AI on the March

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Few would dispute the benefits that AI and Machine Learning can convey. AI surrounds us in all we do and impacts more-and-more of our daily life.

American companies like Amazon and Google have done more than anyone to turn A.I. concepts into real products. But for a number of reasons, much of the critical research being done on artificial intelligence is already migrating to other countries, with China poised to take over that leadership role. In July, China unveiled a plan to become the world leader in artificial intelligence and create an industry worth $150 billion to its economy by 2030.

To technologists working on A.I. in the United States, the statement, which was 28 pages long in its English translation, was a direct challenge to America’s lead in arguably the most important tech research to come along in decades. It outlined the Chinese government’s aggressive plan to treat A.I. like the country’s own version of the Apollo 11 lunar mission — an all-in effort that could stoke national pride and spark agenda-setting technology breakthroughs.

The manifesto was also remarkably similar to several reports on the future of artificial intelligence released by the Obama administration at the end of 2016.

“It is remarkable to see how A.I. has emerged as a top priority for the Chinese leadership and how quickly things have been set into motion,” said Elsa Kania, an adjunct fellow at the Center for a New American Security who helped translate the manifesto and follows China’s work on artificial intelligence. “The U.S. plans and policies released in 2016 were seemingly the impetus for the formulation of China’s national A.I. strategy.”

Want more? You can read the full article here.

National Security Threats

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Last month, I posted some of the high points of the National Security of The United States of America, our highest national security document.

Our National Security Strategy rests on a number of pillars. I’ll detail them in this blog posts, as well as in other posts in the ensuing weeks:

Pillar I is to: “Protect the American People, the Homeland, and the American Way of Life”

This pillar begins by noting the need to emphasize the need to defend against weapons of mass destruction (WMD). It notes that as more countries pursue WMDs and increase their technology and capabilities, the threat of rogue nations and non-state actors using them will increase, as unstable security environments persist.

A key part of this pillar is the need to keep America safe in the cyber era, noting, in particular, “Today, cyberspace offers state and none-state actors the ability to wage campaigns against the American political, economic, and security interests.” The strategy calls for increasing the security of the critical infrastructure and hardening it against both cyber and electromagnetic attacks, and incorporating a multilayered approach to security.

We will discuss the remaining pillars of the National Security Strategy in blog posts in the weeks to come.

You can read the full National Security Strategy here.

Security Threats

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Last week, I posted the first pillar in the new U.S. National Security Strategy, “Protect the American People, the Homeland, and the American Way of Life.”

The second pillar is to: Promote American Prosperity. This pillar calls for the United States to: “Lead in Research, Technology, Invention, and Innovation,” in order to maintain a competitive advantage in emerging technologies such as data science, encryption, autonomous technologies, gene editing, new materials, nanotechnology, advanced computing technologies, and artificial intelligence.

This pillar goes on to note that in order to attract and maintain an innovative and inventive advantage, scientists from government, academia, and industry should be encouraged to achieve advancements across the full spectrum of discovery.

This pillar continues by stressing the importance of promoting and protecting the “U.S. National Security Innovation Base (the American network of knowledge, capabilities, and people – including academia, national laboratories, and the private sector)” by guarding against the theft of intellectual property allows competitors unfair access to innovative and free societies.

You can read the full National Security Strategy here.

Better than Ever?

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Tired of the gloom and doom? Weary of hearing how the world is “going to hell in a hand basket?” If so, you can understand why Steven Pinker’s first book, “The Better Angels of Our Nature,” was a runaway best-seller, and why his newest offering, “Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress,” has quickly achieved that status.

Pinker isn’t some wide-eyed, giddy optimist. Instead, he marshals facts and figures to make his case that things are getting better. Here is an excerpt from a New York Times review:

Optimism is not generally thought cool, and it is often thought foolish. The optimistic philosopher John Stuart Mill wrote in 1828, “I have observed that not the man who hopes when others despair, but the man who despairs when others hope, is admired by a large class of persons as a sage.” In the previous century, Voltaire’s “Candide” had attacked what its author called “optimism”: the Leibnizian idea that all must be for the best in this best of all possible worlds. After suffering through one disaster after another, Candide decides that optimism is merely “a mania for insisting that all is well when things are going badly.”

Much of the book is taken up with evidence-based philosophizing, with charts showing a worldwide increase in life expectancy, a decline in life-shattering diseases, ever better education and access to information, greater recognition of female equality and L.G.B.T. rights, and so on — even down to data showing that Americans today are 37 times less likely to be killed by lightning than in 1900, thanks to better weather forecasting, electrical engineering and safety awareness. Improvements in health have bettered the human condition enormously, and Pinker tells us that his favorite sentence in the whole English language comes from Wikipedia: “Smallpox was an infectious disease caused by either of two virus variants, Variola major and Variola minor.” The word “wasis what he likes.

Want more? You can read the full article here.

