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Statecraft and Foreign Policy From Machiavelli To Digital Diplomacy
It is a new world where Machiavellian’s vertical hierarchies have been complemented with horizontal webs and networks.
How would Machiavelli tackle digital diplomacy and social media? As we commemorate the sesquicentennial of the Renaissance philosopher’s celebrated The Prince, the structure of power in the 21st century has certainly changed. Global interconnectivity has forced governments to rethink their foreign policy priorities while at the same time acknowledge new players and engage with the world. It is a new world where Machiavellian’s vertical hierarchies have been complemented with horizontal webs and networks.
“The Prince is perfect in describing even the most current events in national and foreign policy,” said Gianni Riotta, author of Has the Web Brought us Freedom? at the panel discussion “Real-Time World, Real-Time Diplomacy: The Challenges Ahead,” organized by the Embassy of Italy in Washington DC as part of its Digital Diplomacy Series. “Social media and digital diplomacy are the only elements missing from his analysis,” Riotta continued highlighting how for the Machiavellian Prince it would be more difficult to rule in the 21st century as he’d be confronting and engaging with public opinion online.
Aside from Machiavelli’s morality of power and its views on how to exercise it, from the Renaissance to modern statecraft, one of the greatest revolutions have been the digital one. As technology and innovation are quickly transforming our daily life, our routine, and how we all interact with the world, foreign policy is now focusing on what comes next and how social media can impact statecraft itself, as well as the way governments talk to each other and to citizens, both at home and abroad.
“The digital era and the fast evolving mobile industry are having a deep effect on how companies conduct business, how people and customers interact, how the media industry is reshaping itself to better adjust to it,” said Italian Ambassador to the US Claudio Bisogniero. “Diplomacy has not been immune to these changes,” Ambassador Bisogniero added pointing out how governments are not abandoning traditional diplomacy but instead complementing it with real-time tools and innovative ideas.
According to P.J. Crowley, professor at the George Washington University and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, the challenge today involves the disconnect between traditional diplomacy – say as little as possible in public and as much as possible in private – and the bowing demands on public and digital diplomacy through two-way conversations rather than monologues.
“There is a growing gap between the two,” said Crowley stressing how digital diplomacy and the use of social media in foreign policy have to often face new challenges and the way secrecy has been affected by real-time tools. “The way information circulates on the Internet potentially eliminates what governments have relied on for the longest and that is plausible deniability,” Crowley explained. “What in traditional diplomacy has always occurred behind closed doors is now sipping out in to the open, making public diplomacy an increasingly important dimension of diplomacy. This presents a conundrum for policy as they now have to not only assess what the policy should be but also how the policy is going to be received by domestic audience and by target audiences around the world.”
Foreign policy is trying to adapt to this broader and more dynamic environment.
Innovation – rather than technology per se – is the key element in this new equation. Innovation is becoming part foreign policy DNA, often bettering the way governments communicate and interact at all levels. Because technology is opening new doors to governments and societies around the world – in a way democratizing the power structure – the goal should be to fully leverage networks, technologies, and demographics of an ever interconnected world.
“In a world of technology that enables pervasive, disruptive social change, the work of diplomats is to increase the speed at which government can respond to that change,” said Katie Dowd, Senior Advisor to the U.S. Chief Technology Officer at the White House. “We are doing that by leveraging new tools for public diplomacy, experimenting with new approaches to development partnerships, enhancing our focus and expertise on technology policy issues, and improving our internal practices and skill-building to meet these challenges.”
In this new landscape, capacity building becomes key in order to drive innovation and innovative ideas, both in foreign policy and in the private sector. This is where public and private need to work together and collaborate to nurture new assets and bring to bear shared challenges.
However, working on capacity building for future generations is not for governments alone. Everybody needs to be part of the process, including youth around the world, our future leaders.
In his first foreign policy address as U.S. Secretary of State in February 2013, John Kerry said that “For the first time in human history, young people around the world act as a global cohort […] they are more open-minded, and more proficient with the technology that keeps them connected in a way no generation has ever been before.” He stressed: “We need to help them use this remarkable network in a positive way.”
The U.S. Department of State is now working to help the emerging generation define their legacy and shape their future in a positive way, “a collective future,” in the words of Zeenat Rahman, Senior Adviser to the U.S. Secretary of State for Global Youth Issues. The goal is to nurture highly motivated, talented, and civically engaged youth so that they can become a true engine for world economic growth and prosperity.
“Young people are creating innovative solutions to shared challenges such as health, climate change and economic development by pursuing studies and careers in science and technology,” Rahman said. “In past years, young people have worked to create mobile, web, and desktop applications to address climate, civil, and business challenges.”
