Navigating the Crossroads: Technology, Democracy, and National Security with Miles Taylor


On this episode of the "Securities” Podcast with host ⁠Danny Crichton. ⁠On this episode we navigate the intricate crossroads of technology, national security, and democracy. Our guest today is ⁠Miles Taylor⁠, the author of "⁠Blowback: A Warning to Save Democracy from the Next Trump⁠."

In this episode, Miles and Danny discuss the challenges and complexities of modern governance, the shifting landscape of national security threats, and the role of technology in shaping our society. We explore the impact of generative AI on the creative class and ponder the future of democracy in an increasingly digital world.


This is a human-generated transcript, however, it has not been verified for accuracy.

Danny Crichton:
Hello and welcome to Securities, a podcast and newsletter devoted to science, technology, finance, and the human condition. I'm your host, Danny Crichton, and today I'm with Miles Taylor, the author of Blowback: A Warning to Save Democracy from the Next Trump. Just published a few weeks ago by Atria Books. Miles, welcome to the program.

Miles Taylor:
Hey, great to be with you.

Danny Crichton:
Now Miles, most people who have run into your work haven't run into it under your byline. So, let's just start at the top of the show here with a little bit of history about how you found true internet and global virality back in September 2018.

Miles Taylor:
Yeah. Well, I'll give you the short version. I'm a lifelong Republican who worked in national security. I went into the Trump administration pretty horrified that he wouldn't have a team that was capable of running national security departments and agencies. Ended up being more horrified that the president was mismanaging the federal government, which was an understatement. Sounded the whistle internally with an anonymous op-ed in the New York Times, basically revealing publicly what the president's cabinet was saying privately, which was that they were worried he was unfit for office. There had been considerations about invoking the 25th Amendment if things got any worse. Felt like the voters needed to know that.
But then as 2020 came around, it was clear to me that trying to be a part of the so-called axis of adults within the Trump administration was a very failing strategy. And I decided to unmask myself, campaign against him, and reluctantly entered the political fray. But most of my career has been in national security and technology. But yes, Danny, I have struggled to shed the anonymous label since that opinion piece. Although, some days I'd wake up and wish I was still anonymous given what we see in the news.

Danny Crichton:
Well certainly, I mean, the op-ed drove a lot of conversation. I just looked at it this morning and it got more than 13,000 comments, which I have to imagine, I don't know if the New York Times gives you any information, but I have to imagine that's among the highest they've ever had for a single article.

Miles Taylor:
I don't know. I think they said it was, at the time I think it was their most read op-ed in the history of the paper, at least online. And look, at the time I thought that was good because the point was to get the message out there. The point was to use the divisive anonymity to draw attention and get people to recognize that the Trump administration was not as bad as it looked, it was so much worse. And people needed to know that his own top lieutenants felt that way.
However, I will say that I've come to take a very different view of it, which is I actually think anonymity is a threat to our democracy, because Trump of course weaponized my anonymous moniker as evidence of a deep state out to get him, even though we weren't thwarting the lawful orders of a commander in chief. What I was talking about when I said internal resistance is that people who were regularly having to tell the president his ideas were immoral, unethical, illegal or unconstitutional, which was an almost daily predicament, is that he would cook up an illegal scheme. And that to me seemed like something very important to let the American public know is that the president's own people were struggling to keep him from doing things that would violate the law. And I think now with him facing 91 felony counts, it's evident that that was the trend line we were on.

Danny Crichton:
You've kind of migrated, so obviously you've published this new book, Blowback, last month. And it's interesting because subtitled it, well, there's two subtitles. You have A Warning to Save Democracy from the Next Trump, which is in line with the op-ed, but then there's this second subtitle of "a warning", and when I was reading this I was thinking this is a classic memoir going back in history, lots of comments about what you saw and the conversations you were part of, but there's so much forward-looking statements. You're making a lot of observations about the trajectory of the United States, its people, where things are going. And I'm curious both on the format and why you chose to go this direction with the book.

