Google Ideas’ Jared Cohen shares vision of technology and geopolitics

        Speaker is first in series presented by new Kennesaw State TRENDS…

Georgia (Oct 14, 2014) —  




Speaker is first in series presented by new Kennesaw State TRENDS Center

Jared Cohen, the futurist who founded Google Ideas, wrote a New York Times best-seller on the new digital age and was among Time Inc.’s 2013 most influential people in the world, ticked off an encyclopedic array of facts and figures during his Oct. 7 talk to launch a new center at Kennesaw State.

Cohen was the first in a series of speakers to be presented by The Center for Transnational Research and Engagement in Diverse Societies (TRENDS) in Kennesaw State’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

In his introduction of the occasion, Robin Dorff, dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, said Cohen’s work and his newest book, “The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business,” reflects the importance of the work of TRENDS Center. 

“Jared has illustrated that the very important issues of today go beyond national and international boundaries and are very much intertwined with technology,” Dorff said. The center will use an umbrella approach to organize interdisciplinary clusters of faculty, graduate and undergraduate students to pursue innovative research and intercultural training that can impact global economic and civil society development.

Cohen presented a multi-layered explanation of his key theme: As more than 4.5 billion new people come online via digital technology — many in parts of the world plagued by instability, a lack of infrastructure, censorship, violence and poverty — they will be the drivers of innovation in technology.

“Necessity is the greatest driver of technology,” said Cohen, recounting story after story of people he had encountered in conflict situations, repressive regimes and impoverished areas throughout the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

In one such story, Cohen described how a young man in an African village without electricity invented a crystal chip that he installed in the heel of his shoe and wired to his cell phone so he could charge the phone as he walked. In another instance, Masai villagers in a rural area outside Nairobi, Kenya, where there was no electricity, created a method of marketing their livestock using cell phones that were gathered periodically by one man and taken to a hotel in the city to be charged. In Afghanistan, Cohen witnessed schoolgirls use Google Maps to map where bombs were falling so they could figure out the safest routes to get to school and back home.   

“The access we in the West enjoy is what some people would give their lives for,” Cohen said.

When the Taliban took over a village in Helmand Province in Afghanistan, Cohen said, under threat of death, villagers used their phones to alert people in the next village, not so they could flee, but so they could hide their phones and not suffer losing them.   

Cohen noted that many of the recent innovations in technology — he cited translation technology, advances in medicine, artificial intelligence, rote memorization — focus on how to transform relationships with people. However, when the entire world is connected, he said, the question will be how does technology transform relationships between governments and people and between states. The issues are more pronounced in conflict areas.

For example, he noted, in a very complex situation like Syria that is “catastrophically chaotic” and where there are Facebook checkpoints — people are asked for their phones and passwords. Cohen said a friend had been shot in the head for something someone else had posted on his wall. 

“There’s a robust cyber civil war with digital foreign fighters going on in Syria,” he said.  “The government is shutting down sites, and everyone is caught up in it. The international community has not figured out how to intervene in cyber civil war.”

When it comes to ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq), Cohen said the organization has simultaneously built its digital and military strategies to the point “where it is almost impossible for foreigners to engage with ISIS without using digital technology.”

While the technology has allowed a group like ISIS to spread its reach and made it difficult to assess the organization’s actual size and strength, Cohen believes the expanded use of digital technology “significantly reduces the margin of error for terrorists.”

“What’s new is that when terrorists make mistakes, they leave a trail behind them,” he said.

Citing conflict situations in Ukraine and Russia and international relations between “cyber powers” like the U.S. and China, Cohen noted a number of emerging global issues. Among them are the increased threats of national security leaks even more massive than Edward Snowden’s; the tendency for conflicts to be more adversarial and aggressive in cyberspace than in physical space; and the need to clarify what power sharing will look like in cyber space and at what point do abuses of cyber power prompt a physical response? He foresees the need for something akin to the Cold War-era Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) for cyber warfare.

“In today’s world, you can’t understand international relations if you don’t understand technology, and you can’t think of technology apart from international relations,” Cohen said.

When it comes to the issues of technology and daily living, Cohen, 32 and a new father, is concerned for the plight of parents in the new digital age. 

“As kids come online earlier and earlier, they’re doing things online before they reach maturity,” he said. “So we’re going to have to have the talk about online security and privacy even before we have the talk about the birds and bees.”

Kennesaw State’s new TRENDS Center is “designed precisely to capture some the complexities of the emerging global challenges Mr. Cohen described,” said Volker Franke, professor of conflict management and the founding director of the University’s Ph.D. program in international conflict management.

“TRENDS is intended to serve as an institutional incubator to bring together faculty and students in pursuit of cutting edge research to explore issues of governance, democracy, justice, and social and international conflict,” said Franke, who has been conceptualizing TRENDS for more than two years. “So far, TRENDS has been forming interdisciplinary research clusters in digital technology and conflict, experimental conflict research, and transnational migration.” 

The College of Humanities and Social Sciences websitewill soon feature information about TRENDS and how faculty and students can develop other clusters intended to tackle challenges facing a rapidly changing society and global community.


-- Sabbaye McGriff

Photo by Davaid Caselli





A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit