Ep. 91: How the 9/11 attacks changed technology foreverMIT Technology Review editor and publisher Jason Pontin joins Rafe Needleman to discuss how the terrorist attacks ten years ago changed the direction of technology and policy development mostly for the better, but in some cases for the worse.
Hi everyone up to reporters' roundtable. Ten years ago our world changed on 9/11 2001 of course. Terrorists hijacked jetliners -- to on the World Trade Center they attacked the Pentagon and a fourth plane crash landed. Crashed in Pennsylvania. 2819. People were killed and since then politicians. And what we're gonna be talking about they technologists. Have tried to create systems and products and procedures to make sure we're never attacked this -- -- or if we are that we can recover more quickly and more gracefully with -- loss of life. There are positive effects all the changes that have happened since 9/11 and there are some negative ones as well and that is the topic that we're going to be talking about today with the really good -- -- think -- -- enjoy listening to very much. We're joined today by Jason content. -- is the editor and publisher and I just learned the CEO. Of MIT tech review. Which is a publication everybody should be reading because it is fantastic it is a deep. And intelligent look at what's happening -- technology right now. Jason welcome thanks for joining us. The surprise -- that later this year it's good to see you again as well Jason and I the reason I invited Jason in addition to the fact that He is incredibly smart and as -- rich historical knowledge of technology is that on 9/11 2001. He and I were working together at red Herring Jason was editor of the magazine I was writing little column for the -- -- catch the day. And it was a singular experience to say -- least to be out here on the West Coast while. Our country's. Was changing radically from the east. Well. I don't I I almost on where to start -- -- a holistic topics and wanna talk about here. What were the immediate effects of the attacks and in and in the world of technology Jason as you call. I remember one -- effects or you're an irate is that we -- physical stuff. In New York we had a New York office not far from. Downtown with about a hundred people at -- an -- center where reporters. And I remember that morning in world cannot buy my mother whose film and replace it crashed in -- The -- -- -- and strangle it to make sure all that. We knew where everyone was speaking -- ever safe. And throughout technology. That's happened on that -- -- people -- and -- loved ones with sick. Aren't there were out. On the plains across there was some quite famous executives from companies like. Kumar who are flying back from Boston to -- turns him from rogers' estranged. And Danny -- the co-founder -- I was on the plane He was killed in the attacks. And immediately after I I started after monolith -- a series of columns from daily columns -- focus for at least a month on companies that startups that we're working on either. Terrorism prevention. Mitigation. Communications rescue and recovery. Psychology. All issues related to 9/11 one of the first columns I wrote after that. With something. About I called emergency re -- -- because one of the things that happen on an eleventh was that everybody. Rushed to the few centralized sources of information out there on the web cnn.com. For example. And nobody could get anything because the site's -- overloaded and I -- I posited that why don't we use this incredible developing at the time peer to peer technology. So -- people can share developing connections with each other. And we still kind of we kind of have done that but not really so how has the web in light of what happened -- -- eleven become or not become more robust. It's a great question. So one of the things that happened on 9/11. -- than a current general. Civilization no cultural failure. And the organizational failure crop. Our institutions our intelligence is there was -- it was a failure of technology ripe grapes are we failed to detect that are people who are being slack -- -- getting on the plane. Wrong we failed to -- Detect them because they -- engine plane with weapons and an off -- Attacks -- there was success of technological that is the building's collapse. People couldn't communicate amongst the first responders but the -- itself. Collapsed in an interest in where you know and could -- us enough information. And a little. The lost decade there are being. Massive investments. In or the areas are technologically that failed on that today amongst them which was -- -- -- of Boston where is the -- any more -- today. We we think -- or six carrying much more bandwidth. But the truth is as everyone uses the Internet was developed for a very specific and it was developed for -- solution in the events already pay. -- -- -- and -- your past fundamental structural problems. It. Dust collapsed. -- -- massive use but most importantly your gore it's still tremendously. In secure. Answer one of the great worries that we how to how to -- -- not. -- like the -- has -- terraces on the cyber war that's our average club course while warning about. That's how -- itself made us more vulnerable to a terrorist attack. That hasn't been solved. And in fact I would suggest that as we become. More dependent on the web. -- vulnerabilities. Here are eight cyber attacks and perhaps even greater. But what you're describing is kind of the inherent value of a -- of a technology that boat that frees us I mean make it into connects us its robust it was designed to survive the the nuclear attack and the web itself. Might survive any nature of -- -- a specific