Miles Taylor:
Yeah. Look, this is not a political manifesto. I am still a conservative. I'm a political conservative, I'm actually kind of a libertarian conservative, very much small government, free minds, free markets, free people type person. But I do see Donald Trump himself and the hyper populist movement he created as a big threat to democracy. And I'm a student of history and it doesn't take even the most amateur student of history to see that this heavily echoes other dangers of populism we've seen not just in the past century. For 2,000 years, since antiquity, we've had philosophers talking about the dangers of demagogues and populace, and we're seeing that unsurprisingly manifested in Donald Trump in his movement.
Frankly Danny, though, I didn't want to write this book, I had no interest in writing this book. I have no interest in remaining involved whatsoever in electoral politics. I mean, my interest is in technology policy and national security. That's where I built my career, and yet the biggest threats to the United States are not the threats that I went in to stop. They're not foreign terrorist threats, they're not even nation state threats, they're internal threats to democratic stability. And that's immensely frustrating to me. But I can't let that frustration keep me from being involved in trying to sound the alarm about those dangers and to try to spell them out. And the point of this book was really not to have it be in my words, but to go speak to, I think over the course of two years I interviewed close to 100 ex Trump administration officials from across departments and agencies, spy agencies, cabinet secretaries, the Department of Education, all the way on down to ask one question, what did Donald Trump want to do in a first term that he or a savvier successor would do in a second term?
And just paint that picture for us and what does it mean for the country? And I think the conclusion from most of those people is that there will be an intentional weaponization of the levers of power in government for political purposes, which is not what we as conservatives imagine government should be doing. That's not small government, that's as big as government ... Because you could imagine that's using its powers in a weaponized political fashion. And again, folks don't need to believe me. I mean, these people who had been Trump's aids and lieutenants are cited by name in the book laying out what that plan is in a second term. So, I think it's important to sound that alarm because it does have broader implications, again for democratic stability, our role in the world, and the health and survival of the American Republic.

Danny Crichton:
Well, I know when Trump was first elected, I live in New York City, but I was at the time a registered Republican, and people were very frightened, people were very scared. And I said, "Look, government is hard." It's actually really hard to get stuff done. Rulemaking, lawyers are involved, everything takes a lot of steps. And I said, "Look, he has a lot of ideas. But to actually implement those ideas and actually graph them into the core of the federal bureaucracy is next to impossible." And we can even see this with the Joe Biden administration. But to your point in a second term, or a Trump light version from another candidate, there are tools that people are preparing.
So, I think of something like Schedule F reforms or changes where tens of thousands of civil servants could be reassigned into the political world, and so therefore be at the pleasure of the president rather than protected by the Pendleton Act, et cetera. And so, to me there's a whole toolbox of tools coming in for a future Trump administration where even if you could argue that a lot of stuff didn't actually get done in the first term, it's much more serious the second time around.

Miles Taylor:
Yeah, much more serious and I'm glad you hone in on the personnel piece, is if there was one very common theme when talking to people, whether it was Trump's former national security advisor, John Bolton, former defense secretary, Mark Esper, all the way down to the staff assistants that sat outside the Oval Office, that common theme was Trump realized people are policy in the first term. And the biggest error he made was hiring a bunch of establishment Republicans like me that were willing to say no when something was observably illegal. And in a second term he won't make that mistake again. He will hire much more loyal people into the administration, and the result will be some of the more objectable designs of the first term will be implemented. And that again starts with putting the right people in the right places, or the wrong people in the right places to be more specific.
And throughout the book, I basically go department by department and guardrail by guardrail to talk about what those plans are. And it's funny, Danny, some of those things as I was writing them sounded really hyperbolic. I mean, people were telling me, "Look, the president wanted to, in the first term, use spy agencies to spy on political rivals and he'll do it in a second term. He wanted to appoint special counsels at the Justice Department to go investigate all of his rivals." And I thought, these are very credible people saying these things but a reader would be right to question, oh, come on, that's over the top. He's not going to do it. And then true to form, Donald Trump has gone and said the quiet part out loud in recent months, and he's basically said those things on the campaign trail. And so, it didn't make it difficult to convince folks that was the case.
I mean, on the special counsels piece there was a speech maybe eight weeks ago as he went out there and he made clear he was going to appoint these special counsels to go after his rivals as recently as a few days ago, he said he was going to appoint an array of special counsels against Joe Biden and his family. And that again, that weaponization of the federal government is I think really, really alarming. It's especially alarming for conservatives who don't want to see it. And you guys are a podcast about science, technology, finance and the human condition, I think each of those categories is affected in a pretty deleterious way by any hyper populous from whatever side of the political spectrum coming into the White House. And I do worry about a very anti-science, anti-tech, protectionist administration being what we see in a second term if Trump or a like-minded ally retakes the White House.

