Whither America?

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The world was changing dramatically before Covid-19 hit early last year, and the pandemic has accelerated those changes.

What does all this mean for how America deals with this changed world? I wonder about that subject, and that is why I enjoyed Andrew Bacevich’s review of two new books “Losing the Long Game” and “Isolationism.” Here is how his review, “Where Does American Foreign Policy Go From Here?” Here is how he begins:

LOSING THE LONG GAME

The False Promise of Regime Change in the Middle East

By Philip H. Gordon

ISOLATIONISM
A History of America’s Efforts to Shield Itself From the World

By Charles A. Kupchan

Having made a hash of things over the last several decades, our self-described Indispensable Nation is looking pretty dispensable, not to mention confused and adrift. So there is a pressing need to understand how things went wrong and how to make them right. Each in different ways, this is the task that Philip H. Gordon and Charles A. Kupchan set for themselves.

Want more? You can read the rest of the piece here

Taps

Tombstones at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day

If any of you have ever been to a military funeral in which taps was played; this brings out a new meaning of it.

Here is something every American should know. We in the United States have all heard the haunting song, “Taps” It’s the song that gives us the lump in our throats and usually tears in our eyes.

But, do you know the story behind the song? If not, I think you will be interested to find out about its humble beginnings.

Reportedly, it all began in 1862 during the Civil War, when Union Army Captain Robert Elli was with his men near Harrison’s Landing in Virginia. The Confederate Army was on the other side of the narrow strip of land.

During the night, Captain Elli heard the moans of a soldier who lay severely wounded on the field. Not knowing if it was a Union or Confederate soldier, the Captain decided to risk his life and bring the stricken man back for medical attention. Crawling on his stomach through the gunfire, the Captain reached the stricken soldier and began pulling him toward his encampment.
When the Captain finally reached his own lines, he discovered it was actually a Confederate soldier, but the soldier was dead.

The Captain lit a lantern and suddenly caught his breath and went numb with shock. In the dim light, he saw the face of the soldier. It was his own son. The boy had been studying music in the South when the war broke out. Without telling his father, the boy enlisted in the Confederate Army.

The following morning, heartbroken, the father asked permission of his superiors to give his son a full military burial, despite his enemy status. His request was only partially granted.
The Captain had asked if he could have a group of Army band members play a funeral dirge for his son at the funeral.

The request was turned down since the soldier was a Confederate.
But, out of respect for the father, they did say they could give him only one musician.
The Captain chose a bugler. He asked the bugler to play a series of musical notes he had found on a piece of paper in the pocket of the dead youth’s uniform.

This wish was granted.

The haunting melody, we now know as “Taps” used at military funerals was born.

The words are:

Day is done.

Gone the sun.

From the lakes

From the hills.

From the sky.

All is well.

Safely rest.

God is nigh.

I too have felt the chills while listening to “Taps” but I have never seen all the words to the song until now. I also never knew the story behind the song and I didn’t know if you had either so I thought I’d pass it along.

I now have an even deeper respect for the song than I did before.

Tech Rising – and Dominating

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We all know, intuitively, that big tech has grown during Covid-19 since so many of us are working from home and using all sorts of technology to stay connected.

But for me, I had no idea of how much tech had grown until I read an article, “How Big Tech Got Even Bigger.” Here is how it begins:

Technology giants such as Alphabet, Amazon and Apple are more dominant than a year ago thanks to a greater reliance on their services during the pandemic. The forces propelling them to new heights are expected to outlast Covid-19.

The tech industry’s titans were already huge before Covid-19, the subject of soaring valuations and snowballing antitrust investigations. The pandemic has only made them bigger. A lot bigger.

In almost every facet of life—the tools we use to work, study, and play; how we shop and interact; the way companies operate and market their products—people and businesses have become more reliant on technology over the past year. Even amid one of the most punishing economic downturns on record, spending surged on computers, videogames, online retail, cloud-computing services and digital advertising.

