The Pentagon’s ‘Terminator conundrum’: Robots that could kill on their own

The New York Times reports: The small drone, with its six whirring rotors, swept past the replica of a Middle Eastern village and closed in on a mosque-like structure, its camera scanning for targets.

No humans were remotely piloting the drone, which was nothing more than a machine that could be bought on Amazon. But armed with advanced artificial intelligence software, it had been transformed into a robot that could find and identify the half-dozen men carrying replicas of AK-47s around the village and pretending to be insurgents.

As the drone descended slightly, a purple rectangle flickered on a video feed that was being relayed to engineers monitoring the test. The drone had locked onto a man obscured in the shadows, a display of hunting prowess that offered an eerie preview of how the Pentagon plans to transform warfare.

Almost unnoticed outside defense circles, the Pentagon has put artificial intelligence at the center of its strategy to maintain the United States’ position as the world’s dominant military power. It is spending billions of dollars to develop what it calls autonomous and semiautonomous weapons and to build an arsenal stocked with the kind of weaponry that until now has existed only in Hollywood movies and science fiction, raising alarm among scientists and activists concerned by the implications of a robot arms race.

The Defense Department is designing robotic fighter jets that would fly into combat alongside manned aircraft. It has tested missiles that can decide what to attack, and it has built ships that can hunt for enemy submarines, stalking those it finds over thousands of miles, without any help from humans. [Continue reading…]


Donald Trump’s deep-seated fear of public embarrassment


The New York Times reports: The intense ambitions and undisciplined behaviors of Mr. Trump have confounded even those close to him, especially as his presidential campaign comes to a tumultuous end, and he confronts the possibility of the most stinging defeat of his life. But in the more than five hours of conversations — the last extensive biographical interviews Mr. Trump granted before running for president — a powerful driving force emerges: his deep-seated fear of public embarrassment.

The recordings reveal a man who is fixated on his own celebrity, anxious about losing his status and contemptuous of those who fall from grace. They capture the visceral pleasure he derives from fighting, his willful lack of interest in history, his reluctance to reflect on his life and his belief that most people do not deserve his respect.

In the interviews, Mr. Trump makes clear just how difficult it is for him to imagine — let alone accept — defeat.

“I never had a failure,” Mr. Trump said in one of the interviews, despite his repeated corporate bankruptcies and business setbacks, “because I always turned a failure into a success.”

When people lose face, Mr. Trump’s reaction is swift and unforgiving.

And when Mr. Trump feels he has been made a fool of, his response can be volcanic. Ivana Trump told Mr. D’Antonio [the author of a biography of Trump called The Truth About Trump] about a Colorado ski vacation she took with Mr. Trump soon after they began dating. The future Mrs. Trump had not told her boyfriend that she was an accomplished skier. As she recalls it, Mr. Trump went down the hill first and waited for her at the bottom:

IVANA TRUMP: So he goes and stops, and he says, “Come on, baby. Come on, baby.” I went up. I went two flips up in the air, two flips in front of him. I disappeared. Donald was so angry, he took off his skis, his ski boots, and walked up to the restaurant. … He could not take it. He could not take it. [Continue reading…]


Megyn Kelly advises Newt Gingrich to spend some time working on his anger issues



Remain means remain: Nicola Sturgeon cannot be ignored on Brexit

By Andrew Scott Crines, University of Liverpool

The meeting between Prime Minister Theresa May and the leaders of the United Kingdom’s devolved administrations was a significant moment in setting the tone for the Brexit negotiations ahead.

May has pledged to advance a single UK position when negotiations with the EU begin next year. This pledge could be interpreted in either of two ways. She could be attempting to compel the nations of the UK to conform to the Westminster government’s Brexit position, or she could be opening the door to other positions in the hope of destabilising the moves towards leaving the EU. The former is the most likely, however May cannot be seen to be overtly imposing the will of the Brexiteers on the devolved institutions without risking political consequences.

In the case of Scotland such consequences are well advertised. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon wants to at least keep Scotland in the single market and, really, her ultimate goal is to stay in the EU. The Scottish people voted to remain, which Sturgeon is interpreting as a solid mandate to oppose moves in London to take Scotland out.

Similarly, Northern Ireland voted to remain. The deputy first minister, Martin McGuinness, warned of dire consequences if it is also taken out of the EU, both economically and constitutionally. Only Wales and England voted to leave, which was enough to deliver a Brexit vote.