Danny Crichton:
Well, I think it's interesting because I think a decade or two ago republicans were fairly pro-science. They were pro-industry, investing in that then endowment of basic science and research that created all these companies. And then there was this generation of social media, Facebook being the most obvious example, where Facebook used to get all of its exemptions from freedom of speech from the Republican side. And now it's completely switched on areas like Section 230 where it's the Republicans leading the charge against the technology companies, which is something that I never thought was ever going to be possible. And so, when I think about your background coming from the science technology world, national security, in that world it was really focused on external threats. Other nation states want to harm the United States, China's hacking us both to get private information as well as industrial espionage.
Iran is targeting different systems. You have North Korea breaking into the banking system, trying to extract currency. And so, there's just this classic intersection, and increasingly we're just at home. There's this debate of whether the technology's even helpful to us. Before the show, we were talking about 5G, but in previous generations of cellular technology we went from 1G to 2G, 3G, 4G, everything was fine. As we moved into 5G, the Wall Street Journal and others have reported about how dangerous it is. People are targeting antennas, workers are being hurt in installing them. And before I was at Lux I was at TechCrunch, which was owned by Verizon, and at the time the general counsel of Verizon was Bill Barr before I moved over to the Trump administration to become Attorney General. And that intersection of establishment, Republican, building infrastructure, focused on the next generation of technology to me is just disassembled. It is just disintegrated, and it's just an entirely different politics today around technology on the right.

Miles Taylor:
No, it absolutely is. And that was one of the first places, Danny, that as a Republican I started to get really frustrated is, to put it very simply, I viewed the GOP that I became a part of during the W. Bush era when I was in his administration, and then later John Boehner and Paul Ryan as one that was very supportive of free minds, free markets, and free people. And what we've seen is each of those pillars inverted in the Trump era and the post-Trump era, which is instead of advocating for an unlimited free press we had a guy that popularized the notion that the press was the enemy of the people, and really wants to use government to actively put a thumb on the scales when it comes to new media and old media on free markets. We've seen this bizarre turn of the GOP being the pro-business party to being the anti-business, anti-tech party, which I worry is really going to stifle American innovation.
And in a new age of great power competition, it's already put us behind with the fact that we've been consumed with that conversation rather than consumed with taking the chains off of Silicon Valley and remaining in the lead. And then finally on free people, incredibly Trump and his allies managed to persuade the Republican Party to go from being the stalwart defenders of the Western liberal world order and democracies to wanting close relationships with autocratic regimes. And we see these Republican leaders now talking about their affinity for Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin, and how tough he is, and wanting to reestablish relations with North Korea. This is very backwards and it's very, very dangerous to U.S. security and economic competitiveness. The one place where I'll add a caveat though is I think there has been a sea change in part on China. I'll amend my comments on Xi Jinping, and that's one place that I do think during the Trump administration that good people in the State Department and elsewhere deserve credit for is finally getting people to wake up to the intensity of the competitive threat from the Chinese Communist Party.
And that's continued into the Biden administration, and I think it's become close to a Washington consensus. We're not there yet, but there is some tide turning on that front. But bigger picture, yeah, we've seen the GOP turn against that. I want to comment though on what you just said though about some of the conspiracism overtaking our political discourse in this country. And a lot of it's on the far right, but not all of it's on the far right. I mean, we were talking about in the green room how politics is no longer a spectrum of left to right. It's this circle, and it's why you find people who say, "Yeah, I was a Bernie Sanders supporter, and I also supported Donald Trump, and I support RFK Jr." And you're like, "Whoa, political whiplash. What? Where do you stand?" And it's because we've seen, again, these populist notions really overtake our politics.
And a lot of those movements are fueled by conspiracy theories, which have their growth and their genesis, and a general frustration with the system, people don't believe that democratic system is responsive to their needs, and so they're much more amenable to alternative explanations for why the world is operating the way it is and those are conspiracy theories. And right now we see the bulk of those across technology, and people being very, very wary of technology controlling them, affecting them. And I think it sets the stage for a pretty dangerous new roaring '20s. On the latter part of this decade. I think we are actually going to see more people organizing not just their vitriol against technology, but organizing their violence against technology because they're going to see in their eyes robots "taking their jobs." And like the Luddites a century ago, they're not going to be raising pitchforks, I think they're going to be raising pistols. And it's something to actually worry about from a public safety and national security perspective.

Danny Crichton:
Well, I think a lot of folks compare this to the 1960s for a variety of reasons, racial tension, you have this overseas conflict, which was the Vietnam War at the time. Now it's sort of this China, so it's not an active conflict but an organizing principle to a lot of politics. But the violence is a key difference. In the 1960s, It's punctuated by these assassinations, Kennedy in the early days, RFK later, on MLK, you just go down the list, there's an enormous number of these. And amazingly, despite I think the vitriol and the rhetoric on social media, which just peaked both from personal perception as well as there are a bunch of empirical studies that show that just violent language online has increased over the last decade, that thankfully has not actually taken place but it's latent.
And that I guess, you were at the Department of Homeland Security, are we prepared for countering that? And how would we even go about doing so? Because I feel like a lot of these views are so widely held. The vitriol is not a small group of people in some bunker, I think Branch Davidians or something like this, but are actually they're emanating all around the country in all cities, all places. How do you even begin to confront that?

