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Is It OK to Use the Term Weapons of Mass Discussion?

At first, it feels like a bad, even offensive idea. After the shooting of children in Newtown, reports of chemical weapons in Syria, threats of nuclear missile attacks from North Korea, and now the bombings in my home town of Boston, why would anyone make a play on the words ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’?

Weapons of Mass Discussion

While technology enables new dangers, it is also increasingly our primary form of protection.

Over the last year, we have been using the phrase ‘Weapons of Mass Discussion’ as a way to capture the power of today’s conversational media – everything from Facebook postings to the Internet of Things. This editorial decision has always been a borderline call, and given recent events we were inclined to drop the phrase altogether.

But there is a reason why we haven’t. While technology enables new dangers, it is also increasingly our primary form of protection. In this sense, Weapons of Mass Discussion are one of the few ways we have for defending ourselves against Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Consider what happened in Boston. To identify the bombers, investigators used all manner of both institutional and crowd-sourced information – surveillance videos, individuals’ cameras, cell phone records, eyewitness accounts, forensic evidence, and no doubt many databases and profi ling technologies. Some of these tools clearly worked much better than others, and there were some serious mistakes – especially by the New York Post and Reddit, and seemingly the US intelligence community – but it was modern mass discussion expertise that enabled the world to see images of the suspects just three days after the attacks.

While 24-hours-a-day television coverage was the main way most Bostonians stayed abreast of the fastbreaking events, Twitter was particularly useful as a means for public officials to quickly refute the many false reports that inevitably surface during such chaotic situations. Additionally, the steady stream of tweets from politicians, athletes, celebrities and others around the world helped boost morale and spread the ‘Boston Strong’ spirit.

Mass discussion technologies also played a significant – if largely symbolic – role in helping people cope and start to heal. Within hours, Google Forms enabled people to open their homes to anyone who needed a place to stay. Google Person Finder shared information about the status of loved ones. That neither of these was actually used all that much does not diminish their calming effect at the time, nor their potential usefulness in the future – they have already proved their worth in Haiti and New Zealand. It’s good to know they are there.

We saw similarly instructive patterns in 2010 with the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. As BP CIO of Exploration and Production, Mark Bouzek, told us at the time, the only way for BP to coordinate the required response effort – involving 50,000 people, 7,000 vessels, over 100 aircraft and dozens of business and technology partners, as well as local, state and national governments and communities – was to use off-the-shelf technologies and a ‘Big Internet Café’ architecture. Only consumerization provided the required speed, agility and functionality.

As terrorism, industrial accidents (as we have just seen in Texas) and natural disasters will always be with us, our tools for coping will only grow in importance, and it is in this ‘fighting back’ sense that we think that the phrase ‘Weapons of Mass Discussion’ can be useful.

We have long argued that successful physical and information security strategies should be a balanced combination of People, Process and Technology.

We have long argued that successful physical and information security strategies should be a balanced combination of People, Process and Technology. The attacks in Boston have shown that our crisis prevention and response must be greatly improved, but they also showed that mass discussion technologies provide important new ways to democratize challenges and get the people involved. While we share the sensitivities, we think the term ‘Weapons of Mass Discussion’ serves a significant social purpose. What do you think?


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LEF Research Commentary – Is It OK to Use the Term Weapons of Mass Discussion – May 13

PDF (801.1 KB)


David Moschella
Research Fellow
David Moschella, based in the United States, is a Research Fellow for Leading Edge Forum.  David's focus is on industry disruptions, machine intelligence and related business model strategies.  David was previously Global Research Director of the programme. David’s key areas of expertise include globalization, industry restructuring, disruptive technologies, and the co-evolution of business and IT.  He is the author of multiple research reports, including Disrupting the Professions through Machine Learning and Digital Trust, 2016 Study Tour Report: Applying Machine Intelligence, There is Now a Formula for Machine Intelligence Innovation,  Embracing 'the Matrix' and the Machine Intelligence Era and The Myths and Realities of Digital Disruption. An author and columnist, David’s second book, Customer-Driven IT, How Users Are Shaping Technology Industry Growth, was published in 2003 by Harvard Business School Press.  The book predicted the shift from a supplier-driven to today’s customer-led IT environment.  His 1997 book, Waves of Power, assessed global competition within the IT supplier community.  He has written some 200 columns for Computerworld, the IT Industry’s leading publication on Enterprise IT, and has presented at countless industry events all around the world. David previously spent 15 years with International Data Corporation, where he was IDC’s main spokesperson on global IT industry trends and was responsible for its worldwide technology, industry and market forecasts.    


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