Physical and cyber wars

Yuval Noah Harari, the author of Homo Sapiens and Homo Deus, recently wrote an insightful post on why it’s increasingly less beneficial for countries to wage physical wars. This is distinct from cyber wars which are becoming more advantageous and hence frequent.

The reasons why physical wars are less advantageous today than in the past is because of their higher costs and lower benefits.

On the cost side, nuclear weapons, other chemicals, and drone technology make it much easier to kill very large numbers of people. And since more and more countries have access to these technologies, the risk of mutually assured large scale destruction lowers the likelihood that any single country uses them. The cost is simply too great. And it’s also increasing.

On the benefit side, economic power is increasingly shifting from the ownership of physical assets to that of knowledge assets. And the latter are much more difficult to physically seize. You can seize an oil field or a gold mine but not a search engine or a social network. As a result, the economic benefits of physical wars are lower than in the past.

The transfer of economic power to the owners of knowledge assets also helps explain the rise of cyber wars which attempt to cripple these knowledge assets.

That said, this analysis needs to be taken with a grain of salt because it assumes rational actors. All it takes for a physical war to erupt is a few, or perhaps even a single irrational actor.

You can read the full post here.

Also published on Medium.