Miles Taylor:
Well, I don't mean to scare people, but in all seriousness the threat level's higher than it's ever been on that front when it comes to domestic political instability and political violence, and we're totally unprepared for it. And I say that having been at the helm of leading our defenses against those efforts for the federal government, and the data just shows it. It's not a political commentary about the right or the left, it's the data shows for instance that the level of chatter in terms of threats to public servants is the highest it's ever been in the modern era, and higher than it was post 9/11. In fact, if you look at threats to members of Congress, they increased almost tenfold from the period before Donald Trump was president to now. We are seeing a surge in threats. We just saw the other day a guy attempt an assassination plot against the President of the United States.
He was killed when the FBI went to arrest him. And we've seen threats like to Mike Pence on January 6th to his life. We've seen individuals show up armed outside of the homes of Supreme Court Justices. We saw the home of the Speaker of the House broken into, her husband beaten close to death, that was intended to target Nancy Pelosi herself. We've seen just dozens of members of Congress have individuals show up with guns outside their door. We saw a judge assassinated in Wisconsin, and a man showed up with a nail gun and an AR-15 outside of an FBI office after the FBI raided Donald Trump's home. I could go on, and on, and on. Statistically, the threat is soaring and we're really, really unprepared for political violence in this moment. And I was having a conversation about this for the book, for Blowback, with one of the people I consider to be among the best prognosticators of where political intimidation and violence is headed.
And that's Jonathan Haidt, he wrote a great book that I'm sure you're aware of called The Righteous Mind, about 10 years ago-

Danny Crichton:
He was on the podcast. Yeah, last year.

Miles Taylor:
Yeah, Jonathan's great. And his book predicted the moment that we were in, and I think it's very predictable. I mean, Jonathan will be the first to say, "Hey, I'm no Nostradamus. It's just very clear where these things are headed." And I've stolen from Jonathan this phrase that he used in our conversation, and I use it all the time now, as he said, "Look, if you think the past 10 years have been bad when it comes to social media vitriol and that, again, jumping the tracks to violence," He says, "If you think the past 10 years are bad, you ain't seen nothing yet." And I've got to agree with it when I look at those data points, and part of it is foundationally when you look at the wider population's attitudes towards political violence, that's where you've seen the big worrying sea change is there's a much, much broader base of potential radicalizable extremists.
When you ask the question to Americans, "Do you support violence against the government or political figures?" And depending on the poll, we've seen this consistently over the past two years, roughly one in four Americans have favorable attitudes towards political violence. It's a pretty stunning figure. And famously, the University of Chicago last year did the study that found that an estimated 30 million Americans supported restoring Donald Trump into the White House by force. That is a pretty breathtaking figure. So, you see data like that and you've got to assume, unfortunately, that if there are enough attempts we are likely to see things like low level political assassinations inside of this decade that could be the spark that leads to a wider civic conflagration. And that's the worry among national security experts is that there's such a base of potential radicalization, and we are seeing a lot of violent threats against public servants.
One of those is unfortunately bound to be successful, and God forbid it could become that spark that leads to more civil unrest. I'll add one quick thing to that, Danny. It's just one of the people I spoke to for this book is Fiona Hill, who'd been a senior advisor in the White House for Donald Trump for Russia policy. But before Fiona was in the White House, she was among the best experts looking at political instability overseas in countries that were hit with civil war and civil strife. And one of the things Fiona pointed out was a leading indicator of democratic dissolution overseas is what she called soft secession, is when you start to see states and municipalities create totally different legal structures and political structures from the federal government, start to separate themselves.
And we are, in her view, in a period of soft secession in the United States where red states are getting redder, blue states are getting bluer. The data shows that people are moving into redder states if they're Republicans and bluer states. And so, that's actually happening, but then those legal architectures are starting to get really, really different. And again, it's a leading indicator of worse things to come when you see that happening. And something that we've got quite a bit of data to support from international experience over the past century.

