Weaponizing Technology

In John Cline’s article, “What Is a Machete Anyway?”, he questions the potential of technology (the example he uses of this being a smartphone) to be as politically and physically dangerous as a tool like the machete. I think he’s underestimating the range of technology out there.

He references the “Arab Spring” protests in his article as one prominent example of weaponizing technology: where people protested against their governments using the organization and international platforms social media lent them. Those protests left a lasting impact on the political landscape on the entire region one can see today. But Cline seems to think this way of using technology isn’t as long-lasting.

Popular culture disagrees. A trend that has picked up in the gaming world is the use of hacking as a form of combat. The exemplary game that made huge waves because of this was Watch_Dogs (here’s a trailer.) It’s a AAA (which means it’s a big production made by one of the big corporations; guaranteed to be a commercial success) lovechild of Grand Theft Auto and new-school spy films in which the biggest element of gameplay is the ability to manipulate your surroundings using your phone. Most missions rely on the use of the hacking feature to take down whoever you’re working against. In other words, weaponizing technology is something that we as a society are seeing more often.


A more concrete example of objects holding dual purposes as both great tools and weapons is this: a 3-D printer. 3-D printers have a lot of potential to help a lot of people. Through the work of brilliant individuals, you see how objects made from 3-D printers have helped cut cost dramatically for items people need and to act as a method of teaching the next generation.

And then someone created another kind of template to use.



In May of 2013, a group of people created the first fully realized 3-D printed gun. Which had its glitches, but people have been improving upon the original design for the past year. I personally remember the outrage and disgust around the Internet when the news was first released last year. Every commentator said something to the effect of either, “Why would these people corrupt this amazing technology meant for good?” or “It was only a matter of time before something like this happened.”

And I agreed with the latter. Technology grows as humans do; it takes on different functions and shapes and uses as a situation calls for it. Objects, technology in particular, are never inherently good or bad, but they can be painted by how people choose to use them. Just like the machete.

Damage can also be given in different ways. It can be a physical blow, with a machete or a 3-D printed gun, but it could also be information, as we saw in the “Arab Spring.” So I believe that while Cline’s overall analysis of the nature of symbolism in objects was well done, I think that he didn’t acknowledge that damage goes by a broader definition than it used to.

We may not be saying “down to the Apple” yet, but it could be sooner than he thinks.

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4 thoughts on “Weaponizing Technology”

  1. Emily,

    Your examples of hacking as a form of violence and the concept of the 3-D printer are really strong examples of the tool/weapon conundrum. Like others have said, the line between basic function and human intention creates an interesting dichotomy, a grey area. I think the title of your piece is especially strong, because it evinces the evolution in human thinking, that what was indeed a tool has been transformed into a weapon of violence.

  2. I really enjoyed reading this post. I think it explains and represents its perspective very well. I also agree with the blogs position and think that the its examples are very well used.
    As a rhetoric major, it is always important to realize that with power comes great responsibility. I think that after reading this post, I would also agree that technology is a great and powerful foot forward into time — in the right hands, per say. However, the fact that technology can be used for wrong just as easily may be what brings an alert to our generation on the importance of morality.

  3. Good post. I tend to think that the iphone and social media and any other way of communicating are difficult to consider as potential weapons. In Cline’s Rwanda bit, he doesn’t mention that the attacks were provoked by a radio program (if i’m remembering correctly) that urged the people to slaughter their neighbors. The ways we use forms of communication aren’t exactly weapons, more like open contracts that can go unanswered. The Watch Dogs example is a strong example of direct and dangerous modes of communication. I guess directness is a factor in determining things as weapons but i’m not totally convinced. This is a difficult onion to peel.

  4. I enjoyed your references to video games because I do not know anything about them; I’ve only read about the potential threat on young minds whereby contributes to devious thinking & actions. These are also perfect examples of the combination of “sharp” and “smart” whereby actually produces digital sharp things. This could actually be a virtual representation, implication, and/or even symbol of the hazard behind smart things.
    “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility” is Spider-Man’s motto and the beginning of lessons on Digital Citizenship to elementary & middle school students as a way of provoking interest in the topic. However, I ponder whether or not this is effective in conveying the seriousness of how we should think about and handle smart technology.
    Professor C states, “the product of human intentionality itself is conditioned by the existence of previous objects” from which I perceive that pre-Internet sharp/dangerous objects are the basis for how we consciously and digitally interpret violent video games as the sole cause of devious behavior. In other words, since these video games incorporate the use of dangerous objects, then our thoughts are immediately shaped into thinking that smart technology, too, is dangerous. I don’t, however, want come across as if saying the internet isn’t dangerous but that the uncertainty of evolving smart technology is conditioned by what we can take from history.

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