A Word from Alex | October
If Hegemonies Survive by Adapting
If hegemonies survive by adapting, risk management could be called the methodology of adaptation.
An eclipse event on the morning of a major battle so undermined the confidence of the mighty Athenian Navy, that they were routed by their less superstitious and capable adversaries. Their adaptation was to develop the Antikythera Mechanism, giving leaders the ability to plan battles around astronomical events with unprecedented accuracy.
It is unlikely that the loss of this particular preventative control—in the waters surrounding the island of Antikythera—contributed to Greece’s subsequent decline, but perhaps a nuanced argument could be made that the decline was accelerated by an increasing reliance on technological rather than belief-based systems.
While acknowledging that technology continues to facilitate much of what counts for social interaction, it does so on largely on a one-to-one basis, and irrespective of the constituency at either end, the technology itself mediates. This is the classic spoke and wheel model.
Beliefs by comparison, are largely autonomous, DNA-like mechanisms, where each of us has our own unique representation of what it is to be human, football fans, opera lovers, Catholics, or Conservatives.
Seen is this selective and self-serving simplicity, Artificial Intelligence can perhaps be seen as bringing an algorithmic group-think into the technological realm, or as seen in the formations of fish and birds known as flocking.
Flocking (in the assumption-riddled and tenuous way in which I am using it here) can be useful for understanding how systems of beneficial interaction can be established, maintained and enhanced to improve reliability and adaptability.
Across Europe during the era known as the Dark Ages, the technology-based centralised command and control models perfected by Rome needed to adapt to the ebb and flow of geopolitical flux bringing well-resourced Islamic forces from the south. In this legal and technological vacuum, a distributed risk management system grew, based on a shared set of beliefs and recognised interdependence.
At its Spanish frontier, using the English system of feudal tenure, land was bequeathed or leased to like-minded, proven defenders of the faith. In return, these new land owners would establish castles on the highest peaks, creating a network of reinforced lookouts, garrisons, havens for technicians and artisans of all varieties, with the logistical resources to maintain the local farmers in the event of attack.
The castle—and in time, the town that followed it—became the centre of self-interest for every individual connected to it. To stray, in thought or act, from the dominant beliefs of this physical safeguard was to put the known world at risk.
Recently, a drone attack using supposedly military-grade hardware was launched on the Saudi Aramco refinery with devastating consequences. Several years ago, MH317 was shot down over Ukraine, once again involving a non-state actor.
Today I happened upon an article by Phil Torres looking at Omniviolence, the name given to multi-vector, highly scalable attacks becoming possible with new and evolving “consumer-grade” technologies: think thousands (or millions) of miniature drones packing an explosive charge sufficient to pierce 9mm steel-plate and programmed to target people.
As always, risk identification and treatment needs to adapt to include the full range of reasonable threats presented by those motivated and resourced to harm.