Category Archives: EARTH WATCH

Nuclear Weapons Are Getting Less Predictable, and More Dangerous

By Patrick Tucker – On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met his counterpart, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, to discuss, among many things, the prospect of a new, comprehensive nuclear-weapons treaty with Russia and China.

At the same time, the Pentagon is developing a new generation of nuclear weapons to keep up with cutting-edge missiles and warheads coming out of Moscow. If the administration fails in its ambitious renegotiation, the world is headed toward a new era of heightened nuclear tension not seen in decades.

That’s because these new weapons are eroding the idea of nuclear predictability.

Since the dawn of the nuclear era, the concept of the nuclear triad — bombers, submarines, and intercontinental ballistic missiles — created a shared set of expectations around what the start of a nuclear war would look like.

If you were in NORAD’s Cheyenne Mountain Complex in Colorado and you saw ICBMs headed toward the United States, you knew that a nuclear first strike was underway. The Soviets had a similar set of expectations, and this shared understanding created the delicate balance of deterrence — a balance that is becoming unsettled.

Start with Russia’s plans for new, more-maneuverable ICBMs. Such weapons have loosely been dubbed “hypersonic weapons” — something of a misnomer because all intercontinental ballistic missiles travel at hypersonic speeds of five or more times the speed of sound — and they create new problems for America’s defenders.

“As I stand here today, I don’t know what that solution set looks like,” Gen. Paul Selva, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at an Air Force Association event in April. “If you’re going Mach 13 at the very northern edge of Hudson Bay, you have enough residual velocity to hit all 48 of the continential United States and all of Alaska. You can choose [to] point it left or right, and hit Maine or Alaska, or you can hit San Diego or Key West. That’s a monstrous problem.”

This makes it harder for U.S. leaders, in the crucial minutes before a potentially civilization-ending nuclear strike, to understand just what kind of weapon is inbound. more>

Updates from ITU

AI for Good’ or scary AI?
By Neil Sahota and Michael Ashley – Some futurists fear Artificial Intelligence (AI), perhaps understandably. After all, AI appears in all kinds of menacing ways in popular culture, from the Terminator movie dynasty to homicidal HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Though these movies depict Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) gone awry, it’s important to note some leading tech scholars, such as George Gilder (author Life After Google), doubt humans will ever be able to generate the sentience we humans take for granted (AGI) in our machines.

As it turns out, the predominant fear the typical person actually holds about AI pertains to Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI).

Specialized, ANI focuses on narrow tasks, like routing you to your destination — or maybe one day driving you there.

Much of what we uncovered when cowriting our new book, Own the A.I. Revolution: Unlock Your Artificial Intelligence Strategy to Disrupt Your Competition, is that people fear narrow task-completing AIs will take their job.

“It’s no secret many people worry about this type of problem,” Irakli Beridze, who is a speaker at the upcoming AI For Good Global Summit and heads the Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics at the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute, told us when interviewed for the book.

“One way or another, AI-induced unemployment is a risk we cannot dismiss out of hand. We regularly see reports predicting AI will wipe out 20 to 70 percent of jobs. And we’re not just talking about truck drivers and factory workers, but also accountants, lawyers, doctors, and other highly skilled professionals.” more>

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Why the US bears the most responsibility for climate change, in one chart

By Umair Irfan – Humans are pumping more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at an accelerating rate. But climate change is a cumulative problem, a function of the total amount of greenhouse gases that have accumulated in the sky. Some of the heat-trapping gases in the air right now date back to the Industrial Revolution. And since that time, some countries have pumped out vastly more carbon dioxide than others.

The wonderful folks at Carbon Brief have put together a great visual of how different countries have contributed to climate change since 1750. The animation shows the cumulative carbon dioxide emissions of the top emitters and how they’ve changed over time.

What’s abundantly clear is that the United States of America is the all-time biggest, baddest greenhouse gas emitter on the planet.

That’s true, despite recent gains in energy efficiency and cuts in emissions. These relatively small steps now cannot offset more than a century of reckless emissions that have built up in the atmosphere. Much more drastic steps are now needed to slow climate change. And as the top cumulative emitter, the US bears a greater imperative for curbing its carbon dioxide output and a greater moral responsibility for the impacts of global warming.

Yet the United States is now the only country aiming to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. more>

Hate Speech on Social Media: Global Comparisons

Violence attributed to online hate speech has increased worldwide. Societies confronting the trend must deal with questions of free speech and censorship on widely used tech platforms.
By Zachary Laub – A mounting number of attacks on immigrants and other minorities has raised new concerns about the connection between inflammatory speech online and violent acts, as well as the role of corporations and the state in policing speech. Analysts say trends in hate crimes around the world echo changes in the political climate, and that social media can magnify discord. At their most extreme, rumors and invective disseminated online have contributed to violence ranging from lynchings to ethnic cleansing.