Danny Crichton:
Well, and I think about soft secession and this storming the cockpit, I think of Michael Anton's Flight 93 election piece in Claremont Review, right before the trumpet administration was elected in November 2016. And that was one of the guide pieces, essays that really helped, I think, a lot of folks understand that was this idea of the plane has been taken over by terrorists and you don't have a choice. You've got to storm the cockpit, you've got to take the wheel. And if that means you crash, you've got to crash, but you don't have any other choice. And I've always been bothered by this, because I always think of it as when I think about American politics, it's a prosperous country, there's vast inequality, but it's a rich place. There's money around to help everyone. There's a way to make a doxa common good going on here.
But there is this sense, and you can see it in the polls from Pew and Gallup, you can see it in academic studies where there is this coarsening where people are just running out of patience, they're really running out of time, so to speak. They really feel like it has to be now versus later. And that means that people are resorting to other tactics that they otherwise would not have done. So 10 years ago, 20 years ago, prior to social media you would go to a town hall meeting, you would argue, you would try to get stuff done. Now you see people just threatening. You mentioned a ton of these sorts of threats. I think of my parents were in Michigan before, but the Gretchen Whitmer situation in Lansing, Michigan, where a local militia tried to abduct her during the COVID lockdowns, where again, you could have had a debate literally 10, 15 years ago.
It's a passion debate. No one's saying that it would be quiet or demure, but you would have that sort of Norman Rockwell, I'm going to stand up to the mic and have a conversation. And now people are taking very different tactics towards those challenges. And to my mind, most of the national security apparatus that I'm familiar with is generally assuming external threats, people who come to the U.S. and are attacking it from internally. And we're prepared for that, we're tracking folks, we have a large intelligence operation to make that happen. We're not used to the idea that those threats are living next door to us. So, they've been here for decades, they're multi-generational, and there's no infrastructure because as you know, and I'm on the same viewpoint, the free minds, free markets, free movement, we don't track Americans by and large. We don't assume that everything you write in social media is your true views.
You have that freedom as a citizen. And so, now there's this tough tension of on one hand we want to maintain the security of the country, of its governance institutions, but at the same time that means corroding these fundamental freedoms because if we allow you to free associate with everyone, you have open censorship, it's very tough to balance those two agendas where that was not the case, I think 10, 15 years ago.

Miles Taylor:
Well, all really good points, Danny, and I would have to agree with them very fervently. And just from a personal perspective, and I may say this without anyone needing to have sympathy for me, but I am a cautionary tale of what that looks like. If I had quit Vice President Cheney's office during the Bush administration and gone out and opposed George W. Bush, which I didn't, and I'm proud of my service in the Bush administration, but let's just say I was an anonymous dissenter then and unmasked myself. You know what would've happened to me? The same thing that happened at Bush's former press secretary who turned against him on the Iraq war. People would've said, "Screw you," and I would've been ostracized from the party. That's it. Instead, on election night 2020 I was under armed guard in a safe house in Northern Virginia, alone, besides my guard, Dennis, with a pistol under my pillow because of the death threats against me.
And that wasn't me running for the hills because I was afraid, it was national security professionals telling me, "You need to hunker down because they're trying to kill you." That's what dissent looks like today in the United States. And it cost me my home, my job, my marriage, my personal security, my family's safety, and just going and speaking out about the things that I saw inside an administration. But my story's not unique. That happened to dozens, and dozens, and dozens of people from the federal government all the way down to poll workers around the United States who said, "No, the election was secure." And those people, unlike me, didn't have a career in national security to prepare themselves for that environment. I mean, I pity the person who would try to come attack me in my home today. They're messing with the wrong guy. But the poll worker, the local mayor, these people are not ready for this environment and that's really scary about this.
And most of my career was in counter-terrorism. And I will say there are incredible parallels to what we saw with the emergence of terrorist movements, even like Al-Qaeda and ISIS, which is if you look at the genesis of those movements they start with an argument, that the system itself is not working, that political change is not possible through the system. Once that notion becomes popularized, then it's easy to persuade people that the only way to affect change and get what they want is to go around the system. And going around the system, you can only do that violently in some cases, and then it becomes easier to radicalize people to violence, and then they do. And we're seeing that same process of radicalization, and you mentioned the Governor Whitmer case, it is like the exemplar case of how that happens.
You had individuals who are opposed to the governor's political actions, and you watch them, if you look at this FBI case, slowly radicalized to violence and decide, "No, rather than trying to vote Whitmer out of office, let's just kill her." And that became a notion that ended up, I think a dozen co-conspirators ended up participating in, and it's not an anomaly. We're seeing so many cases like that across the country. Now, it begs the question then, Danny, how do you address that fundamentally? And you have to go back to that first piece. If the notion that the system itself is broken, is what's leading to that pathway to radicalization, you have to address that question. And I want to say, by the way, for those who think I'm just talking about the far right, you can call me a both sides-er, because guess what?
This affects people regardless of the side of the political spectrum they're on. And people on the left hate it when I say that. And yeah, I go out against Donald Trump and the far right all the time, but if Donald Trump wins reelection I can guarantee you we're going to see the emergence of armed far left groups overnight that will go try to prevent the transfer of power to Donald Trump as president. We'll see this emerge on the far left, even though it's not as prevalent right now. So, it has to be addressed across the board. How do you address it? You've got to give people the confidence again that they should engage through the system itself, through the democratic system, and that means making the democratic system more competitive again. And I think that underlying notion is actually right, that the system has grown uncompetitive and unresponsive to people's needs.
And again, the data shows that increasingly the people who are elected to public office don't represent the mainstream. And if you had to put your finger on one thing, part of it is the primary process, is the primary process in this country by design the two parties have rigged the process to get more and more favorable to their candidates, such that incredibly you have a majority of the country opposed to the sitting Congress. So, roughly 80% to 85% of Americans believe Congress is doing a bad job, and yet 90% to 95% of incumbent members of Congress win reelection. In what other marketplace do the majority of consumers say, "I hate the product, but I'm going to keep buying the product"? Only a marketplace that is rigged, and it's only a marketplace where they don't have choice in competition.
And that's because 10% of the most ideological voters participate in the primaries and choose the candidates that other 90% of us have to vote on. And so, there are long-term democracy reforms that can start to make the system more competitive again and ameliorate this issue, but it's the type of thing that will take decades to implement.