sites can go down even if they're in very important sites can come and reachable. So you have this this. On the one hand on the other hand on the one hand we've got this technology that brings a -- -- a hand -- becoming dependent on it way into our week. Which side of the equation are we -- -- -- The democratizing force on the Internet has been. Particularly wonderful to watch -- the -- and -- -- has become more social are one of those who believes that the that the recent uprisings in the Middle -- the Arab street was if -- If not created by -- -- was made possible bargains -- that. -- the same time as we've moved more and more our infrastructure. Insert the clout we've become stationary dependence upon -- didn't. Also also -- Are there -- there actually isn't any good solutions emerge from making the Internet stable smart people here -- MIT which -- technology you're here. Elsewhere believe that the opportunity likely solution would really be to take those parts of the incidents that have to be hardened. -- military jargon and actually move them off the public instant. And -- being a tremendously extensive undertaking. Like all. Under extensive undertakings. It's like -- have to be a catastrophe. Like -- catastrophe Europe. 9/11 that forced us to invest in the right here on our defense and military technologies. So you talked at the beginning hear about the cascading failures that led to. And -- eleven -- failures of intelligence of communication of of of technology of engineering. Transportation you name it. Immediately after that entrepreneur wars and politicians of course that we're talking today about technologists not Mars changed -- -- they were doing. And they said we are going to help solve these problems like what -- some of the biggest and most important -- it's that companies or -- small made. In light of of the -- Extraordinary. Event. Says it's important to remember that the technology industry had. Was already under during a systematic collapses that port I think -- ten years since -- ticket for people who weren't working -- -- -- -- From -- has grown up that not even. And led to the collapse of dot costs in -- the -- of the stock market. Laws in march of 2000 when not -- -- was around 5000. So entrepreneurs and technologists who were already looking for new things to work call. But they would do -- the very time when venture capitalists -- -- to invest. New rounds of financing and start ups the public markets -- entirely key words. There -- -- -- 400 I appears in the first six months of 2000. And around seventeen in 2001. To this very moment -- An entire generation of technologists and entrepreneurs. We're guessing frightens. Matter -- ratings from Henry -- these US government began to invest massively. And a whole variety of technologies. -- technologists in traumatic -- -- -- people began to work on some users. Are every. Every long war creates a series -- new technologies that -- fascinate right in with the ministry specialists. Blogs because not eleven was such a technological -- area. There's a particular series off. Investments and innovations in technology not just run through refute the charges -- talk. -- you're MIT -- brooks atmosphere miserable offices -- founded -- -- that created a whole generation all. -- cool working robots. That -- being used in order theaters of war for a variety of things like. -- A -- demolition. But made their way into household products like rumba perhaps be. Best known integration of the long war has been. I'm honored to enter -- vehicles and armed -- error pupils well. But I think it. How the world of CNET and technology reviews -- the biggest single investment that has affected the lives of ordinary people. Has the unique in rich -- from my. -- the mining are. Unstructured. Data -- to extracts intelligence and real star. So you could work -- was a huge investment by the US -- in almost every field. From office to the CIA's. Venture arm in Q -- to -- -- -- defense technology research agency. Everyone began investing in data from my. And the idea was we could Begin to do. Quite spooky things like facial recognition. Like detecting risky behavior and that we would know. And some kind of magical. Way that bad behavior was about to come by and -- -- before Africa. -- -- -- More or less successful actually -- us government. But interestingly there's data mining techniques really did ripple through the entire -- there. Not can be found in almost every -- -- life and business. Now I remember shortly after 9/11 one of the data mining techniques that I kept hearing about was -- thing called gait analysis which. I don't know if they're using it or not but the idea was that as you -- walking through an airport or public place. If you were about to do something terrible you would have a certain -- -- walking there could be picked up by some computer and and you would be flag which brings up. The downsides the flip side of that this technology. And data mining I think is the best example of the flip side event of the post 9/11 technological developments. It used to be. When. Especially for police and even that's much for the military but for police when they were trying to. Find proof of a crime. Or track down somebody they would get a -- and they would tap into a particular. The stream of communication or transit. And observe for something to happen. Data mining changed entirely now that became. Second only in and -- sort -- out later. So let's talk about some of the negative consequences of this investment in particular technology after -- Well be great negative consequence shorting all. These new techniques and data mining was a progressive degradation all