The same technology that allows social media to galvanize democracy activists can be used by hate groups seeking to organize and recruit. It also allows fringe sites, including peddlers of conspiracies, to reach audiences far broader than their core readership. Online platforms’ business models depend on maximizing reading or viewing times.

Since Facebook and similar platforms make their money by enabling advertisers to target audiences with extreme precision, it is in their interests to let people find the communities where they will spend the most time.

Users’ experiences online are mediated by algorithms designed to maximize their engagement, which often inadvertently promote extreme content.

Some web watchdog groups say YouTube’s autoplay function, in which the player, at the end of one video, tees up a related one, can be especially pernicious. The algorithm drives people to videos that promote conspiracy theories or are otherwise “divisive, misleading or false,” according to a Wall Street Journal investigative report.

“YouTube may be one of the most powerful radicalizing instruments of the 21st century,” writes sociologist Zeynep Tufekci. more>

China’s Belt and Road: The new geopolitics of global infrastructure development

By Amar Bhattacharya, David Dollar, Rush Doshi, Ryan Hass, Bruce Jones, Homi Kharas, Jennifer Mason, Mireya Solís, and Jonathan Stromseth – The growing strategic rivalry between the United States and China is driven by shifting power dynamics and competing visions of the future of the international order. China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a leading indicator of the scale of China’s global ambitions.

Originally conceptualized as a “going out” strategy to develop productive outlets for domestic overcapacity and to diversify China’s foreign asset holdings, Beijing later branded the effort as its “Belt and Road Initiative.” While the initiative began with a predominantly economic focus, it has taken on a greater security profile over time.

China’s initiative has attracted interest from over 150 countries and international organizations in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. This is due, in part, to the fact that the initiative is meeting a need and filling a void left by international financial institutions (IFI) as they shifted away from hard infrastructure development. But there is a real possibility that the BRI will follow in the footsteps of the IFIs, encounter the same problems, and falter.

BRI shouldn’t be seen as a traditional aid program because the Chinese themselves do not see it that way and it certainly does not operate that way. It is a money-making investment and an opportunity for China to increase its connectivity.

The initiative has a blend of economic, political, and strategic agendas that play out differently in different countries, which is illustrated by China’s approach to resolving debt, accepting payment in cash, commodities, or the lease of assets. The strategic objectives are particularly apparent when it comes to countries where the investment aligns with China’s strategy of developing its access to ports that abut key waterways. more>

Why We Stink at Tackling Climate Change

By David P. Barash – What’s wrong with us? Not us Democrats, Republicans, or Americans. Rather, what’s wrong with our species, Homo sapiens?

If human beings are as Hamlet suggested, “noble in reason, infinite in faculty,” then why are we facing so many problems?

In many ways, people are better off than ever before: reduced infant mortality, longer lifespans, less poverty, fewer epidemic diseases, even fewer deaths per capita due to violence.

And yet global threats abound and by nearly all measures they are getting worse: environmental destruction and wildlife extinction, ethnic and religious hatred, the specter of nuclear war, and above all, the disaster of global climate change.

For some religious believers, the primary culprit is original sin. For ideologues of left, right, and otherwise, it’s ill-functioning political structures.

From my biological perspective, it’s the deep-seated disconnect between our slow-moving, inexorable biological evolution and its fast-moving cultural counterpart—and the troublesome fact we are subject to both, simultaneously.

It seems inevitable that as these cultural skills developed and provided leverage over the material and natural world—not to mention over other human beings, less adroit at these things—natural selection favored those individuals most able to take advantage of such traits. Up to a point, our biological and cultural evolution would have been mutually reinforcing. We are now past that point.

There is no reason for our biological and cultural evolution to proceed in lockstep, and many reasons for them to have become disconnected. more>

Updates from ITU

Earth observation for weather prediction – solving the interference problem
By ITU News – “Today, several dozen satellites contribute to the accumulation of critical knowledge about the Earth’s system, enabling scientists to describe specific links between a major natural disturbance in the upper atmosphere, and changes in the weather thousands of miles away,” says Mario Maniewicz, Director of the ITU Radiocommunication Bureau.

“As accurate weather predictions need to start from the best possible estimate of the current state of the atmosphere, it is crucial that meteorologists have real-time, accurate global observations about what is happening in the Earth’s atmosphere over land and oceans. And for this, they rely on space sensing.”