Our New Rulers

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Much ink has been spilled about the enormous, most would say outsize, impact that the biggest technology companies have on our lives.

So much of this commentary has been shrill, so when a thoughtful article on the subject appears, it’s worth highlighting.

Farhad Manjoo nailed it in his piece, “The Frightful Five Want to Rule Entertainment. They Are Hitting Limits.” Here is how he begins:

The tech giants are too big. Other than Donald J. Trump, that’s the defining story of 2017, the meta-narrative lurking beneath every other headline.

The companies I call the Frightful Five — Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Alphabet, Google’s parent company — have experienced astounding growth over the last few years, making them the world’s five most valuable public companies. Because they own the technology that will dominate much of life for the foreseeable future, they are also gaining vast social and political power over much of the world beyond tech.

Now that world is scrambling to figure out what to do about them. And it is discovering that the changes they are unleashing — in the economy, in civic and political life, in arts and entertainment, and in our tech-addled psyches — are not simple to comprehend, let alone to limit.

I’ve spent the last few years studying the rise of these giants. As tensions over their power reached a high boil this summer — Facebook and Russia, Google and sexism, Amazon and Whole Foods — I began thinking more about the nature and consequence of their power, and talking to everyone I could find about these companies. Among them were people in the tech industry, as well as many in other power centers: Washington, Hollywood, the media, the health care and automotive businesses, and other corners of society that may soon be ensnared by one or more of the Five.

Want to read more

Security Threats

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Last week, I re-introduced our National Security Strategy with the first half of the president’s transmittal letter. Here is the rest of the letter, detailing the threats to America’s security and prosperity

We are rallying the world against the rogue regime in North Korea and confronting the danger posed by the dictatorship in Iran, which those determined to pursue a f lawed nuclear deal had neglected. We have renewed our friendships in the Middle East and partnered with regional leaders to help drive out terrorists and extremists, cut off their financing, and discredit their wicked ideology. We crushed Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorists on the battlefields of Syria and Iraq, and will continue pursuing them until they are destroyed. America’s allies are now contributing more to our common defense, strengthening even our strongest alliances. We have also continued to make clear that the United States will no longer tolerate economic aggression or unfair trading practices.

At home, we have restored confidence in America’s purpose. We have recommitted ourselves to our founding principles and to the values that have made our families, communities, and society so successful. Jobs are coming back and our economy is growing. We are making historic investments in the United States military. We are enforcing our borders, building trade relationships based on fairness and reciprocity, and defending America’s sovereignty without apology.

The whole world is lifted by America’s renewal and the reemergence of American leadership. After one year, the world knows that America is prosperous, America is secure, and America is strong. We will bring about the better future we seek for our people and the world, by confronting the challenges and dangers posed by those who seek to destabilize the world and threaten America’s people and interests.

My Administration’s National Security Strategy lays out a strategic vision for protecting the American people and preserving our way of life, promoting our prosperity, preserving peace through strength, and advancing American influence in the world. We will pursue this beautiful vision—a world of strong, sovereign, and independent nations, each with its own cultures and dreams, thriving side-by-side in prosperity, freedom, and peace—throughout the upcoming year.

In pursuit of that future, we will look at the world with clear eyes and fresh thinking. We will promote a balance of power that favors the United States, our allies, and our partners. We will never lose sight of our values and their capacity to inspire, uplift, and renew.

Most of all, we will serve the American people and uphold their right to a government that prioritizes their security, their prosperity, and their interests. This National Security Strategy puts America First.

You can read the full National Security Strategy here

The Graduate

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In the holiday whirl you may have missed something. I knew I did. That’s why I got a wake-up call when I read Lisa Schwarzbaum’s piece that reminded me that the movie, The Graduate, was 50 years old last month!

For baby-boomers and perhaps others, this was a generational movie. One that signaled the end of an old era and the beginning of a new one. I’d held that belief for decades – five to be exact – and Schwarzbaum’s book review solidified that belief.

She reviewed Beverly Gray’s book: “Seduced by Mrs. Robinson: How ‘The Graduate” Became the Touchstone of a Generation.” The title of the book spoke precisely to how I felt about the movie.

While Schwarzbaum’s book review had some issues with Gray’s book, her review did highlight what made the movie so iconic. Here is part of what she said:

A half-century has passed since the bewildered college graduate Benjamin Braddock, played with star-making originality by a then largely unknown Dustin Hoffman, floated, directionless, in his parents’ glassy Beverly Hills pool, and was told (by someone of his Parents’ Generation) that the future lay in “plastics.” It has been a half-century since Anne Bancroft smoldered as the seductive Mrs. Robinson, an unhappy woman who was the opposite of bewildered — an adult mature enough to know she was trapped in the hell of plastic marital conventions. It has been 50 years since Hoffman, Bancroft and the incandescently creative team of the director Mike Nichols and the screenwriter Buck Henry took Charles Webb’s small 1963 novel of domestic discontents and turned it into a movie that epitomized huge shifts in both popular culture and Hollywood commerce.

