Knopf; randomhouse.com; 336 pages; $26.95
Amid the sea of information technology and computer books destined to line the shelves of security professionals, this one is uniquely crafted to aid truly long-term planning. Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and Council on Foreign Relations Fellow Jared Cohen have joined forces to bravely forecast how the new digital age will shape virtually everything we become and do. Digesting these projections can’t fail to produce deep-seated feelings of hope, excitement, horror, and dread in the reader.
Personal and professional pursuits are both addressed here, although most topics will command high interest from security officials, particularly those involved in international affairs. After covering the pervasive changes connectivity will likely bring to our identities, citizenship, and reporting, the authors describe timely and realistic scenarios showing how the digital age will impact the roles of states, the advent and resolution of revolutions, the conduct of terrorism, the dynamics of conflict and combat, and—most hopefully—the labor of reconstruction. Each chapter is filled with plausible challenges and dilemmas that will cause readers to alternately smile with relief at solutions to long-standing problems and shake their heads in dismay at how situations can deteriorate.
The most disturbing passage deals with bureaucratic branches focused on “hidden people.” “If you don’t have any registered social-networking profiles or mobile subscriptions,” the authors warn, “and on-line references to you are unusually hard to find, you might be considered a candidate for such a registry. You might be subjected to a strict set of new regulations that includes rigorous airport screening or even travel restrictions.”
The projections in this book may or may not be borne out over time but, nevertheless, the volume assuredly stands for now as a frank and comprehensive look at the digital age from the perspective of two prominent leaders of it. While one may justifiably suspect that these two Google executives (Cohen is also director of Google ideas) may want to paint a rosy picture of a future enveloped in virtual reality, their portrayal is honest and candid.
As far as where to place this book on the shelf, I would recommend a corner off to the side but within easy reach, possibly near the dictionary and thesaurus. Like those two reference volumes, you may be consulting it right up to your final days.
Reviewer: Jim Dunne, CPP, is a member of the ASIS Council for Global Terrorism, Political Instability, and International Crime. He is a part-time instructor at the George Washington University and a senior analyst in the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security.