Experts: Military still catching up to the benefits of the Internet

The Internet and related technologies will bring even more upheaval to modern life, experts say

If members of the U.S. military and their families have seen major changes in their lives because of the Internet and related technologies, then they should expect even more upheaval, a group of tech experts said Thursday.

The Internet isn't done changing the way people learn and are entertained and the way government works, said a group of panelists speaking to the National Military Family Association in Arlington, Virginia. The Internet will also create new security problems, as cybercriminals find ways to attack electric grids and water systems and as the Internet takes power away from national governments, said Michael Hayden, former director of the U.S. National Security Agency and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

"You and I haven't caught up yet culturally ... with what this delivers to us," he said to the crowd, containing many senior military officials. "We're still trying to cope with the full potential of the information explosion."

Hayden, now a principal at security consulting firm the Chertoff Group, compared the changes brought by the Internet to the European discovery of the Western Hemisphere. "When have we seen something so disruptive to practically every aspect of human life?" he said. "This is a fundamental change."

Until the end of the 20th century, nearly all the important players on the global stage were nation states, Hayden noted. In the Industrial Age, "practically everything in national life" re-enforced the nation state, he said, but the Internet has changed the dynamic.

"In this era, practically all the external trends weaken the traditional unit of power, which is the nation state, and pushes power down ... to private enterprise and pushes power down even to individuals," he said.

The Internet has been "incredibly liberating and empowering for all of us," Hayden added. But it has also empowered cybercriminals and terrorists who wouldn't have raised concerned for national security officials a couple of decades ago, he said.

Hayden and Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, also said they expect a growing reliance on cyberwarfare. The creation of the Stuxnet malware, which attacked devices used by the Iranian nuclear program, was the first shot in a new era of cyberwarfare, Hayden said. Many security experts believe the U.S. or Israeli governments created Stuxnet.

The Internet will not only transform the way governments wage war, but also the way government does other business, said Vivek Kundra, former CIO in President Barack Obama's administration. Kundra predicted "algorithmic regulations" that replace some traditional lawmaking by congressional bodies.

Smartphone users can already petition the government in a "digital public square," said Kundra, now executive vice president for emerging markets at Salesforce.com. In the future, algorithmic regulations will move faster than traditional law-making efforts, he said.

Under the current system, "a set of people get together, they have hearings, they come up with statutes and they assume that the world is going to get fixed," he said. "Imagine a world where you could have algorithmic regulations, where regulations could change based on what's happening on the ground, what's happening in the world."

Schmidt pointed to smartphones as the biggest technology change that will impact the world. There are about 1 billion smartphones in use today, and the number will grow rapidly, he said. Smartphones will have a huge impact in the developing world, he said.

"This is how most people will get education; it's how most people will get entertained," he said, holding up his smartphone. "These are magic, by anyone's definition."

Before the panel discussion, the National Military Family Association announced a mobile app, MyMilitaryLife, designed to help military families navigate issues with children, careers, deployments and other challenges. The app will deliver personalized information to members of military families, association officials said.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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