Want more? You can read the full piece here

Digital World

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Those of us “of a certain age” recall analog. Everything was analog. Then along came digital, and analog and digital coexisted more or less peacefully. Then digital took over.

And digital brought previously-unimaginable benefits and showered us with products we didn’t even know we needed. And with it came help-lines so experts could help us use our devices.

That’s why I found David Sax’s piece “Our Love Affair with Digital is Over,” so on-point and trendsetting, heralding a move back toward analog. Here is part of what he shared:

A decade ago I bought my first smartphone, a clunky little BlackBerry 8830 that came in a sleek black leather sheath. I loved that phone. I loved the way it effortlessly slid in and out of its case, loved the soft purr it emitted when an email came in, loved the silent whoosh of its trackball as I played Brick Breaker on the subway and the feel of its baby keys clicking under my fat thumbs. It was the world in my hands, and when I had to turn it off, I felt anxious and alone.

Like most relationships we plunge into with hearts aflutter, our love affair with digital technology promised us the world: more friends, money and democracy! Free music, news and same-day shipping of paper towels! A laugh a minute, and a constant party at our fingertips.

Many of us bought into the fantasy that digital made everything better. We surrendered to this idea, and mistook our dependence for romance, until it was too late.

Today, when my phone is on, I feel anxious and count down the hours to when I am able to turn it off and truly relax. The love affair I once enjoyed with digital technology is over — and I know I’m not alone.

Ten years after the iPhone first swept us off our feet, the growing mistrust of computers in both our personal lives and the greater society we live in is inescapable. This publishing season is flush with books raising alarms about digital technology’s pernicious effects on our lives: what smartphones are doing to our children; how Facebook and Twitter are eroding our democratic institutions; and the economic effects of tech monopolies.

Want more? You can read the full article here

Threats to Our Security and Prosperity

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Over the past few weeks I’ve posted some of the high points of the National Security of The United States of America.

This is our highest national security document that addresses the threats to our security and prosperity, and what our nations is doing to confront these challenges.

It is useful to read the president’s introductory letter transmitting this strategy to understand this lengthy document. In many ways it serves as an executive summary:

“The American people elected me to make America great again. I promised that my Administration would put the safety, interests, and well-being of our citizens first. I pledged that we would revitalize the American economy, rebuild our military, defend our borders, protect our sovereignty, and advance our values.”

“During my first year in office, you have witnessed my America First foreign policy in action. We are prioritizing the interests of our citizens and protecting our sovereign rights as a nation. America is leading again on the world stage. We are not hiding from the challenges we face. We are confronting them head-on and pursuing opportunities to promote the security and prosperity of all Americans.”

“The United States faces an extraordinarily dangerous world, filled with a wide range of threats that have intensified in recent years. When I came into office, rogue regimes were developing nuclear weapons and missiles to threaten the entire planet. Radical Islamist terror groups were flourishing. Terrorists had taken control of vast swaths of the Middle East. Rival powers were aggressively undermining American interests around the globe. At home, porous borders and unenforced immigration laws had created a host of vulnerabilities. Criminal cartels were bringing drugs and danger into our communities. Unfair trade practices had weakened our economy and exported our jobs overseas. Unfair burden-sharing with our allies and inadequate investment in our own defense had invited danger from those who wish us harm. Too many Americans had lost trust in our government, faith in our future, and confidence in our values.”

“Nearly one year later, although serious challenges remain, we are charting a new and very different course.”

In the next National Security Blog I’ll outline some of those threats

You can read the full National Security Strategy here

Brain Workout

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Most of us likely made New Year’s resolutions, many of which we may have broken already. But for many of us, the promise to live calmly and peacefully may be one we still aspire to – but perhaps haven’t yet achieved.

That’s why I found this piece by Elizabeth Bernstein, “A Daily Workout for the Brain,” with a subtitle of: “Stressed Out, Anxious or Sad? Try Meditating,” so interesting – and even inspirational. Here is part of Daniel Goleman’s advice that she shared:

Every kind of meditation retrains attention. It’s the basic mental-fitness exercise. Ordinarily, our mind wanders half the time. In meditation, you bring discipline to the mind and try to keep it focused on one thing. When your mind wanders, you bring it back to that thing. This is roughly parallel to going to the gym and lifting weights. Every time you lift the weight, you make that muscle a little stronger. And every time you bring your mind back to your meditation, you make the neural circuitry in your brain a little stronger.

There are many beneficial effects of this simple exercise. Attention strengthens. Concentration improves. Memory improves. Learning improves. And because the same circuitry in the brain that focuses your attention also manages the amygdala, which causes you to get anxious or upset or depressed, people have a double benefit: They react less strongly to things that used to upset them and recover more quickly when they do get upset.

Want more? You can read the full article here