hoods in SUVs stealing stuff and espe-
cially food, with no police to stop them.
I well-understand this worry! I’ve
written collapse-of-civilization tales.
(One of them, The Postman, was filmed
by Kevin Costner.) Hollywood presents so many apocalyptic scenarios,
we tend to assume we live on a fragile
edge of collapse. But Rebecca Solnit’s
book, A Paradise Built In Hell, shows
decisively that average citizens—
whether liberal or conservative—are
actually pretty tough and dynamic.
They quickly self-organize to help
their neighbors. A quarter or more of
citizens will almost always run toward
whatever the problem is. Take citizen
response on 9/11, or when disasters
hit their neighborhoods.
If “affluent neighborhoods” want to
be safe, there’s one method that works
over the long run … don’t alienate the
poor and middle class and ensure that
the vast majority identify as members
of the same overall tribe. As neighbors,
we’ll come to your defense.
Q: Anything to mitigate cyber attacks,
including phishing and massive iden-
Sincere people across the spectrum
are right to worry about companies
and governments collecting massive
amounts of personal data on citizens:
from the ways they use their smartphones, to always-on mics at home and
office (for example, Alexa). Phishing is
another example where crooks use already open knowledge about you to lure
you into fatal online mistakes. We all
fret about disparities of power that may
lead to the “telescreen” in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. From facial
recognition to video fakery to brainwave
interpretation and lie detectors, if these
techs are monopolized by one elite or
another, we may get Big Brother forever.
There are forces in the world who are
eager for this. China’s “social credit”
system aims to the masses to enforce
conformity on one another.
In the West, most people are right to
find this prospect terrifying. The reflex
in response is to say: “let’s ban or restrict this new kind of light.” And that
is the worst possible prescription. The
elites we fear will only gain great power
if they can operate in secret, enhancing that disparity, because we won’t be
able to look back.
the ability of average citizens to self-organize laterally.
Use your imagination. The greatest long-term advantage of our kind of
society is that lateral citizen networks,
while occasionally inconvenient to
public servants, aren’t any kind of mac-ro-threat, but will make civilization
perform better. This is in contrast to
despotic regimes, for whom such citizen empowerment would be lethal.
Q: Some of your proposals are less fa-
miliar. You have spoken of “all sky
awareness.” What is that and how does
it improve resiliency?
Defense and intelligence folks
know we need better 24/7 omni-aware-ness of land, sea, and air. Major efforts
involve protective services and space
assets. When the Large Synoptic Telescope comes online in Chile, we’ll
find 100 times as many asteroids that
could threaten our planet, or like the
one that broke 10,000 windows in Chelyabinsk. Closer to home, dangerous
space debris should be tracked round
Similar technology could improve
air safety and impede smugglers by
tracking both legal and illicit air traffic. For example, the cell networks I
mentioned earlier could detect and
triangulate aircraft engine sounds
for comparison to an ongoing database, especially at low altitudes where
drug smugglers and human traffickers operate, or where terrorists might
attempt an attack, or detecting the
path of airliners that stray, like Ma-laysian Air flight 370. Imagine those
in peripheries like Canada, Alaska, or
nearby waters automatically report-ing sonic booms. Among myriad more
mundane uses, these might perhaps
localize incoming hypersonic weapons, of the kind announced recently
by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Sound implausible? In December 2018, a loose network of amateur
‘plane-spotters’ managed to track Air
Force One visually, during President
Trump’s top-secret Christmas dash to
a U.S. air base in Iraq. A U.K. photographer used these clues to snap the unmistakable, blue-and-white 747 jetting
Another method: revive the SETI
League’s Project Argus, aiming to establish radio and optical detectors in
5,000 amateurs’ backyards, spread
around the world. As Earth rotates,
these backyard stations would sweep
the sky in overlapping swathes, sifting for anomalous signals, but also
detecting almost anything interesting
that happens up there. Argus failed
earlier because of the complexity
and expense of racks of equipment.
Today—with a small up-front investment by some mere-millionaire—we
could offer a small box for a couple of
hundred bucks that could be latched
to an old TV dish-antenna, then Wi-Fi linked via the owner’s home. The
dish—plus a small optical detector—
could report detections in real time
and any pair or trio that correlate
would then trigger a look by higher-level, aimable devices.
Sure, most of the participants
would think of their backyard SETI
stations as helping sift the sky for
aliens. So? As a side benefit, we’d
become hundreds of times better at
detecting almost any transient phenomenon overhead, improving both
anticipation and resilience.
I can go on with a much longer list
of unconventional and generally very
inexpensive ways that very simple regu-latory or incentive actions might transform national resilience, making society more robust to withstand shocks
across the decades ahead.
Q: What about civil unrest or lawless-
ness if the disaster takes out or over-
whelms local law enforcement? Easy to
see gangs roaming affluent neighbor-
across the spectrum
are right to worry
amounts of personal
data on citizens.