our privacy. And -- the presumption of innocence server. This seems to be a how virtual societies -- It's also a peculiarly. American products as well that's in periods of national threat -- us America swings despite its. Founding principles and literacy to pay a willingness to surrender or is this personal privacy. I just don't -- here just to be clear for the record you are in fact America yes yes okay I dislike it acts as Americans I. The truth will unlock the consumer education look -- -- our educators in person yet. We have a tendency to you. Overreact and there was a tremendous seriousness -- you'll you'll views or remember Dick -- 1%. Solution which was the I think it was a 1% shops. That the United States might be under threat we had to -- and take it seriously. Since using Sony's new techniques we've been -- serious subjects -- -- pay unprecedented. Degree -- experts -- And -- the combination of being able to combined data sets in real time and then identify risky behavior. I think customers -- if I can give an example that. -- many of -- -- will view -- loner -- still -- this came directly out our Defense Department. Recess so -- -- arrives here apps today are on your iPhone. We can do a very good facial recognition but facial recognition technology came right how to operate such. I can go out and take your photograph I can search through data center or pictures on FaceBook. Identify who you -- and -- with just one -- piece of commissioned a fair degree of specificity. Find jobs where you live. Your Social Security number. We -- X burners and raid that we were not -- and I think there's a society we haven't really decided. How we want to think about that policy we won't -- you were willing to sacrifice some -- of privacy for -- security. But I think the I think the average citizen isn't yet aware of how how much is known about them. How how easily turn beats out. An average citizen certainly where if He -- she travels and all of the what pollution -- -- security theater especially are especially at airports where. Our privacy our dignity is continually. Challenged invaded one would say. It. For what most experts say is a extremely minor may be -- the 1% gain -- are we making strides. In restoring some sense of control and dignity and privacy. Using the the tools that have kind of put in -- -- -- too far so far. -- go to the upside wouldn't -- senator. Inouye. It -- some of us are TSA has 200 airports because it's worse physical. Created a -- -- WiMax card should use it toward this lost. So what -- What -- I dearly like -- to do is walk Simpson Garfinkel. A professor enable -- -- crystals talks about talks about successive steps where privacy is on rail. So there would be either be -- -- This is -- -- new data mining technology secret. Could give us they would be risk factors and that's what you're require some degree when you give up some more your privacy. And then so more and -- wants more. What we what we do want to do is to carry a blunt Falls Church. Where that everyone -- -- the same degree of scrutiny -- all time. That's the instant access and will this processing power is meant to progress right right it was meant to provide -- networks in. I'm slots Britain's I'm right I hope -- -- getting to your swing back towards that ten years off -- off if there. -- speaking of smart networks one of the key technologies that was used an overloaded on 9/11 and in every disaster since then. Has been -- mobile communications network cellular phones. Cellular data networks and first responder networks. How have we advanced since then let's talk about the consumer. Wireless Internet first and then a wireless network first then I wanna talk about the first responder network has I think it's very different how are we doing. Post 9/11 on the wireless mobile network to. Honestly -- customer -- shockingly simple failure. On 9/11 itself where the police. The fire departments. And all the thrust -- simply couldn't communicate to ensure urban networks that they -- So the good values and the -- responded networks -- this hasn't been. Hasn't been fixed I did. They tried it to carve out a piece of spectrum. Specifically for first responders. They do do that -- -- will not work and are they now. Off -- off emergency provisions is the current concept where. We're back with would be cleared out. -- could be occupied during the disaster. But there's still not any common protocols. -- -- to consumers and second echo that the -- but actually the -- -- had a good job. So the ministry for at least the United States formed an entirely new job. -- -- -- -- Joint Forces Command in Virginia they have seen the lost -- -- very successfully. Merging the Marine Corps -- be Apple's the army in the navy. Eats into a single fairly effective fighting force which has -- common network. Are -- to members the software on this is cool the system of systems is the largest software program. -- and and it pretty much works by and -- I think for consumers ready for all of us how experienced the frustrations. All the sloppiness. Or wireless communications through on the one hand. I difference -- -- can do. More than. Ever before -- -- finally carry around in my pocket today fully functioning. Computing device and you can do all sorts of things right. Couldn't dream of 1010 music here. Barraza the same time this is highly dependent on my access to -- we've become so dependence on these devices. We outsource our intelligence to be a hive mind -- that that I for one feel really frustrated and -- make it. -- the network fails all -- solaris. -- all we have to -- all you have to do in San Francisco I don't know how -- in Boston is is make it try