The result was dizzying growth for some of the largest corporations in history—and for their stock prices. At a time when companies such as airlines and bricks-and-mortar retailers struggled to survive, combined revenue for the five biggest U.S. tech companies— Apple Inc., AAPL 0.02% Microsoft Corp. , Amazon.com Inc., AMZN -0.81% Google-parent Alphabet Inc., and Facebook Inc. FB -1.38% —grew by a fifth, to $1.1 trillion. Their aggregate profit rose an even faster 24%. And their combined market capitalization soared by half over the past year to a staggering $8 trillion.

Their economic sway expanded in other ways, too, including employment: Amazon alone added 500,000 new workers in a single year, roughly equivalent to the entire population of Atlanta.

Lawmakers and regulators may yet find ways to rein them in, but the economic and societal forces propelling Big Tech to even higher heights seem likely to outlast Covid-19. Microsoft Chief Executive Satya Nadella has said that he expects spending on technology to double to 10% of gross domestic product from its current level of 5%. This month he said he now expects that to happen even faster.

Want more? You can read the rest of the piece here

BOOK REVIEW: AI AT WAR

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Originally Published: April 18, 2021 by Hugh Taylor on Journal of Cyber Policy

AI at War: How Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, and Machine Learning are Changing Naval Warfare

Edited by Sam J. Tangredi and George Galdorisi

AI at War: How Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, and Machine Learning are Changing Naval Warfare, the new book from Naval Institute Press, offers an ambitious discussion about the US military’s adoption of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and related technology. Edited by Sam J. Tangredi and George Galdorisi, former US Navy officers who now work in naval officer training and strategic planning, AI at War is not a traditional book. Rather, it is a collection of 18 papers on the many aspects of the subject matter.

As one of the contributors put it, soldiers have been wondering what’s on the other side of the hill for thousands of years.

Reading this book is a bit like attending a symposium with 18 panel discussions. Tangredi and Galdorisi have done a great job in curating the material and presenting it in an order that takes the reader through the byzantine collection of interlocking policy issues that surround the technologies. Starting with a quite helpful comparative definition of AI and Machine Learning (ML), the book orients the reader to the underlying technologies, as well as the pre-technology philosophical issues that drove the development of AI and ML in the first place.

This is not a scholarly digression. Rather, as the editors understand, it is impossible to grasp the potential of AI and ML in the military if one doesn’t have a sense of how their foundational ideas have permeated military thinking for centuries. As one of the contributors put it, soldiers have been wondering what’s on the other side of the hill for thousands of years.

The material can be slow-going in places, but this is not a beach read. It’s a serious discussion of what are arguably some of the most significant challenges to have faced the US military in a generation. The book discusses AI and ML as a matter of global great power competition—providing some fascinating insights into the different ways that Russia and China, the USA’s two main adversaries, might use the technologies. In this, the contributors challenge the reader’s assumptions about military use of technology in general. Russia and China have different relationships between their governments and their militaries, so their use of AI and ML will be different. In China’s case, for example, AI is most likely being used as a mechanism to monitor the political loyalty of junior officers.

The book also takes the reader into important dialogues about the realities of developing new AI and ML for the military and implementing them at the level of naval operations. The contributors point out how AI and ML policy will have to navigate the complex institutional and political aspects of the Navy and other service branches. Congressional pork barreling, influential defense contractors and inter-service tensions will very much be a part of AI and ML coming into the mainstream of the Navy. Realism is a must in any discussion of the technologies.

AI and ML policy will have to navigate the complex institutional and political aspects of the Navy and other service branches.

Along the way, the book covers potential AI and ML use cases in the Navy. In this, the contributors highlight areas where AI and ML can make an impact on and off the zone of combat. For example, AI and ML might help with supply logistics, a less sexy but vital area of naval operations that can help win battles. The book also delves into the thorny moral and command issues raised by autonomous weapons.

As the contributors point out, AI and ML are already in use in the Navy. And, new AI and ML tools will be added to the naval technology landscape whether policy planners want them there or not. It’s simply coming in all sorts of new technologies being acquired by the service every year. The challenge will be to identify and pursue a strategically coherent and advantageous overall strategy.