* Andreas Sandre is a Press and Public Affairs Officer at the Embassy of Italy in Washington DC. He is the author of Twitter for Diplomats” (February 2013) and has contributed articles on foreign policy and digital diplomacy to numerous specialized publications, including the DiploFoundation, the Global Policy Journal, and BigThink. The views expressed are the author's only and do not necessarily reflect those of the Embassy of Italy. Find him on Twitter: @andreas212nyc
Why mega-eruptions like the ones that covered North America in ash are the least of your worries.
- The supervolcano under Yellowstone produced three massive eruptions over the past few million years.
- Each eruption covered much of what is now the western United States in an ash layer several feet deep.
- The last eruption was 640,000 years ago, but that doesn't mean the next eruption is overdue.
The end of the world as we know it
Panoramic view of Yellowstone National Park
Image: Heinrich Berann for the National Park Service – public domain
Of the many freak ways to shuffle off this mortal coil – lightning strikes, shark bites, falling pianos – here's one you can safely scratch off your worry list: an outbreak of the Yellowstone supervolcano.
As the map below shows, previous eruptions at Yellowstone were so massive that the ash fall covered most of what is now the western United States. A similar event today would not only claim countless lives directly, but also create enough subsidiary disruption to kill off global civilisation as we know it. A relatively recent eruption of the Toba supervolcano in Indonesia may have come close to killing off the human species (see further below).
However, just because a scenario is grim does not mean that it is likely (insert topical political joke here). In this case, the doom mongers claiming an eruption is 'overdue' are wrong. Yellowstone is not a library book or an oil change. Just because the previous mega-eruption happened long ago doesn't mean the next one is imminent.
Ash beds of North America
Ash beds deposited by major volcanic eruptions in North America.
Image: USGS – public domain
This map shows the location of the Yellowstone plateau and the ash beds deposited by its three most recent major outbreaks, plus two other eruptions – one similarly massive, the other the most recent one in North America.
The Huckleberry Ridge eruption occurred 2.1 million years ago. It ejected 2,450 km3 (588 cubic miles) of material, making it the largest known eruption in Yellowstone's history and in fact the largest eruption in North America in the past few million years.
This is the oldest of the three most recent caldera-forming eruptions of the Yellowstone hotspot. It created the Island Park Caldera, which lies partially in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming and westward into Idaho. Ash from this eruption covered an area from southern California to North Dakota, and southern Idaho to northern Texas.
About 1.3 million years ago, the Mesa Falls eruption ejected 280 km3 (67 cubic miles) of material and created the Henry's Fork Caldera, located in Idaho, west of Yellowstone.
It was the smallest of the three major Yellowstone eruptions, both in terms of material ejected and area covered: 'only' most of present-day Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska, and about half of South Dakota.
The Lava Creek eruption was the most recent major eruption of Yellowstone: about 640,000 years ago. It was the second-largest eruption in North America in the past few million years, creating the Yellowstone Caldera.
It ejected only about 1,000 km3 (240 cubic miles) of material, i.e. less than half of the Huckleberry Ridge eruption. However, its debris is spread out over a significantly wider area: basically, Huckleberry Ridge plus larger slices of both Canada and Mexico, plus most of Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Missouri.
This eruption occurred about 760,000 years ago. It was centered on southern California, where it created the Long Valley Caldera, and spewed out 580 km3 (139 cubic miles) of material. This makes it North America's third-largest eruption of the past few million years.
The material ejected by this eruption is known as the Bishop ash bed, and covers the central and western parts of the Lava Creek ash bed.
Mount St Helens
The eruption of Mount St Helens in 1980 was the deadliest and most destructive volcanic event in U.S. history: it created a mile-wide crater, killed 57 people and created economic damage in the neighborhood of $1 billion.
Yet by Yellowstone standards, it was tiny: Mount St Helens only ejected 0.25 km3 (0.06 cubic miles) of material, most of the ash settling in a relatively narrow band across Washington State and Idaho. By comparison, the Lava Creek eruption left a large swathe of North America in up to two metres of debris.
The difference between quakes and faults
The volume of dense rock equivalent (DRE) ejected by the Huckleberry Ridge event dwarfs all other North American eruptions. It is itself overshadowed by the DRE ejected at the most recent eruption at Toba (present-day Indonesia). This was one of the largest known eruptions ever and a relatively recent one: only 75,000 years ago. It is thought to have caused a global volcanic winter which lasted up to a decade and may be responsible for the bottleneck in human evolution: around that time, the total human population suddenly and drastically plummeted to between 1,000 and 10,000 breeding pairs.
Image: USGS – public domain
So, what are the chances of something that massive happening anytime soon? The aforementioned mongers of doom often claim that major eruptions occur at intervals of 600,000 years and point out that the last one was 640,000 years ago. Except that (a) the first interval was about 200,000 years longer, (b) two intervals is not a lot to base a prediction on, and (c) those intervals don't really mean anything anyway. Not in the case of volcanic eruptions, at least.