to make a phone call while driving over hills on an iPhone. To know that you -- at the mercy of the treaty tenuous stated and voice connection on the other and there are their hand though. In 2001 at least here in the United States we were not big users of texts of SMS. And we are now and and that does make -- a little bit more able to communicate yes. And -- -- so deep I guess they. The biggest social change -- currently -- lost ten years in terms of technology. Has been a growth in the variety. And the nature of of the ways to communicate -- -- -- increased use of tax. Sending. Images rather -- -- just found recruiter -- but also the group -- Social media arts international -- there are a bit about that's. My next topic what's that going on it because I think that is one of the most interesting social changes. Post 9/11 is the growth of FaceBook Twitter now know. Google plus. And all of that being mobile it has pulled us together in a way that we we never happen -- country before. I noticed is literally unimaginable fall people who -- say. Under thirteen or fourteen you described the incident was before with social revolutions -- what did you. -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- I guess it's been a tremendous. Change. I can't troops you know this is the result. 9/11 it's awesome nature truly an editor but I think -- -- -- writer Tracy. Saturday column where we claimed that this growth of social media was at least in some popular -- ray. I -- and cheerful. -- -- we want to to -- more actions. The reason why I think it came out of -- revenues are almost all the technologies that make social media are possible. They existed before. But is Clooney often on there -- people wanted to feel more connected. To communicate more they began to began to Europe. It has been deep -- extraordinary. Change and in my lifetime. Much more suddenly thrust thousand to easily. Into question the recent issue media has. Democratize communication. Has allowed people to communicate in real time. And in ways that they choose asynchronous like. Little tidbits this community. Remarkable change I think we're still still working -- to direct. What do you think it would. Be the effects. Of this technologies technologies as social technologies on. Our culture were there to be another similar type of not just. Obviously physically catastrophic event but socially. And morally Castro it. A centrist and center. And the most moving aspects of 9/11. Which is still. Terrible watchers to be here are on the phone calls -- that people -- made from the top of guitarists. From the fly to Europe through Pennsylvania -- it is heartbreaking. To hear from room. Not the right I don't doesn't look good but I don't think I'm gonna make it out but once she's in and I loved it and parents from their children. Sure confirmed that -- Love us for and -- each other. If it happened today. I think a lot of people were text each other in real time monitoring continuous updates but the truly shocking things that. Including -- much more traumatic event editor to data rate because there -- -- -- work. They were bi directional right you didn't want -- -- into another person but social media is multi directional. And they would have been thousands of people beaming in real time. These. Traumatic images from the from the top us so I I I hope that -- never be event again like it. Groups are not in my lifetime. Bus it would be much -- real. Then it laws are not -- ten years later there was a cinematic. Element to -- ten years -- I don't censor time. It looked like a horror or even if it happened today to be rule it would be close it would be instruments and it would be. Unbearably human. -- -- -- More cloverfield and -- perhaps that's right. What about other. And movement not to move off of that. You know. Extremely poignant accurate description I think but there have been other and He. Changes in engineering technology have we seen advances in the way in material science or engineering. Brought on by -- that they have made a -- safer more constrained more hemmed in either way. And for example they're building. You know the Freedom Tower it's from a radically different structure than the world trade towers it's replaced. Architecture has changed. Fundamentally the technology that allowed to change already existed -- -- Parametric design and say. System or software. And generic. Where the -- -- like -- by wire act in a plain -- where you high end or the engineering decisions about stresses. -- materials. To a computer that can integrate data suggests that human beings can't do you easily. The the physical. Are. Are -- for this change and architectural design also these strange organic fluid shapes. Like the freedom top. Like contraris. Bridges like the Disney theatre. -- -- existed before the Bilbao museum policy was frustrated won't -- but I think it's fair to say that. Parametric design had a strong impetus -- storms all. The often federally mandated -- United States that buildings be safe and you raise that they weren't before. And you're not look like -- -- and -- was a big change the the biggest citizens nonviolent and there was the Boston best of the US government made. In materials science. The basic building blocks -- up. All of technologies. A lot of this is perhaps happening right not frontier technology review we think this is one of the most fruitful areas of emerging technology. We didn't see it everywhere it's not just nanotechnology. -- received everywhere from energy. Where we can Begin to. I'm build batteries that can actually see if -- be used hidden costs like 123 systems batteries you'll see them Begin to be used at the grid level. I'm