Global Security and Society Institute

Our new institute for global security is a model for avoiding dystopia.

International collaboration on tackling global problems has never been more important, say Chris Husbands and John Dewar

The threats are huge, and they are growing. The technological revolution, which brought such huge advances in connectivity and communication, now feels intimidating. Our computers fill with malware. Our data feels unsafe. And social media has become a breeding ground for vile prejudice and targeted misinformation.

Last month, hundreds of leading technology experts joined UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in acknowledging one of the defining races of the 21st century: that between the vast potential of technological innovations, from robotics to artificial intelligence, and the capacity of a global regulatory system to manage the pace, pitfalls and politics of the transformation. The UK government also announced last week that it will convene the first global summit on the risks of AI this autumn. We are all worried, all confused, all desperate for solutions.

Around the world, the challenges are remarkably similar. Technologies are dissolving national boundaries as surely as they are threatening regulatory systems. They have the potential to deliver previously unimaginable benefits in healthcare, engineering and business, but although the technology might be advancing rapidly, human nature and capacity is not. More than ever, we need to think about security and resilience on a global scale.

The painful lesson of the 21st century so far is that every technology change brings not only opportunity but also the potential for conflict, coercion and manipulation. Rogue states, organised crime groups, scammers and demagogues have become adept at exploiting digital systems in ways that threaten individuals and nations, imperilling the resilience of the global data flows and communications technologies on which modern life depends.

We are vice-chancellors of leading universities in the UK and Australia that are deeply engaged with complex real-world problems, and we share a profound commitment to creating positive impact. For the last four years, through the challenges of the pandemic, we have built a strategic global partnership that aims to leverage our combined strengths to tackle complex international questions, uniquely combining advanced technical expertise with a distinctive humanitarian and social science perspective. And the governance of AI is exactly the sort of question we feel well placed to address.

We have outstanding resources on which to draw. The Cyber Security Research Hub at La Trobe University is a leading-edge research and development centre in cyber security. Sheffield Hallam’s Centre of Excellence in Terrorism, Resilience, Intelligence and Organised Crime Research, meanwhile, is one of the UK’s premier centres for research in digital resilience. Both will make major contributions to our new, combined Global Security and Society Institute (GSSI), which aims to bring together research expertise and thought leadership to help governments, agencies and businesses navigate the unprecedented challenges we face in global security.

We believe this to be a global first: a truly international attempt to draw together world-leading research centres with a network of specialists, innovators, inventors and researchers in areas of global security, AI and computer science – coupled with experts in understanding human behaviour. But we hope others will follow. After all, the really tough questions in digital global security are complex and cross-cutting, encompassing both technological and human elements.

The questions are not only about how industry and governments can protect themselves against ever more sophisticated cyber-attacks. They are also about how populations can protect themselves against attempts to manipulate and mislead them. They are about how mis- and disinformation is manufactured, disseminated and received. They are about the fallibilities of human performance and decision-making in high-pressure environments. And they are about what each of us experience in our day-to-day lives – our passwords, our phones, our bank accounts.

Ultimately, they are about the bewildering complexity of the unseen networks that bind us together. As opportunities and challenges take on an ever more international dimension, global collaboration within higher education and research has never been more important. It is critical that we all do whatever we can to ensure that the benefits offered by the technological revolution far outrun the perils of dystopia.

This blog originally appeared in the Times Higher Education on 17 June 2023. Republished here with kind permission.

One thought on “Global Security and Society Institute

  1. Interesting read. In relation to your sentence: ‘Rogue states, organised crime groups, scammers and demagogues have become adept at exploiting digital systems in ways that threaten individuals and nations, imperilling the resilience of the global data flows and communications technologies on which modern life depends.’, I think it is important to note that all states (not just ‘rogue states’, whatever they are) are capable of and have been exploiting digital systems for their own means for many years, e.g., governments use of global tech companies to filter out information which is contrary to official narratives.

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