Danny Crichton:
Yep. Well, as soon as you said that I was like, "Well, you've never bought internet access in your local community, clearly." Hate the [inaudible 00:31:48]

Miles Taylor:
A heavily regulated, totally uncompetitive marketplace is telecom. And as a result, unsurprisingly, we're stuck with these super shitty choices. And right now, it's a great example is like, Danny, I'm tethered to my iPhone because I can't get good internet service where my house is right now, and it's a good analogy for our political process is it's become one that's been so taken over by the two parties because blue states want to lock in their gains, and red states want to lock in their gains. And this is something that's happened over the course of 75 to 100 years is each of the parties have made it harder and harder for others to reverse their gains in those districts. And so, that's why you only see 5% to 10% of congressional races actually being competitive because it's almost a guarantee from gerrymandering and closed primaries that parties have a lock on the process.
And that uncompetitive system, of course it's pissing people off because their members of Congress don't represent the majority view, they represent an ideologically extreme view. So, if we don't fix that underlying problem we're going to be trending towards more civic instability for the years to come.

Danny Crichton:
Well, I will say, I mean, you mentioned about how different forms of terrorism align up, and I'm reminded of a New Yorker article book review earlier this year that was about extremism, and there was a story about Ramzi Yousef, one of the coordinators of the bombing of the World Trade Center in '98, who's in the Florence Supermax prison in Colorado, who strikes up a friendship with Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, and eventually they'll become best friends because apparently, I think as Yousef says, "You're the only person in the world who understands me." And I do think that we started this earlier on about a spectrum versus circle, but there's a bit of like, well, extremists understand each other, game understands game or something like this, that I think is really accurate.
But Ted, if you think about it, was anti-technology, was a bomber to try to fight this growth of technology in society. Let's project forward though. So, you've been in the technology national security world for a long time. We were talking about 5G under attack, mostly ironically from the left but also from the right. But as we go forward, we have this rise of generative AI, all of Hollywood is on strike right now, Warner Brothers is right next to the Lux office. I walk by the strike every morning. There's this huge amount of tension right now over the future of technology development. It feels like we're at a moment of change. How does this all come together? I mean, we're trying to redouble down on democracy and fix this democracy deficit in the United States, does technology have a role to play here? In some ways we blame technology in the first place with social media for causing all these problems in the first place, but do we see it getting better or do you see it getting worse in the years ahead, and why?

Miles Taylor:
Let me give you my optimist view. I self style as Mr. Brightside. And so, I'll give you my-

Danny Crichton:
I wouldn't get that from the book, I don't know. That's a children's book version, yeah.

Miles Taylor:
Yeah, Blowback has been described by a lot of people as a horror story, and I'm really sorry. It's not a beach read, friends, but go ahead and take it to the beach.

Danny Crichton:
Well, the colors of red and black on the front, on the cover give this a horror vibe, yes.

