Institutes & Centres
The Jeff Bleich Centre (JBC) is positioning itself on the frontline of this new battleground with a mission of research, education and communication on emerging digital technologies and their impact on our social and political institutions.
“Digital technology is not a discrete technological artefact,” says Research Fellow Dr Zac Rogers. “It is a techno-social and techno-political construct that includes everything from the way digital technologies play out in the defence and national security context, to the way people engage with these technologies, commercially or through social media.
“There are implications for the whole gamut of these emerging technologies. We include examination of 5G, blockchain and AI. We're really about understanding the social and political implications of these technologies.”
The JBC is named for the former US Ambassador to Australia. Now returned to the United States, he serves on many boards or advisory boards of international cyber-technology companies and think tanks including RAND, the US Studies Centre at Sydney University and Stanford University’s Center on the Advanced Study of Behavioral Science.
Bleich’s term in Australia was marked by the US “rebalance” to the Asia-Pacific, with Australia being the focal point for that shift. With a long history as military allies, it is not surprising the two countries are working together in this new battleground.
While the JBC has a strong research focus, it is also actively engaged with industry and government.
“We're putting together an education package for the Australian Cyber Collaboration Centre in South Australia. Known as A3C, the centre is based at Adelaide’s new high-tech hub, Lot 14, and assists business in navigating the cyber ecosystem.
“It is aimed at executive level people in government,” says Dr Rogers. “We’re expanding the concept of cybersecurity in relation to computer network attacks and critical infrastructure vulnerabilities. We're very much focused on the social and political implications of even using the internet and digital devices when they're working normally, before getting to confront cyber attacks.”
Dr Zac Rogers
While the dangers are all too evident and seem to be coming at us from all directions, solutions are less well-defined. There are defensive postures we can, or should, be taking. Dr Rogers speaks of a need for governments to build “provable provenance” into the information they release so that it can be audited when misinformation based on it is weaponised.
One of these tools is blockchain, a distributed ledger technology in which details of transaction are held in many different nodes rather than centrally. This creates a system that's more difficult to attack.
While its most public use is powering the cryptocurrency Bitcoin, it offers solutions for all sorts of security challenges, from locking away data to assuring that “provable provenance”.
Flinders is at the forefront of this research and has just signed an MoU with US-based SimbaChain to accelerate our understanding of how to harness blockchain to fight digital threats.
Dr Rogers says we need to change the way we think about everything from legislative and regulatory changes, all the way down to norms in industry, where we design these digital technologies in ways that do not leave consumers and citizens vulnerable to manipulation.
“The digital age and its ubiquitous digital devices and social media is all designed to keep us on these platforms. Rightly, there are big discussions around how these algorithms work and how they should be in fact regulated.
“All the insights from cognitive science have been deployed at the vanguard of commercialism and using digital technologies, and we've allowed that to just crash through the political economy. And now we're thinking about cleaning up the mess.”
Dr Rogers is hopeful that the community, addicted to its devices though it may be, is coming to a realisation that we can't just let the technology out and run wild only to worry about the implications later.
“We have to think about the implications on society and our political institutions and our democracy beforehand,” Dr Rogers says. “And so the shift is really in how we scale and deploy and develop technology per se, rather than the fairly laissez faire approach that we've had to date.”
Dr Rogers acknowledges that individuals can feel powerless but says the JBC’s work is aimed at research into ways to take back control, and to educate the public and governments in that.
“There's a techno-political script we're all reading from,” Dr Rogers says. “And largely in the digital age, that script has been written for, by, and about Silicon Valley, even as the one before that was written by, for, and about the military industrial complex.
“What we're really trying to do is change the script, and instead become its authors as democratic citizens for, by, and about us as citizens, as families and communities and as a nation.”
Article published on 13 November 2020
Decades of work trying to understand the social structures and dynamics of organised crime is now providing invaluable insights into the terrorist networks that have come to dominate security concerns in the 21st Century.Learn more
Artistic expression has never had limiting boundaries for Professor Garry Stewart.Learn more
You consent to the use of our cookies if you proceed.