Skip to content

Cyberthreats, Innovation, And The Future Of AI

The keynote speakers at GSX 2018 discussed cybercrime, global expansion, and IT innovation, as well as how future enhancements to the human brain could result in grave inequality.

The Global Community

GSX 2018 keynote speaker Fareed Zakaria is host of CNN’s Peabody Award-winning “Fareed Zakaria GPS,” former editor-at-large of TIME magazine, a three-time bestselling author, and one of Foreign Policy magazine’s Top 100 Global Thinkers. At GSX, Zakaria opened the conference with an examination of important forces, developments, and risks affecting the global community, including cyberthreats, crime, and global expansion and outsourcing.

How are identity politics playing into the current U.S. political landscape?

A: What’s happened is that over the last 30 years, we have seen a decline in economic identity and a rise in other forms of identity. When you look back 30 years, it was pretty easy to tell how someone would vote—if they were working class they would vote left of center, if they were white collar they voted conservative. Now it’s all mixed up. The most powerful predictors of voting over the last 20 years have not been economic, they have been attitudes on abortion, gays, or immigration. That’s why you see working class people vote right, and very rich college-educated professionals who are voting left—they are voting their cultural or social identity, and that’s something different. What makes this very hard is those are issues on which it’s harder to compromise. If one side wants no taxes and the other does, there’s a point in the middle. How do you find that middle point on abortion or gay rights? These are all or nothing for both sides.

This increasing sense of tribalism feels troubling—is it something that we can bounce back from?

A: I think in America I’m optimistic. It’s a bigger challenge in Europe. The first thing to acknowledge is that there has been a lot of immigration. In 1975, the number of foreign-born people in the United States was about 5 percent. It’s now about 15 percent. And it’s the same numbers for Europe, in fact slightly higher. Some of our immigration comes from Mexico, and that’s close to the border, so assimilation doesn’t happen as quickly. These are real issues. 

In the United States’ case, we’ve been here before. We are used to having waves of immigration. What we should recognize is this is what distinguishes America from every other rich country in the world. We have this incredible inflow of hardworking, young, bright people who want to do whatever they can to make the American dream, and that produces incredible vitality. That’s why we grow faster than Europe or Japan. We do need assimilation. It is important that when people come into the country, there’s an effort made to do that. 

Part of it is societal—the government doesn’t have to do everything, but there should be government programs that do more. There needs to be an emphasis on making sure that people not just speak English but are given the education to do so. It’s well to say people should learn English, but in poorer areas particularly, you’ve got to facilitate that. 

Europe faces a real challenge because it does not have traditional assimilation in the same way we do. And yet it has the same number of foreign-born people as in the United States—parts of northern Europe have more. That’s going to be a real challenge and I wish them well. 

The tragedy is that we’re having this big anti-immigration backlash in America, where we do immigration really well. We’re the envy of the rest of the world.

What emerging threats are you keeping an eye on?

A: The cyberwar issue is the one I worry the most about. It’s absolutely clear it’s getting worse, not better—more countries have the capacity to do serious cyberwar. It’s one of these cases where you can say, we should give more resources to it. How does that change the fact that 10 guys in a basement somewhere can shut down a banking system? An electric grid? That’s the part I think we really need to think through. It does feel like to me we need a greater deal of international cooperation—an agreement on some rules of the road so that we all agree there’s a certain amount of activity that’s tolerated and the lines that cannot be crossed. We’re very far from that right now.


Security and International Warfare

U.S. Air Force General Brad Spacy delivered a keynote speech at GSX 2018 highlighting the challenges the military arm has faced from a security and international warfare perspective, as well as the changing landscape of solutions to address them. He spoke to Security Management about this and the AFWERX Challenge, a $2 billion entrepreneurial contest encouraging innovation among airmen, industry, and the private sector. 

In your keynote, you said that “as technology advances, the enemy is advancing as well.” How has the Air Force kept up with technological transformation, and how are you using your partners to do that?

A: It’s a wide question. We’ve kept up—I think barely kept ahead. We plan, we practice, but fortunately technology and strategies and tactics that have been leveraged against us haven’t evolved that greatly over time. They have come incrementally, and we’ve been able to absorb them, address them, adapt, and respond—so that’s a luxury we’ve had for the last 30 years that I don’t think we’ll have in the future. And that’s where I see the real challenge for anybody—in the broader strategic defense community, certainly—but specifically in the security world. We’ve got to think differently. 

How will the approach to physical security for the Air Force change with future warfare tactics, including cyber—are you going to be looking for ways of changing the perimeter and rethinking where your assets are located?

A: The answer is yes. It’s going to change everything. I’m a physical security guy, that’s what I’ve been doing for 30 years, but we have to quit thinking in terms of weapons, guns, blockades, and roads. You have to still think of those, but you have to think of how they connect to the rest of the weapons system. 

Cyber is one of the new weapons to be used by us or against us, so you have to adjust your perimeter to be more than a physical perimeter. Now it’s a virtual perimeter, it’s connected and talks to the physical perimeter and talks to the airmen or the security person. And when I say talk, I hope as we go toward the future it won’t be talking anymore, it will be thinking. They call it the “shared consciousness of thought,” because decisions and information are going to transmit so quickly—it already is transmitting so quickly—that the physical security world has to be completely integrated into that environment. So it’s changing how we define physical security. 

What is the Air Force doing to try to recruit innovators and get them involved in AFWERX? 

A: We can bring them in young, and pretty blank. They just have to have an aptitude. We’re going to teach. We’re going to mold them into that professional that we want. We’re going to get them the training. I used to run the [Air Force] wing that owns cyber training. We teach [recruits] systems from the very beginning—from their professional birth. So that’s a big advantage we actually have over industry, because not all industry grabs them that young and does the training. They want some experience, and to me that’s a disadvantage industry has. 

Now the challenge for us is that we train these great people up, and we’re good at it—I’m bragging, but we just are. But then industry wants to steal them away. So our challenge isn’t as much building them or recruiting them, as it is keeping them. We offer a different lifestyle; we’re not going to make you rich, but we offer a rich life.

Besides industry, who are the nontraditional partners that the AFWERX challenge is targeting?

A: These are the big thinkers, these are the individuals that are walking around out there with a great idea, they now have a place to go. 

I am so excited about AFWERX. We’re leveraging AFWERX to find those thinkers, marry them with industry, and tackle our problems. All we have to give is our problems, that’s the fun thing about it. And they will help us do the investment and find the people to put together. The frustration for me and many airmen is where do you go with that innovation? What do you do with it? What’s the conduit? And AFWERX is becoming that hub. 

And my challenge is to reach base-level airmen out there and pull them into the conversation. Because they’re some of those nontraditional contributors. We think of them automatically as traditional contributors, but we don’t always use them that way, and they’re ready to be used. So that’s what’s exciting about this moment in time when the Air Force has created this capability and we are leveraging it, and we’re excited about it. They are ready; it’s ripe.