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Frank Smith: Technology Hype and International Security

341 Eggers Hall

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Moynihan Institute of Global Affairs

Sovereignty, Order and Conflict


Frank L.Smith III

U.S. Naval War College

Technology Hype and International Security

Quantum computers. Cyber bombs. Artificial intelligence and killer robots. These technologies are often described as revolutionary innovations that will disrupt modern warfare. Granted, hyperbole is also contested as exaggerated and inaccurate. Yet the effects of technology hype on international security are largely unexamined. In this paper, I explain how discourse that evokes exceptional expectations about future technologies can influence international security, regardless of whether the hype is accurate or not. To show how, I extend the logic of offense-defense theory, technological opportunism, and technological symbolism, particularly as they relate to preventive war, arms races, and secrecy. I also examine empirical evidence about hype over quantum technologies, military cyber, and artificial intelligence. I find that this discourse fuels international conflict more than cooperation. Not all technology hype is accepted by audiences in the national security community, but accepted hype tends to be destabilizing.  

Frank L. Smith III is a Professor and Director of the Cyber & Innovation Policy Institute at the U.S. Naval War College. He is also a Non-Resident Fellow with the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney. His interdisciplinary research examines how ideas about technology—especially bad ideas—influence national security and international relations. Previous work includes his book, American Biodefense, as well as articles published in Security StudiesSocial Studies of ScienceSecurity DialogueHealth SecurityAsian Security, and The Lancet. He has a PhD in political science and a BS in biological chemistry, both from the University of Chicago.  

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