Francis Lee
Associate Professor in Science and Technology Studies at Chalmers University of Technology.

Blog Posts

Cyber Security: For Whom and At What Cost?

Published: March 27, 2024

In the realm of technology and artificial intelligence (AI), we stand at a critical juncture that forces us to confront questions as ancient as humanity itself. The recent WASP-HS community reference meeting, AI and Cyber Security, I attended, brought these considerations sharply into focus, prompting a reflection on the dual nature of AI technologies for cyber security and their implications on society.

The age-old Roman inquiry, “qui bono?” or “for whose benefit?” remains ever pertinent. This question becomes particularly significant as we explore the advancements in AI, represented by entities like ChatGPT, which symbolize the potential for good, against the backdrop of malevolent actors like ChaosGPT—a chatbot that is constantly trying to do evil in the world. This dichotomy serves as a stark reminder of the double-edged sword technology presents.

These thoughts were sparked by both the keynote speakers, participants at the event, and Christofer Edling’s injunction to think about the cost to individual privacy, the erosion of trust, and the financial and ethical costs that building cyber security and surveillance systems could entail. These considerations are not merely academic; they reflect a profound dilemma at the heart of cyber security in our digital age.

We must force ourselves to hold two contradictory thoughts simultaneously: the need to employ cybersecurity technologies to defend against malevolent threats to freedom and democracy—in a world with constant cyber-attacks and misinformation campaigns waged against democracies all over the world—and the chilling prospect of these same technologies being used by malevolent states or corporations for surveillance and control, invoking images of Orwellian dystopias, or east german STASI. 

This leads us to broader, more existential questions about the society we aim to construct. Who benefits from the protective umbrellas of technology and cybersecurity? Is privacy destined to become a privilege reserved for the affluent and powerful? These questions underscore a troubling potential reality where protection and privacy become commodities available only to those who can afford them.

As we navigate this complex landscape, we must also consider what we are willing to compromise in the name of security. What freedoms, rights, or protections are we prepared to relinquish at the altar of cyber security? 

In grappling with these questions, it’s clear that our journey through the digital age is fraught with ethical dilemmas and societal implications that demand careful consideration. We are tasked with the monumental challenge of balancing the benefits of technological advancements against the potential for misuse and abuse. As we forge ahead, it becomes increasingly important to reflect on the kind of society we wish to build and for whom. 

The discussion is not about rejecting technology but rather about fostering a nuanced understanding of its impact. It’s about striving for a future where technology serves humanity broadly, not just a select few. As we continue to ponder these fundamental questions, let us strive for a balance that honors both our need for cybersecurity and a commitment to privacy and freedom for all.

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