Throughout 2018, CNA collaborated with University of California Berkeley’s Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity and the World Economic Forum to conduct a series of workshops around the world. With stops in Washington, D.C.; Palo Alto, California; Hong Kong; Singapore; Moscow and Geneva, the workshop team led participants through hours of challenging scenario work. The four scenarios (you can read and watch them here) allowed participants to see and react to worlds that looked very different from their own.

The workshops were fascinating, and traveling to all those amazing places was an awesome perk. However, our conclusions were both enlightening and frustrating, as each “conclusion” led to so many more questions. For example, workshop results convinced us that in the future, humanity doesn’t form a global, borderless cyber nirvana, as some in Silicon Valley might once have believed. Instead, we got the sense that confronting advances in quantum computing, artificial intelligence, machine learning and the proliferation of data could cause countries to turn inward and become more nationalistic.

The community or country that people call home — and the nature of the government and societal norms that rule them — might dominate how people react to scientific advances and begin to cause rifts between countries where people think differently. For example, in the near future, countries will have to decide how prolifically they want access to quantum computing to spread, and different beliefs on this topic might very well cause sides or even factions to form. Or if quantum computing seems too distant of a technology, consider how the use of citizen data might cause further rifts between the governments (and even the people) of places like China and the European Union, where views are almost diametrically opposed. This should give us pause, wondering if disagreements on the ‘right’ approach to developing and emerging technologies will manifest themselves more broadly than the topic alone might suggest. And, if so, shouldn’t we be thinking about how this might play out? How might we begin to anticipate these shifts? Can we identify indicators that countries are going down one path or another early enough to help maintain relationships with our allies and advantages over our enemies?

Eeek. Heady stuff, huh?  Not all discussion was so dark, however, which prevented the workshop team from going home and hiding under the bed. For example, we saw consensus around the idea that in a world where everyone was a “digital citizen,” future generations would necessarily be more savvy and better consumers of information. Great, right?  Yes, except even this lofty idea adds to the long list of open questions. Such as: Can we figure out ways to present knowledge to this new generation in a way that could improve civil discourse? How do we prevent an educational version of the wealth gap and make sure swaths of citizens aren’t left behind? And what needs to change in our education system to get to this new, savvy breed of human in the first place?

There are folks thinking about these questions.  For example, consider the need for the United States to produce more savvy digital consumers. While in some places in the world (I’m looking at you, Sweden), countries have taken on this mission, efforts have been less centralized in the United States. There are several states who have (or are in the process of) providing campaigns and education on topics ranging from identifying bots to recognizing altered images. While these efforts set my heart a-flutter, I would much prefer to see us take on these issues—and come up with solutions—at the national level.

If you are interested in the full project report — and I hope you are — you can find it here. You can also go here to use the tool that provides insight into where you might want to focus your time and effort in preparing for the future.