 1975, as he noted, the Dempsey went to Germany to patrol the Czech border as a lieutenant in an armored cavalry regiment. In 2003, he drove into Baghdad as the commanding general of what he called an “exquisite Cold War tank division.” A few weeks later, his corps commander was asking him to “provide security” in a city of seven million people—a task for which he had never trained. And then, in 2014, he found himself asking General Valery Gerasimov, chief of the Russian General Staff, with a touch of humor, whether he was “suggesting that we should end our careers the way we began them.”

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  • Bitcoin and the Future of Currency

    Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Pinning down exactly what Bitcoin is like identifying Superman in old comics.

    Legal, financial, and political experts approach the issue from different angles—labeling Bitcoin into categories which established governments and institutions can understand and control. Meanwhile, technologists and innovators view virtual currencies as nothing less than a revolution in how we exchange goods and services. Conversation on Friday, April 11 at the Atlantic Council centered on how to define virtual currencies in legal terms and comprehend how this innovation will transform the way society transacts currency and more in the future.

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