[Read more…]


What Theresa May really thinks about Brexit shown in leaked recording

The Guardian reports: Theresa May privately warned that companies would leave the UK if the country voted for Brexit during a secret audience with investment bankers a month before the EU referendum.

A recording of her remarks to Goldman Sachs, leaked to the Guardian, reveals she had numerous concerns about Britain leaving the EU. It contrasts with her nuanced public speeches, which dismayed remain campaigners before the vote in June.

Speaking at the bank in London on 26 May, the then home secretary appeared to go further than her public remarks to explain more clearly the economic benefits of staying in the EU. She told staff it was time the UK took a lead in Europe, and that she hoped voters would look to the future rather than the past.

In an hour-long session before the City bankers, she also worried about the effect of Brexit on the British economy.

“I think the economic arguments are clear,” she said. “I think being part of a 500-million trading bloc is significant for us. I think, as I was saying to you a little earlier, that one of the issues is that a lot of people will invest here in the UK because it is the UK in Europe. [Continue reading…]


Anger as Spain prepares to let Russian warships refuel on way back to Aleppo bombing

The Guardian reports: Spain is facing criticism for reportedly preparing to allow the refuelling of Russian warships en route to bolstering the bombing campaign against the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo.

Warships led by the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov are expected to take on fuel and supplies at the Spanish port of Ceuta after passing through the Straits of Gibraltar on Wednesday morning.

Spanish media reported that two Spanish vessels, the frigate Almirante Juan de Borbón and logistical ship Cantabria, were shadowing the warships as they passed through international waters, and that the Admiral Kuznetsov, along with other Russian vessels and submarines, would dock at Ceuta to restock after 10 days at sea. [Continue reading…]


Why the Middle East knows not to trust the United States

David Ignatius writes: When the United States fights its wars in the Middle East, it has a nasty habit of recruiting local forces as proxies and then jettisoning them when the going gets tough or regional politics intervene.

This pattern of “seduction and abandonment” is one of our least endearing characteristics. It’s one reason the United States is mistrusted in the Middle East. We don’t stick by the people who take risks on our behalf in Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon and elsewhere. And now, I fear, this syndrome is happening again in Syria, as a Kurdish militia group known as the YPG, which has been the United States’ best ally against the Islamic State, gets pounded by the Turkish military. [Continue reading…]


How ISIS is using scorched earth tactics as it retreats

The Washington Post reports: Satellite imagery of the current operations by Iraqi forces to retake Mosul reveal how the Islamic State can inflict damage even when the militant group is on the run.

Iraqi forces began the operation to retake Mosul on Oct. 16, with forces advancing from the south along the Tigris River and from the east with the goal of retaking the outskirts of the city before beginning a block-by-block clearing of the largest city still held by the Islamic State in Iraq.

Imagery from the past week reveals front-line fires near the city as well as two large industrial fires that were set off by the Islamic State as the militants retreated from those positions. The black smoke is from the Qayyarah oil field, which burned for over four months, and the white smoke that begins on Oct. 20 is from a sulphur plant in Mishraq that was retaken by Iraqi forces within days of the start of the operation. [Continue reading…]


Gambia latest African country deciding to pull out of International Criminal Court

The Washington Post reports: Gambia has announced that it will withdraw from the International Criminal Court, the third African country to declare its departure in just two weeks.

Explaining the country’s decision, Gambian Information Minister Sheriff Bojang said on state television late Tuesday that the global judicial body was really an “an International Caucasian Court for the persecution and humiliation of people of color, especially Africans.”

Last Tuesday, Burundi announced its own intention to leave the court and on Friday, South Africa did the same. Then came Gambia, the tiny West African country. There are worries that this could be the beginning of an African exodus from the court, a dwindling membership on a continent with a long list of conflicts and human rights abuses to adjudicate.

Experts believe Kenya, Namibia and Uganda could be among the next countries to leave the court.

For years, many African nations have claimed that the ICC, which was established in 2002, is biased against the continent’s leaders. Nine of its 10 current investigations involve African countries.

The decision of three successive countries to leave the court could mark a watershed moment for an institution whose legitimacy is derived largely from its members’ consent. No country had previously withdrawn from the ICC. [Continue reading…]


Cold war 2.0: How Russia and the West reheated a historic struggle

The Guardian reports: Gen Sir Richard Shirreff remembers the moment he realised Nato was facing a new and more dangerous Russia. It was 19 March 2014, the day after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine.

Shirreff, then deputy supreme allied commander Europe, was at Nato’s military HQ in Mons, Belgium, when an American two-star general came in with the transcript of Putin’s speech justifying the annexation. “He briefed us and said: ‘I think this just might be a paradigm-shifting speech’, and I think he might have been right,” Shirreff recalled.