This is a necessary book, because, as the editors explain, there has not been enough discussion of AI and ML in naval circles separate from requests for funding. As the editors and contributors seem to understand, if the matter is not well understood by the leadership of the Navy, the funding of AI and ML research will not be well spent.

Overall, AI at War is a worthwhile and useful contribution to a serious dialogue about the best way to employ emerging AI and ML technologies in the defense of the United States.

A Challenging Future

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Earlier this month I reported on the Director of National Intelligence Council Global Trends report, looks far into the future to determine what threats the United States will need to deal with years hence.

The 144-page report is not what anyone would describe as a “quick read.” That is why I wanted to share a very recent New York Times article, “Why Spy Agencies Say the Future Is Bleak,” that provides a concise summary of the report. What is says will worry you – and it should. Here is how it begins:

The latest report, Global Trends 2040, released last week by the National Intelligence Council, finds that the pandemic has proved to be “the most significant, singular global disruption since World War II,” with medical, political and security implications that will reverberate for years. That’s not sturm und drang. It’s the prologue to a far darker picture of what lies ahead.

The world envisioned in the 144-page report, ominously subtitled “A More Contested World,” is rent by a changing climate, aging populations, disease, financial crises and technologies that divide more than they unite, all straining societies and generating “shocks that could be catastrophic.” The gap between the challenges and the institutions meant to deal with them continues to grow, so that “politics within states are likely to grow more volatile and contentious, and no region, ideology, or governance system seems immune or to have the answers.” At the international level, it will be a world increasingly “shaped by China’s challenge to the United States and Western-led international system,” with a greater risk of conflict.

Want more?
Here is a link to the NYT article

Happiness

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Most people want to be happy. It is in our DNA. However, with a global pandemic and all that comes with it, sometimes we can use a nudge regarding what things can contribute to our happiness.

That’s why I was drawn to an article in the New York Times entitled, “Over 3 Million People Took This Course on Happiness. Here’s What Some Learned.” Here is how it began:

“It may seem simple, but it bears repeating: sleep, gratitude and helping other people.”

“Everyone knows what they need to do to protect their physical health: wash your hands, and social distance, and wear a mask,” she added. “People were struggling with what to do to protect their mental health.”

“The Coursera curriculum, adapted from the one Dr. Santos taught at Yale, asks students to, among other things, track their sleep patterns, keep a gratitude journal, perform random acts of kindness, and take note of whether, over time, these behaviors correlate with a positive change in their general mood”.

Want more? You can read the rest of the piece here

Looking to the Future

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National security and defense officials have begun to recognize that, while it is impossible to accurately “predict” what conflict will look like in the future, one way to avoid assuming that the next war will look precisely like the last one is to mine works of fiction. In novels, authors can spread their wings unencumbered by existing doctrine.

This fairly new phenomena has been dubbed “FICINT,” as it combines fiction writing with current intelligence to envision future warfare. This writing is strongly grounded in reality and not fantasy and that is what makes it so valuable.

While anyone can write FICINT, periodically, one or more writers with the strongest possible “street creds” produce a work of fiction that imagines war in the future. 2034: A Novel of the Next World War by Elliot Ackerman and James Stavridis is one such work – and one that was recently highlighted in the New York Times Book Review “Shortlist.” Here is an excerpt:

This fast-paced military thriller details the horrifying aftermath of a mistaken encounter between an American naval patrol and a potent Chinese weapon. The weapon’s power — to destroy all computers on board the American ships, rendering them utterly isolated — works as a kind of metonymy for the book’s argument about America’s waning global influence. The military’s isolation finds a twin in the novel’s political problem, in which American operators must reimagine their allies not as helpers to boost their might but as saviors.

Want more? You can read the rest of the piece here

A More Contested World

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Every four years, the National Intelligence Council, the public-facing arm of the Director of National Intelligence Council and the 16 intelligence agencies under her stewardship, issues its Global Trends report, looking far into the future to determine what threats the United States will need to deal with years hence.

