Fighting the threats of the future now

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Fake news. Weaponized narratives. Agitprop.

It’s all chatter, until someone puts down the keyboard, picks up a gun and walks into a house of worship.

How do you fight that?

Finding answers to that question was the goal of a two-day exercise at Arizona State University this week called the Disruption of Narrative Threatcasting Workshop.

About 50 representatives from academia, industry and the military broke into teams to work on scenarios and solutions.

“The teams are important because we are designing the future,” said Cyndi Coon, chief of staff for the Threatcasting Lab.

Threatcasting is a conceptual framework and process that enables multidisciplinary groups to envision and plan in a systematic fashion against threats 10 years in the future. 

The workshop was hosted by ASU’s Weaponized Narrative Initiative. Weaponized narrative is an attack that seeks to undermine an opponent’s civilization, identity and will. By generating confusion, complexity and political and social schisms, it confounds response on the part of the defender.

Efforts by Russia to meddle in the elections of Western democracies — including France and Germany as well as the United States — are in the news. The Islamic State’s weaponized narrative has been highly effective. Even political movements have caught on, as one can see in the rise of the alt-right in the United States and Europe.

“We think the way out of this is culture and values,” initiative co-founder Joel Garreau said.

The Weaponized Narrative Initiative gathers people and research focused on action against the "wicked" problems like misinformation on the internet. Software code alone won’t change anything, participants said. It’s a battle for minds, trust and truth. It’s a human problem.

The term “Disruption of Narrative” was unknown 10 years ago.

“Today, it’s eating our lunch,” said Braden Allenby, founding co-director of the Weaponized Narrative Initiative.

The teams used research syntheses from different areas of knowledge.

“It’s a way to gather the expertise from this group,” said Brian David Johnson, director of the Threatcasting Lab, futurist in residence at the Center for Science and the Imagination and professor of practice at the School for the Future of Innovation in Society. “We don’t want to make predictions. We want to get it right. We want to empower people to protect themselves.”

The final product of the workshop willl be a report that describes a scenario with a person in a place experiencing a threat.

“You’re going to be modeling multiple threats and multiple futures,” Johnson said.

Over the next five years, the Threatcasting Project will conduct interdisciplinary, collaborative sessions twice each year to envision and generate approaches to combatting future cyberthreats.

Top photo by Pixabay