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Rebecca Slayton

Rebecca Slayton

Science and Technology Studies (Interdisciplinary)
Cornell University
Fellow, 2022-23

Rebecca Slayton will spend the year working on an interdisciplinary history of cybersecurity expertise. Unlike engineers whose goals are more quantifiably demonstrated—a missile hits its target with a particular probability, computer chips fail at a known rate—cybersecurity experts cannot prove that a system is “secure.”  Furthermore, experts often demonstrate their skills in cybersecurity by revealing insecurities—the breaches, vulnerabilities, and threats that would otherwise remain invisible. How, then, do cybersecurity experts provide meaningful assurances to the governments, corporations, and citizens that have become critically dependent upon cyberspace? What does growing reliance on cybersecurity experts—and the multinational industry in which they often work--mean for state sovereignty and international relations? Conversely, how have the distinctive interests of various private and government actors shaped the development and practice of this relatively new field of expertise? The book’s working argument is that a new field of cybersecurity expertise established its authority by developing ways of making risks visible and apparently controllable—a process described as shadowing cybersecurity.

More broadly, Slayton’s research and teaching examine the relationships between and among risk, governance, and expertise, with a focus on international security and cooperation since World War II. Her first book, Arguments that Count: Physics, Computing, and Missile Defense, 1949-2012 (MIT Press, 2013), shows how the rise of a new field of expertise in computing reshaped public policies and perceptions about the risks of missile defense. In 2015, Arguments that Count won the Computer History Museum Prize. In 2019, Slayton was a recipient of the United States Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, for her NSF CAREER project.
Slayton is associate professor in the Department of Science & Technology Studies at Cornell University.

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