The Russian president’s address aired a long list of grievances, with the west’s attempts to contain Russia in the 18th to 20th centuries right at the top.

Putin said: “They have lied to us many times, made decisions behind our backs, placed us before an accomplished fact. This happened with Nato’s expansion to the east, as well as the deployment of military infrastructure at our borders.”

He warned that Russia would no longer tolerate such pressure: “If you press the spring it will release at some point. That is something you should remember.”

Warnings of a return to cold war politics have been a staple of European debate for three years, but in recent weeks many western diplomats, politicians and analysts have come to believe the spring has indeed been released. Russia is being reassessed across western capitals. The talk is no longer of transition to a liberal democracy, but regression. [Continue reading…]


Putin’s strategic aim is to fracture the West

Rachel Rizzo and Adam Twardowski write: After Putin’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 caught the United States off guard, Western observers have since struggled to understand Russian strategic decision-making. The apparent disconnect between Russia’s strategic gains and economic costs in theaters such as Ukraine and Syria leaves more questions than answers about “what Putin wants,” and how he perceives Russia’s interests. Alarmed by this uncertainty, a growing chorus of influential voices has warned that unless NATO shores up its land and maritime capabilities in Europe, it risks inadvertently inviting Russia to make a land-grab of NATO’s eastern territory. While NATO must prepare for such a scenario and reassure nervous eastern allies, Putin is probably not looking to rebuild Russia’s imperial frontiers or start a war with the United States, nor is he interested in or capable of reestablishing Russia as a global power like the Soviet Union was. Most analyses about “what Putin wants” miss the mark. Putin realizes that in an era when Russia’s internal challenges dramatically limit its ability to project power, Russia’s security depends not on rolling tanks across the borders of the NATO alliance, but instead on fracturing the West and paralyzing decision-making among Western leaders. Russia’s apparent success in exploiting these fissures within the Alliance is thus the greatest threat the United States and its NATO allies face from Moscow.

A more difficult question to answer, however, centers around why exactly Putin has used this strategy and plunged Russia’s relationship with the West into the worst crisis since the Cold War. Part of the consensus seems to be that Putin is resentful of Russia’s fall from global power and that he craves respect from the United States. Others blame the United States for stoking Russian insecurity by expanding NATO eastward to Russia’s western border. Still others focus on the dynamics of Russia’s internal political landscape, stressing that Putin’s ability to sustain his grip on power depends on promoting an intense nationalistic mentality amongst Russians. In reality, Putin is probably motivated by a combination of all these factors. What is clear, however, is that Russia is intent on honing sophisticated capabilities in the cyber and information domains to sew division in the West and fracture the unity of the transatlantic alliance.

How exactly does Russia carry out its policy of fracturing the West? A new report from CSIS on the Kremlin’s influence in Central and Eastern Europe explains that Russia seeks to advance its geostrategic objectives in part by “weakening the internal cohesion of societies and strengthening the perception of the dysfunction” of the West. By shaping the decision-making apparatus of certain countries through the exploitation of weak state institutions and the identification of allies sympathetic to Russian interests, Moscow believes it achieves more than it could through traditional military campaigns, and at much lower cost. Putin has taken this well-known playbook, which includes disinformation campaigns designed to discredit Western institutions and sew doubts about official narratives of Russian behavior, and found new ways to apply it in the West. Recently, footprints of this approach can be seen throughout the United States, Europe, and the Middle East. [Continue reading…]


Fearing being bullied by Trump, American Bar Association stifled report that called him a ‘libel bully’

The New York Times reports: Alarmed by Donald J. Trump’s record of filing lawsuits to punish and silence his critics, a committee of media lawyers at the American Bar Association commissioned a report on Mr. Trump’s litigation history. The report concluded that Mr. Trump was a “libel bully” who had filed many meritless suits attacking his opponents and had never won in court.

But the bar association refused to publish the report, citing “the risk of the A.B.A. being sued by Mr. Trump.”

David J. Bodney, a former chairman of the media-law committee, said he was baffled by the bar association’s interference in the committee’s journal.

“It is more than a little ironic,” he said, “that a publication dedicated to the exploration of First Amendment issues is subjected to censorship when it seeks to publish an article about threats to free speech.”

In internal communications, the bar association’s leadership, including its general counsel’s office and public relations staff, did not appear to dispute the report’s conclusions. [Continue reading…]