A.C. Grayling, renowned British author, professor of philosophy and the Master of the New College of Humanities, London, was the guest speaker at the third event of the Michael V. Hayden Center for Intelligence, Policy and International Affairs. Held on the evening of April 3, 2018 at the Cosmos Club in Washington, D.C., the event was hosted by General Michael V. Hayden, Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Schar School of Policy and Government, and attracted a full house of George Mason University faculty, staff, and students.
In his opening remarks, Grayling stated, “War is an outcome of the way we arrange our political and international events and not something that is natural to human beings.”
Grayling drew audience laughter when he alluded to former Vice President Joe Biden’s jab at President Donald Trump as an example of human tendency for aggression that is not to be confused for natural proclivity to war.
Emphasizing the intrinsic relationship between democracy and civil liberties, Grayling noted that “The sound of democracy is noise, discussion, criticism, and being hunted down by the press, whereas that of tyranny is silence, there is no opportunity for criticism or dissent.”
Hayden asked Grayling about his motivations for writing his 2006 book about the allied policy of bombing of civilians in WWII. Grayling responded by discussing the adverse extent of the civilian bombardment, declaring it, “a badly mistaken policy.”
The discussion featured a number of questions from the audience ranging from the risk posed by artificial intelligence systems to the possibility of an international convention on cyber space.
On the former, Grayling noted the distinction between artificial intelligent systems, which has to do with automation, and artificial general intelligence, which mimics and supersedes human intelligence.
“There are genuine risks, but there are also huge promises that A.I. might bring to us. We should be hopeful and optimistic about it,” Grayling said.
Noting that the U.S. had not declared war since World War II, a member of the audience asked, “What do you believe is the right feedback mechanism and the right level of support that the leadership should get from the government before entering into armed conflict?”
Grayling offered that, “at the simplest level, the government of the day ought to be authorized to take action in defense of the state, but to engage in offensive activity, there does need to be greater consent” that goes beyond jingoism and propaganda.
Regarding the present-day threats to truth and facts brought on by social media, Grayling mused that the greatest challenge of the 21st century may be how to control untruths while protecting the freedoms inherent in a democracy.