Earthquakes can be 'overdue' because the stress on fault lines is built up consistently over long periods, which means quakes can be predicted with a relative degree of accuracy. But this is not how volcanoes behave. They do not accumulate magma at constant rates. And the subterranean pressure that causes the magma to erupt does not follow a schedule.
What's more, previous super-eruptions do not necessarily imply future ones. Scientists are not convinced that there ever will be another big eruption at Yellowstone. Smaller eruptions, however, are much likelier. Since the Lava Creek eruption, there have been about 30 smaller outbreaks at Yellowstone, the last lava flow being about 70,000 years ago.
As for the immediate future (give or take a century): the magma chamber beneath Yellowstone is only 5 percent to 15 percent molten. Most scientists agree that is as un-alarming as it sounds. And that its statistically more relevant to worry about death by lightning, shark, or piano.
Strange Maps #1041
Got a strange map? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The potential of CRISPR technology is incredible, but the threats are too serious to ignore.
- CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) is a revolutionary technology that gives scientists the ability to alter DNA. On the one hand, this tool could mean the elimination of certain diseases. On the other, there are concerns (both ethical and practical) about its misuse and the yet-unknown consequences of such experimentation.
- "The technique could be misused in horrible ways," says counter-terrorism expert Richard A. Clarke. Clarke lists biological weapons as one of the potential threats, "Threats for which we don't have any known antidote." CRISPR co-inventor, biochemist Jennifer Doudna, echos the concern, recounting a nightmare involving the technology, eugenics, and a meeting with Adolf Hitler.
- Should this kind of tool even exist? Do the positives outweigh the potential dangers? How could something like this ever be regulated, and should it be? These questions and more are considered by Doudna, Clarke, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, psychologist Steven Pinker, and physician Siddhartha Mukherjee.
Measuring a person's movements and poses, smart clothes could be used for athletic training, rehabilitation, or health-monitoring.
In recent years there have been exciting breakthroughs in wearable technologies, like smartwatches that can monitor your breathing and blood oxygen levels.
But what about a wearable that can detect how you move as you do a physical activity or play a sport, and could potentially even offer feedback on how to improve your technique?
And, as a major bonus, what if the wearable were something you'd actually already be wearing, like a shirt of a pair of socks?
That's the idea behind a new set of MIT-designed clothing that use special fibers to sense a person's movement via touch. Among other things, the researchers showed that their clothes can actually determine things like if someone is sitting, walking, or doing particular poses.
The group from MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) says that their clothes could be used for athletic training and rehabilitation. With patients' permission, they could even help passively monitor the health of residents in assisted-care facilities and determine if, for example, someone has fallen or is unconscious.
The researchers have developed a range of prototypes, from socks and gloves to a full vest. The team's "tactile electronics" use a mix of more typical textile fibers alongside a small amount of custom-made functional fibers that sense pressure from the person wearing the garment.
According to CSAIL graduate student Yiyue Luo, a key advantage of the team's design is that, unlike many existing wearable electronics, theirs can be incorporated into traditional large-scale clothing production. The machine-knitted tactile textiles are soft, stretchable, breathable, and can take a wide range of forms.
"Traditionally it's been hard to develop a mass-production wearable that provides high-accuracy data across a large number of sensors," says Luo, lead author on a new paper about the project that is appearing in this month's edition of Nature Electronics. "When you manufacture lots of sensor arrays, some of them will not work and some of them will work worse than others, so we developed a self-correcting mechanism that uses a self-supervised machine learning algorithm to recognize and adjust when certain sensors in the design are off-base."
The team's clothes have a range of capabilities. Their socks predict motion by looking at how different sequences of tactile footprints correlate to different poses as the user transitions from one pose to another. The full-sized vest can also detect the wearers' pose, activity, and the texture of the contacted surfaces.
The authors imagine a coach using the sensor to analyze people's postures and give suggestions on improvement. It could also be used by an experienced athlete to record their posture so that beginners can learn from them. In the long term, they even imagine that robots could be trained to learn how to do different activities using data from the wearables.
"Imagine robots that are no longer tactilely blind, and that have 'skins' that can provide tactile sensing just like we have as humans," says corresponding author Wan Shou, a postdoc at CSAIL. "Clothing with high-resolution tactile sensing opens up a lot of exciting new application areas for researchers to explore in the years to come."
The paper was co-written by MIT professors Antonio Torralba, Wojciech Matusik, and Tomás Palacios, alongside PhD students Yunzhu Li, Pratyusha Sharma, and Beichen Li; postdoc Kui Wu; and research engineer Michael Foshey.
The work was partially funded by Toyota Research Institute.