Appeared originally in Lawfare, November, 2020
Code is law. Lawrence Lessig’s 1999 assertion was that in a digital world, programmers were scripting a values system into their technology, often in a fit of absent-mindedness. Twenty years later, the U.S. and Europe are living in the geopolitical landscape those early pioneers created. One-time plucky startups have grown into supergiants vacuuming up ever more data and market share. Artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming both an enabler for social well-being and an instrument of authoritarian control. Emerging technologies are transforming militaries, creating new battlefields and changing the nature of warfare. U.S. and Chinese officials crisscross the world in a geostrategic great game for 5G dominance. And social media has become a vector for bad actors—including illiberal states like Russia and China—to disrupt and degrade democracies. In 2020, code is power.
The coronavirus has accelerated these trends. The pandemic has fueled data processing in contact-tracing apps; exposed vulnerabilities in supply chains; created new dependencies in classrooms and boardrooms on video communications technologies; and powered a spike in anti-vaxxer disinformation, QAnon conspiracy theories and radicalization.