Former White House National Security Council cybersecurity policy director Cheri Caddy ’90 on the pros and cons of new technology
Q: Are you optimistic or pessimistic when you think about technology and the near future?
I would say neutral. Technology offers an enormous amount of promise. Think about how the world has changed since the broad adoption of the Internet. It has been an amazing engine of economic development and global connectivity—one that has literally changed the world. Technology and technical innovation have been an amazing boon to humanity. That can’t be ignored.
However, as with any new innovation, there are both positive and negative implications. I would not characterize new technology as a net negative or an unrefined positive. Change is always accompanied by both. Take social media. It’s a great way for people to stay connected or reconnect with relatives, former roommates, or other people they’ve lost touch with. But you also see downsides, such as the loss of our privacy, new ways for criminals to operate, and concerns about social media addiction. Everything comes with pluses and minuses.
Q: You work in cybersecurity at a very high level for the federal government. How do you see quantum computing, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and other new technologies impacting us?
The emerging technologies that everyone is hearing about—quantum computing, artificial intelligence and deep learning, and 5G networks—are all very much interrelated. It’s been said that data is the new oil, AI is the refinery, and 5G is the pipeline. All of these innovations build on one another and create an interconnected ecosystem for innovation. No one fully understands the profound implications of this emerging ecosystem. However, we can begin to see some key themes:
1. The centrality of data. Everything that can be connected will be connected to the internet of things, and that means there will be billions of sensors every¬where collecting massive amounts of data. There are huge benefits from this. Connected car components, for example, can tell us when they need maintenance or are about to fail, saving service costs and even lives.
2. Security always lags technical innovation. Automation provides savings and convenience. But it means that fewer human operators are watching, and fewer operators—like a car mechanic—can recognize when something is wrong deep in the computer of a self-driving car. And newly connected things like cars aren’t consistently built with robust security to safeguard all of the sensor data they collect or to keep hackers out. They will be, but after self-driving cars are already on the road.
3. Government will be slow to keep up. The rapid pace of technical innovation far exceeds our ability to craft laws, regulations, and guidelines to require consistent and robust security and privacy controls. Many lawmakers don’t fully understand the new technologies they are being asked to regulate. And moreover, we have not yet come together as a society to agree on who controls data, the limits on use, and the requirements for security.
In the near term, we are going to benefit from some amazing new products enabled by AI and 5G, such as self-driving cars and self-fixing cars. But in the medium and longer term, we may also see data theft, security breaches, and integrity compromises. Such as hackers stealing sensor data about where your car has been, or putting ransomware on your car’s computer and demanding payment to unlock it, or even remotely taking control of your car and/or changing what you see on the dashboard. Consequently, I think emerging technology is a mixed picture. We definitely want to enjoy the many, many benefits of innovation. But it’s important to be aware of the downsides and work to mitigate them.
Norwich University Alumni Association board member Cheri Caddy ’90 has spent more than 25 years in federal nation¬al service, including appointments in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the National Security Agency.