The Flick Of A Switch

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Of all the ways to break through the cacophony of a newsroom today, a sure way to get everybody’s attention would be the steady clacking of a typewriter.

In the opening of the winning entry in the Atlantic Council Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security’s Art of Future Warfare project “Great War” writing contest, Nikolas Katsimpras sets a reporter to work by candlelight on a typewriter while a lifeless computer sits useless alongside. The reason why is darker than any of the shadows in that newsroom of tomorrow.

The contest sought out a journalistic account of the outbreak of the next great-power conflict, tied to the 100-year anniversary of the outbreak of World War I. His story, “Coffee, Wi-Fi and the Moon,” brought together great power rivalry for off-Earth resources, cyber vulnerabilities of the most strategic and yet personal kind, as well as other technological dynamics. This hybrid digital-analog expression of a worrisome future conflict could quickly lead to, as he put it in an interview, “a life of blank screens.”

“The progress of the past decades could be taken away with the flick of a switch,” he said.

The story presented a way to create discourse on both the behavioral and technical facets of technological risks and benefits. “Security comes down to culture and people,” he said. For all the vulnerabilities associated with interdependency and connectedness, there are also great possibilities, Katsimpras pointed out, such as tackling global problems such as climate change. “Cyber is a very tangible way to discuss this,” he said. As well, it offers opportunities to explore how to bring in more commercial technology-sector expertise into the national security community. “I have been completely blown away by the brilliance and creativity of the people in tech,” he said.

“Coffee, Wi-Fi and the Moon” began with a series of articles, concepts and ideas, such as Wi-Fi vulnerabilities and the potential of lunar mining, which he linked to larger themes and issues, including his experience seeing how policy issues that need rational solutions, like how to respond to an aggressive Russia, often get emotional responses instead. “With the creative process, you synthesize … it’s organic,” he said.

Katsimpras also found inspiration in his service of nearly a decade as an officer in the Greek Navy. As well, his work as a technologist and his academic interests came into play. Currently, Katsimpras teaches conflict resolution and negotiation at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and Columbia University while also consulting in the technology sector. However, he certainly had to stretch his imagination, particularly as he admitted he was totally unfamiliar with a key technology in the story. “I’ve never used a typewriter,” he said.

Let us hope Katsimpras is never forced to learn how to use one by candlelight.

Read the story, “Coffee, Wi-Fi and the Moon,” at ArtofFutureWarfare.org.