The care of human life and happiness, said Thomas Jefferson, is the first and only object of good government. As such, governments – and the political institutions, legal structures, and economic infrastructures that support them – seek to apply all of the resources around them to further their reach and their control. This is especially true of technology: in every industrialized age, governments have used technology to tax their citizens, to protect their borders and their economic interests, to communicate and shape opinion, and to monitor their activities.
The continual challenge, of course, is how governments use such technology in the care of human life and happiness balanced against the tyranny and subterfuge that this same technology makes possible.
Unlike every other age, however, computing has changed this balance. At one time, communication traveled at the speed of a horse; now most every war, no matter how distant, is broadcast in real time. At one time, governments acted on information limited by the ability of human processes to gather it; now we govern based on an embarrassment of digital riches whose collection and visibility are not necessarily transparent. At one time the speed and the reach of political and military action was constrained by the movement of matter; now we may observe another human – or kill another human – a literal world away, almost instantaneously.
Anarchy and Order, presented by Grady Booch, is the fourth lecture in the documentary project, Computing: The Human Experience. Here, we examine the ways that governments have used computing to further their means, for good and for evil. We will explore how governments and legal systems have evolved not only to embrace computing but also how they are subtly being reshaped by computing (and in many ways being left behind). In our journey, we will see how Lincoln’s use of technology foreshadowed our present day governmental overreaching. We will consider some of the contemporary, pragmatic issues that computing presents, such as the legal implications of a first strike cyberwar policy and the very meaning of privacy as weighed against a government’s need for security., Finally, we will contemplate the future of governing in an age of abundant and relentless information that respects no cultural or political borders, leading us to ponder how to live as a citizen in a digital world.