Space sensing relies on the deployment of sensors to obtain data critical for Earth observation from space. Active sensors are radar systems on spaceborne platforms. They obtain data through the transmission and reception of radiowaves. Passive sensors, meanwhile, are very sensitive receivers that measure the electromagnetic energy emitted and scattered by the Earth, and the chemical constituents in the Earth’s atmosphere. They require protection from radio-frequency interference.

Spaceborne sensors measure the background natural radiative emission floor, therefore any man-made signal (e.g. communications, radars) that rises above this natural emission floor will likely interfere with the measurements. This interference can be tolerated only if its energy is well below the sensor sensitivity. more>

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‘We Can’t Recycle Our Way Out of This Problem’: Ben & Jerry’s Bans Single-Use Plastics

By Lorraine Chow – Ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s announced major efforts on Monday to quickly curb its use of single-use plastics.

All together, the move is expected to prevent 2.5 million plastic straws and 30 million plastic spoons from being handed out each year, Jenna Evans, Ben & Jerry’s Global Sustainability Manager, said in a press release.

“We’re not going to recycle our way out of this problem,” she said. “We, and the rest of the world, need to get out of single-use plastic.”

In response to the initiative, Greenpeace praised the brand for setting clear, short-term targets and for acknowledging that recycling alone is not enough to solve the world’s mounting plastic problem.

We’ve all been taught that recycling is an important environmental responsibility, but of the 6.3 billion metric tons of plastic waste generated since the 1950s, only 9 percent has been recycled, according to one recent study. What’s more, recycling plastics only perpetuates the use of fossil fuel-based polymers. more>

Globalization at a Crossroads

By Gordon Brown – Whether or not one realizes it, 2018 may have been a historic turning point. Poorly managed globalization has led to nationalist “take-back-control” movements and a rising wave of protectionism that is undermining the 70-year-old American-led international order. The stage is set for China to develop its own parallel international institutions, auguring a world divided between two competing global-governance systems.

Whatever happens in the next few years, it is already clear that the 2008-2018 decade marked an epochal shift in the balance of economic power.

Whereas around 40% of production, manufacturing, trade, and investment was located outside the West in 2008, over 60% is today.

For decades after its formation in the 1970s, the Group of Seven (G7) – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the US – essentially presided over the entire world economy. But by 2008, I and others had begun to discern a changing of the guard. Behind the scenes, North American and European leaders were debating whether it was time to create a new premier forum for economic cooperation that would include emerging economies.

These debates were often heated. On one side were those who wanted to keep the group small (one early US proposal envisioned a G7+5); on the other side were those who wanted the group to be as inclusive as possible. To this day, the results of those earlier negotiations are not fully understood.

The current trade conflict between the United States and China is symptomatic of a larger transition in global financial power. On the surface, the Trump administration’s confrontation with China is about trade, with disputes over currency manipulation thrown in for good measure. But from Trump’s speeches, one gathers that the real battle is about something bigger: the future of technological dominance and global economic power.

While Trump at least detects the growing threat to American supremacy, he has ignored the most obvious strategy for responding to it: namely, a united front with US allies and partners around the world. Instead, Trump has asserted a prerogative to act unilaterally, as if America still rules over a unipolar world. As a result, a trail of geopolitical ruin already lies in his wake. more>

Overcoming The Trust Deficit

By Dimitris Avramopoulos – A prosperous, secure and united Europe will not be delivered to us on a silver platter. We will have to fight for it more than ever – with facts, with authenticity, with courage. It will not be enough to have the right solutions on offer – our citizens will have to be willing to trust and accept them too.

Citizens in Europe and across the world today are experiencing a growing deficit of trust. While the world is increasingly becoming globalized, interconnected, digitized and information-saturated, citizens are having trouble discerning what is fact and what is fancy – and most importantly: who to turn to and who to trust. Our citizens are looking for clear and straightforward answers and solutions, in a reality that is becoming all the more complex.

Populists and nationalists are experiencing heydays in times like these. What they tell citizens and their electorate no longer has to be true, as long as it is simple and appealing. We have seen very recently how in the absence of an actual crisis or problem, an imaginary one is created instead and how the seeds of distrust, confusion and fear are sown daily.

Today, there is no single, coherent enemy or threat: terrorism, cybercrime or hybrid threats constitute a particularly toxic and interchangeable cocktail of risks that we need to face on a daily basis, with the same unity in our approach. The cooperation between Member States was enhanced especially in the field of exchange of information between law enforcement authorities, crucial to fight terrorism, organized crime and cybercrime. more>