Technology shapes societies – and Supo strives to anticipate its progress

The mission of Supo is to keep Finland’s top-level national government apprised of current threats to national security. Intelligence must be proactive in order to help prepare for the future. Supo also endeavours to predict technological development.

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Technological progress has shaped societies throughout human history. It is also closely linked to their security issues, so Supo must also be able to forecast developments in technology.

The core mission of Supo is to furnish top-level national government with proactive and useful intelligence on threats to national security to substantiate policymaking. Supo briefings do not merely report what has already happened, because intelligence must help in preparing for threats in advance.

Supo seeks answers to complex questions, such as how the phenomenal power of quantum computers could change the world, and how the increasing relevance of the virtual world in life is changing security threats.

Supo maintains awareness of complex threats in the cyber world, and assists in preparing for them in cooperation with other public authorities.

The virtual and physical worlds are linked

Naturally the future cannot be accurately predicted, and social phenomena are often entirely unpredictable. Forecasting is a matter of perceiving alternative trends.

Forecasting work focuses on both the short and long term. Short-term forecasts may relate to months, while more far-reaching forecasts predict developments that may be even five or ten years away. The more distant the future considered, the greater is the uncertainty involved in forecasting.

Supo also monitors the megatrends that influence society extensively, and the impacts of such trends. Climate change and urbanisation are examples of these broad developments with a profound long-term impact on societies.

Technological progress is also a megatrend with a powerful impact on societies. The development of artificial intelligence and such features as high-speed 5G communication networks are already affecting our societies. 5G technology allows real-time network connection of autonomous motor vehicles and many other new devices.

This will be followed by 6G, connecting people even more intimately to the network as the virtual and physical worlds become increasingly interwoven. Future interactions may involve shaking hands virtually with remote conversation partners and feeling it in our own hands. Body health data will be monitored in real time over a network, enabling intelligently proactive healthcare. Issues of data security and privacy will become increasingly important.

5G and 6G network technologies also involve issues that are relevant to the security of society. We must ensure that the network necessary for the functioning of society operates in all circumstances. How can we arrange data secure updates in a network managed by artificial intelligence? Who can be trusted to perform such updates?

Quantum computers are in turn expected to revolutionise societies at some point, probably in the next decade. The power of quantum computers is many times greater than that of current supercomputers. For example, quantum computers could decrypt messages protected by our present encryption algorithms. It is no wonder that superpowers are strenuously competing to develop new technology.

Information is increasingly held by private businesses nowadays. Big data has become a major target of competition. Authoritarian powers seek to exert greater control over their populations by applying data and new technologies.

Forecasting requires the ability to examine matters from many points of view

Forecasting work must also consider a much broader range of issues than belongs strictly to the operating field of Supo. Broad thinking is important in forecasting. One strength of Supo is that the agency employs professionals from several disciplines who examine security issues from a variety of perspectives. A single project may involve social scientists, police officers and IT specialists.

Interpreting the significance of weak signals is a particularly problematic part of forecasting. It takes a special skill to predict that some initially innocuous factor will suddenly change the direction of progress.

Supo continually strives to develop more systematic foresight. Supo analysts regularly review their reports to assess how successful forecasting has been. Incorrect forecasting is not necessarily a sign of failure, and it must be accepted that the future is always somewhat uncertain.

Forecasting always involves a balancing and weighing of risks. While self-evident forecasts are of no use, it is harder to see surprising trends coming.