Miles Taylor:
Yeah. I'll give you my optimist view, but then I'm going to talk about the robot wars a little bit. But the optimist view is this, if you think really foundationally about why technology has amplified polarization, it's partly because of anonymity. And of course, it's ironic coming from me to say that anonymity is one of the biggest threats to our democracy but it is, because the ability for people to lob bombs at each other over a digital wall has made us further divided, we've hunkered down. And why do they do that? Because it's very, very easy with the relatively simplistic social media tools we have to dehumanize someone else. You don't see them when you're on Twitter, or when you're on X, or when you're on threads, or maybe a still photo on Instagram. But Instagram tends to be the place where we don't see as much hate and vitriol because it has pictures of people.
You actually see the person. And there's been some really interesting research done on this from an evolutionary biological perspective. And we actually talked about it a lot when I worked ... I spent a period of time at Google as their head of national security policy. We talked about the fact that existing social media tools make it really easy to dehumanize, and then people do, and they become more divided and they get in their camps, et cetera, et cetera. The way you reverse that is pretty obvious, you try to reintroduce the human element into technology. And again, there are these evolutionary biological triggers that when you see another human being in the flesh, you're less inclined to want to attack another member of your species than if you don't have to admit they're a member of your same species. They can't be dehumanized because there they are, they are human.
So you reintroduce those elements, see, and touch, and smell, and hear, and it actually lowers the temperature. And we're in, I think, a moment that's the pre VR/AR mass adoption phase where it's still really bad, but there's the possibility of putting those additional senses back into technology and reducing the polarization and the animosity. So, that's my hopeful view of what's going to happen over the next decade is we're actually going to see a push towards reducing anonymity online, and increasing identity and protection, and people being real, and actually seeming real, and that may lower the temperature. However, my big asterisk on this is at the same time we are going to see the extraordinary popularization or re-popularization of the notion that the robots are coming for us. And this has happened again and again throughout history. We go through these cycles that mechanization is taking our jobs, and the robots are taking our jobs and they're coming for us.
In fact, there's a great book by Henry Hazlitt called Economics in One Lesson that talked about this, but 200 years ago I think Frederic Bastiat wrote a book called Economic Sophisms, or Economic Fallacies that talked about this back in France 200 years ago, this conversation about robots coming for our jobs, and it leads to these mass political revolutions. We're on the cusp of another one of those, of people worrying about AI taking their jobs and changing the world, probably because it will. And my concern from a national security perspective is that the robot wars of the 21st century won't be robots becoming like the Terminator and trying to destroy us. It will be those of us who believe technology can be shaped for good and want to develop AI, and it will be those of us who decide to reject it and reject technology altogether, and that they've got to burn the whole system down.
And you're going to see, I think, those groups organize and go do things like attack server farms, and try to blow up cell phone towers and that sort of thing. And we've seen that at a low level in recent years. But I do think there's a good chance we see that spike in the coming years.

Danny Crichton:
Well, I obviously have been intensely interested in the generative AI model. And what's been interesting is because it's so focused on text, video, audio, basically the creative class, what I've been interested in is the urban creative professional is the person most under attack in this one. So in traditional, when we look back the last 200 years, industrial era, mechanization has been factory work. It's been physical work, labor in the modern world, not that anyone complained about laundry machines saving a bunch of time on laundry, but probably one of the greatest mechanizations and equality levelers of all time. But you look at this generation of technologies, suddenly it's the high paid design professional in New York City living in Brooklyn, where I am, who is most under threat because they're the work that can be reproduced. It's the strike right now, it's not a worker strike at the Ford plant, it's actually screenwriters in Hollywood worried about AI.
It is actors worrying about digital likenesses that allow them to copy a face, and suddenly you can animate a movie without the actor being involved at all. And so to me, what's interesting about the topsy-turvy politics here is I think the old line about history rhymes, it doesn't repeat but it rhymes. I do think we're going to have a huge response, but it's a totally different class of people who's responding. It's going to be people who went to college, got the degree, did everything right the last 20 years, they didn't go to trade school as mind over muscles, they're the ones who are now under attack with these latest technologies. And so, that's a very different view. And to me, the next decade is really what happens to the creative class. I go back to Richard Florida's the rise of the creative class, every city needs to attract them, it's about urban professionals, yuppies 20 years ago.
But now that may increasingly look like, well God, I was going to work as a marketing design director for advertising making $150,000 a year, and the AI can do it in seconds instantly with a beautiful illustration. And it's good enough that, hey, we had 50 people before, we'll just have two to clean up the work and publish it. And so, I just wonder how that dynamic changes in the next 10 years.

