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Is this a threat?

When should a society be concerned about the security aspects of its innovation pathways, and when should it not be concerned? This long-term project explores this question over several technical areas (such as computing, synthetic biology, and cryptography) and in a variety of governance settings, including labs, student competitions, funding bodies, and national and international government bodies.

There is no easy answer to the question of when something is a threat. It is heavily contingent on how people imagine the thing to be secured (a state? a way of life? a set of values?), and how they perceive the boundaries of the thing that may or may not be a threat. The construction of threats is intimately tied to, and co-produced with, the types of society we want to live in.

Even talking about an area of knowledge or innovation as possibly threatening, such as by calling it ‘dual-use’, already positions it within some forms of governance and not others. Often, who controls the ability to label something as a threat wields significant power of the production, dissemination, and use of that thing. Other times, things that many people consider threats, like malware or global warming, are seen to be outside of the realm of control, but the tools to address them may do more harm than good.

This project provides a set of ways to think about the ways our objects of security (non-)concerns are co-produced with particular types of societies, and what that might say for our ability to actively reflect on the types of societies we might want as we decide which innovation pathways to explore.