Editor’s note: Author and journalist Jamie Bartlett will be the closing keynote speaker at the Infosecurity ISACA North America Expo and Conference, which will take place 20-21 November 2019 in New York City. Bartlett recently visited with ISACA Now to discuss his outlook on how technology is reshaping society, beginning with his contention that the internet is killing democracy. The following is an edited transcript of the interview:
ISACA Now: One of your books, The People vs. Tech, contends that the internet is killing democracy. What do you mean by that, and what should be done about it?
It’s quite a simple argument: that the institutions of democracy – the legal system, election law, education, an informed public willing to compromise – have been created for an offline world. And yet now so much of our political life takes place online, and all the systems we have to keep democracy running don't seem to work well anymore. And more to the point, in the future this disconnect will worsen. There are many things we need to do to close the gap. For example, we need to update election law so that all micro-targeted adverts are published in a national database so that everyone can see them (to end the so called “dark ads” problem). We also need to change our education system so it focuses more on media literacy and helping people deal with information overload.
ISACA Now: The dark net is one of your major areas of interest. How concerned should the public be about what transpires on the dark net on a daily basis?
Indirectly yes. Many millions of people have their person data, or their passwords, or other personally identifiable information being sold on dark net sites. This is also true for businesses and companies. This doesn't mean I’d expect non-specialists to spend every waking hour trawling through the dark net. But it is important to bear in mind that there is an always online marketplace in stolen information. There are sites that can help you check.
ISACA Now: Tell us about your role with Demos – what drew you to it and which aspects of it have you found most rewarding?
I was excited by the prospect of using machine learning and AI to build research tools. When I set the center up in 2011, not many researchers in the social sciences were using big data tools. This was very exciting because it felt like I was at the frontier of a new research discipline – social media science – and therefore able to help create the rules and methodologies. Others have caught up now, but of course new fields open up: like the use of Internet of Things data.
ISACA Now: Given the occasionally toxic and polarizing nature of today’s social media landscape, do you consider the parts that are problematic to outweigh the upside of social media?
In its current format and style, I’m afraid I do now. That doesn't mean there aren’t thousands of good things taking place, because obviously there are. But I think the cost of people’s focus, concentration, and willingness to engage in constructive discussion rather than slanging matches, has had an extremely negative effect on the health of our political debate. That doesn’t mean we should shut it off of course – but we may need to rethink the business model (and our education systems) so they encourage a better and healthier form of politics.
ISACA Now: As we near the 2020s, which cybersecurity themes do you expect to become especially impactful in the new decade?
Without doubt the automation of crime. Many industries are thinking about automation – driving, clerical work, fruit picking, factory work, legal analysis, even journalism. So why would criminals not think the same? They are always on the lookout for new ways of saving time and making more money. I expect far more automatic tools that scan and auto-hack software, more sophisticated AI-powered personalized phishing emails, and so on. This I think will change quite fundamentally how we understand risk in cybersecurity in the next few years.