sure that we can store in -- recent energy. From sources like solar and wind but you also see it in medical care. Where you can Begin to -- deliver drugs specifically to humans. -- was one of the big. Benefits from me not enter and -- things that we can regress and fuels. Ambivalence about. Like the assault on privacy. But surely -- the good things that happened. While also there were hundreds of millions of dollars cents -- materials science and the last ten years that truly would not in central west. It do you think there -- any -- technologies that are in development that got. Yeah I -- I think the principal. Current -- of all the largest and didn't get developed just off Ericsson meteor actually off your -- is the biggest thing that ground -- -- On nine elevenths was investment in basic web technologies. Which basically stalks. We're only now moving into technologies like html five. That can allow you really dynamic human directed where British do you want examples and she -- and invested in four. Abbas and yes it'll shock -- ordinance to learn that to this day we don't really matter with any degree of specificity. Who is. Using a web site and what they're doing when we when they get that we use these very blunt tools on console. Or Nielsen. There are a couple well. Quantum based systems like -- -- costs that read we really interpret -- -- idea with the art show that to this is buried today there is no room. Currency in the media -- well fall. What needs -- -- and advertisers -- engagement of movies actually did when they come to website. With the option off the rest of the retired people were less and less willing to invest entrenched media. Never knew what readers were actually -- on web sites patent. Organizations that's different CNET has technology review as even the New York Times -- have been struggling to monetize themselves. Even while the numbers are -- are -- increasing dramatically it. So there are things that we were -- on working out and those companies just as yet been sometime between march 2000. I'm ascension in 2000 -- And arms straight she -- industry that you were not hurt workers perhaps it was -- results not. Sad but true. OK I'm gonna wrap up -- this final question Jason given the technology we have now everything that's happened since then everything's been invested in all political changes. From your perspectives at the perspective as the editor of MIT tech review could it happen again. Yes because it could it will happen in the same where I'm I think we have made. Good strides to. Protecting ourselves to some degree from the the threat that existed before. But there are all sorts of all the threats that defendant's patent. And ministry professionals and intelligence professionals have identified that we -- wide open. I I almost hesitate to -- them on a public networks I don't want to hear about guys in your ideas for. Really just your own name well. Today. I could buy it for around 101000 dollars on eBay a gene sequence. I -- I could create a recombinant -- That never existed before that we would be entirely and protect it I could create some code or binary not accurate where and a common and highly infectious disease -- the common code how did not pathogens stuffed inside the packaging like Ebola. And we would be entirely unable to protect ourselves against the -- We just know there are issues during creates a quick -- And there are bad people in the well we know from carrying. Red. Laptops while we've captured them were killed in Afghanistan -- Iraq who -- Dedicated themselves to -- -- of death. And to return ordinary human creativity. To -- new ways they can take technology. To destroy our technological civilization. I cannot end on that note from their house. -- lecture what's that. -- language here let us find -- torturing know there are a small number of highly motivated people who believe in a culture of death of course are there -- not also a larger number of at least as intelligent and at least has driven and at least better funded lets hope. And better directed people who are trying to make this a better place where people like that. Can't take root. So that's -- and that. The the culture well -- Technology. The system -- open inquiry. While. Discovery based research the technologies that's -- Built by defense and intelligence that are commercialized. -- -- -- and mirrors and opt venture capitalist is the single greatest force for good on the single greatest power -- security in the world. In the hands of our brave men and women they have kept us safe fall ten years. And I at least have confidence not. While there will continue. No -- to be serious and may even be the occasion all. The occasional small scale -- -- I have confidence that this is great technological civilization we have created will continue to extract human possibilities and increased -- happiness. Thank you Jason Jason content is the editor publisher CEO of MIT tech review the lesson to be taken away from all this is. We cannot rest but -- can triumph. If it works and it we -- Jason again thank you so much for your time it's been -- very fascinating discussion. Tech review of course can be found on newsstands in quality. New -- that are still around and also online at what is appropriate outcome. It's the lesser technology dot com Jason -- is on Twitter Jason underscore content. I can be found on Twitter -- find out what's going on in the next episode of reporters roundtable -- -- And percent -- Or of course on cnet.com Jason again thank you so much your time it's been a great discussion thanks everybody for watching and and we will see you next week and another edition of reports roundtable.