Miles Taylor:
Well Danny, I've got to issue a warning here, which is that I'm a WGA union member, and I can't even believe I'm saying those words. As a conservative, I never thought in my life I would be a part of a union, but I'm part of the Writer's Guild, and I think I'm very much in the minority of the Writer's Guild in saying that I believe generative AI is going to lead to a creative explosion across the world instead of a creative implosion. I mean, if you just reduce it to a math problem, the possibilities for creating new content are like a double exponential greater by using these tools. And so in aggregate, creativity is going to be put on steroids. But in the short term, that does mean that the existing order of individuals being full-time creators and it being a special class and not accessible to the rest of us is going to probably be detonated.
And I think it's an inevitability. I mean, there's no putting the genie back in the bottle here, which means we're probably going into a period of enormous tension of folks that resist the transition to this age. And not to get too metaphysical about it, but really what we have to realize in a century long time horizon we're going into is we are walking into definitionally a change in the species. The species is about to shift, and it's about to merge with synthetic intelligence. And by about to I mean, maybe we're talking about a 50-year time horizon there, and we can either pursue that with alacrity and try to shape it in a positive direction for the species, or resist it and face extraordinary struggle. And right now the fight with the writers is like the prologue to that story. I think we'll look back, if there is even a we that's looking back in 100 years from now, and see this as the start of a big, big shift in civilization overall.
And look, the writers, the actors, they're not going to win the fight against AI. And you know why? It's not because of the big corporations, it's because of moms and dads who at bedtime want to create a Pixar movie in two minutes about their child to help them go to sleep. And they want that tool, and they think that tool's amazing, and they're going to use it rather than waiting two years for the next Pixar movie to come out that a writer did, and a director did, and cost millions, they're going to want the convenience of instant creativity. And yeah, that's going to turn the whole thing on its head. So, it's coming whether we like it or not, it's just how hard are we going to resist it?

Danny Crichton:
Yeah, I tend to be a little bit more pessimistic than you are, but I am also in the same boat, but it's coming, and the technology's available. It's not going to be easy to regulate. If you don't want your digital likeness, but we can just invent one. So at some point, it doesn't matter if you give consent or not because we'll just create another actor, and you can invent the Pixar film, and that's what people want. And it's very hard to beat. Let's close out though. So, you've written Blowback, you're on the book tour the last couple of weeks. What is next for Miles Taylor, the non-anonymous anonymous version?

Miles Taylor:
Yeah. Hopefully just watching the American political system completely return to normal, and I can return to my normal life. But I doubt that's going to happen. I mean, outside of doing whatever I can to try to keep us from committing what I call civic suicide, because I do genuinely think, as negative and pessimistic as it sounds, if we put someone like Donald Trump back into office, which the betting markets at this very moment put a 30% chance of him being the next President of the United States, I think it's probably the end of the American Republic. And you can take an optimist's fatalist view of that and say the American Republic was always an experiment, and the idea can be recreated elsewhere. But I do think it's the end of this iteration if we do that again. So, I feel compelled to remain involved in preventing that outcome.
But in the meantime, my focus will actually be this year we're standing up a think tank, a policy accelerator in Washington, DC actually focused on this moment that we're in, not just with AI but with other emerging technologies, to try to make sure that policymakers are educated and prepared for the biggest tech disruptions that we've ever witnessed happening. And right now, I have a lot of frustration with how the conversation around AI has been handled in Washington, the conversation that we could have had 10 to 15 years ago and put the foundations in place, and we were woefully unprepared for it. And the influencer class in Washington of think tanks completely failed all of us. They're supposed to educate policymakers, prepare them for the future, and they sucked at it. And so, I've teamed up with a bunch of great people across the political spectrum, great technologists, to create an institution to really make sure, again, whether it's AI, or synthetic biology, or quantum computing, autonomous, that we are getting the right information quickly to policymakers.
And getting good post-partisan structures in place to deal with those developments in a way that helps us enter those moments without total catastrophe, without the mass economic displacement that leads to political instability. So yeah, we're going to be working on that, and I think it's going to be the great challenge of our time. So anyway, just taking on little things, like let's try to save democracy, let's try to save the species. And you know what, Danny, I'll probably fail at both of those but I'm going to have a hell of a lot of fun in the process.

Danny Crichton:
Amazing. Well Miles, thank you so much for joining us. Miles Taylor, the author of Blowback: A Warning to Save Democracy from the Next Trump Administration, or from the next Trump. Miles, thank you so much for joining us.

Miles Taylor:
Thanks, Danny.