The just-released Global Trends 2040: A More Contested World is the seventh such report issued by the NIC. It differs from previous reports in many ways, most notably in that it addresses the still-evolving changes wrought by the current global pandemic and, while it does talk about traditional warfare, it has a strong focus on social issues. Here is how a report in the New York Times begins:

U.S. intelligence officials warned in a report issued on Thursday about the potential fragmentation of society and the global order, holding out the possibility of a world where international trade is disrupted, groups of countries create online enclaves and civic cohesion is undermined.

The report, compiled every four years by the National Intelligence Council, mixes more traditional national security challenges like the potentially disruptive rise of China with social trends that have clear security implications, like the internet’s tendency to exacerbate political and cultural divisions.

A previous version of the report, released by the Obama administration in 2017, highlighted the risk of a pandemic and the vast economic disruption it could cause — a prescient prediction in hindsight.

The new report said that the coronavirus pandemic showed the weakness of the world order and that the institutions devised to face past crises are inadequate to coordinate a global response to new challenges like the spread of Covid-19. The failure of those institutions deepened public dissatisfaction and further eroded faith in the old order, the report said.

Want more?

Here is a link to the NYT article

And here is a link to the National Intelligence Council Report

 

Economy Booming?

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Do you feel confused about the economy and whether we are in a boom or bust? It is likely that you do, as there is vastly more heat than light regarding where the economy is going. Depending on what news media you pick and when you engage, you might see unbridled optimism or impending doom.

That’s why I was drawn to an article entitled: “17 Reasons to Let the Economic Optimism Begin.” While I wasn’t looking for a warm fuzzy or a security blanket, this piece did tease out the reasons that the trend lines (trends – not guarantees) are heading in the right direction. Don’t plan that Paris vacation yet, but lean into living life again. Here is how it begins:

But strange as it may seem in this time of pandemic, I’m starting to get optimistic. It’s an odd feeling, because so many people are suffering — and because for so much of my career, a gloomy outlook has been the correct one.

Predictions are a hard business, of course, and much could go wrong that makes the decades ahead as bad as, or worse than, the recent past. But this optimism is not just about the details of the new pandemic relief legislation or the politics of the moment. Rather, it stems from a diagnosis of three problematic mega-trends, all related.

There is not one reason, however, to think that these negative trends have run their course. There are 17.

Want more? You can read the rest of the piece here

Meet me at The BookFest: Spring 2021 – April 17 & 18

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The BookFest is free to attend. Just go to the website and check out the live stream to watch panels and conversations. Sat. April 17th is dedicated to readers, and Sun. April 18th is dedicated to writers.

Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords; prolific New York Times bestselling author Jonathan Maberry; Patrick M. Oliver founder of Say it Loud!; and skeptic, author and thinker, Michael Shermer, are doing conversations during the two-day online event. These intimate one-on-one talks give attendees the opportunity to learn more about each individual, and to take a deep dive into the topics discussed.

Delivering the opening keynote for The BookFest Spring 2021 is author of the #1 Amazon bestseller The Art of Hybrid Timber Framing, Bert Sarkkinen. As the founder of Arrow Timber, Sarkkinen takes attendees on a journey to find long-term happiness.

Plus, panel discussions include an array of writers, literary professionals, and experts discussing the books we read, relevant topics of our times, the art and craft of writing, and more.

Check out the Live Author Chats and the BookFest Spring Picnic Giveaway on Sat, April 17th.

On Sun, April 18th writers will get a chance to network and ask their burning questions during the Ask the Industry Experts Anything: Live Q&A for Writers of Every Level.

To stay informed on everything BookFest-related, and to get a free Virtual Gift Bag emailed to you after The BookFest Adventure, sign up for email alerts: https://www.thebookfest.com/signup/

www.TheBookFest.com

#TheBookFest #TheBookFestSpring2021