Think Different

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While bookstore (or Amazon warehouse) shelves groan under the weight of books about Silicon Valley, they continue to feed our fascination with the tech industry.

That is why I was drawn to the review of a new book: WHAT TECH CALLS THINKING
An Inquiry Into the Intellectual Bedrock of Silicon Valley. Here is how it begins:

In 2007, the venture capitalist Marc Andreessen argued in a brassy blog post that markets — not personnel, product or pricing — were the only thing a start-up needed to take flight. Teams, he suggested, were a dime a dozen. Products could be barely functional. He even suggested that the laws of supply and demand, the ones that generate price competition, no longer obtained.

The takeaway was something like If they come, you will build it. To get them to come, a founder needs a magnetic concept. Community, say. Connection. Sharing. Markets coalesced around these hazy notions in 2007 and 2008, with the debuts of Twitter, Airbnb, Waze, Tumblr and Dropbox.

In an erudite new book, “What Tech Calls Thinking,” Adrian Daub, a professor of comparative literature and German studies at Stanford, investigates the concepts in which Silicon Valley is still staked. He argues that the economic upheavals that start there are “made plausible and made to seem inevitable” by these tightly codified marketing strategies he calls “ideals.”

There are so many scintillating aperçus in Daub’s book that I gave up underlining. But I couldn’t let “Disruption is a theodicy of hypercapitalism” pass. Not only does Daub’s point ring true — ennobling destruction and sabotage makes the most brutal forms of capitalism seem like God’s will — but the words themselves sound like one of the verses of a German punk-socialist anthem.

Want more? Here is a link to the NYT article

The End

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The Covid-19 has caused many people to confront death through the loss of friends and loved ones. But even if you are not touched by personal loss, you are likely thinking about your own limited time on this earth more than you were, say, 18 months ago.

The Stoics have a term for this – memento mori. I also wondered about this term and wanted to know more. That’s why I eagerly read a recent article “Meet the Nun Who Wants You to Remember You Will Die.” The subtitle is profound: “Suffering and death are facts of life: “Everyone dies, their bodies rot, and every face becomes a skull.” Here is how the article begins:

Before she entered the Daughters of St. Paul convent in 2010, Sister Theresa Aletheia Noble read a biography of the order’s founder, an Italian priest who was born in the 1880s. He kept a ceramic skull on his desk, as a reminder of the inevitability of death. Sister Aletheia, a punk fan as a teenager, thought the morbid curio was “super punk rock,” she recalled recently. She thought vaguely about acquiring a skull for herself someday.

These days, Sister Aletheia has no shortage of skulls. People send her skull mugs and skull rosaries in the mail, and share photos of their skull tattoos. A ceramic skull from a Halloween store sits on her desk. Her Twitter name includes a skull and crossbones emoji.

That is because since 2017, she has made it her mission to revive the practice of memento mori, a Latin phrase meaning “Remember your death.” The concept is to intentionally think about your own death every day, as a means of appreciating the present and focusing on the future. It can seem radical in an era in which death — until very recently — has become easy to ignore.

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

The Damocles Agenda Official Trailer

Many writers write novels about warfare. Some of them write about the future of warfare. Sadly, most base what they write about on fantastical, made up scenarios that bear no connection with reality. Jeff Edwards is not one of them, His latest thriller follows a long line of riveting, and convincing military thrillers and are informed by his decades of service as U.S. Navy professional. The Damocles Agends is a book you won’t want to miss.

The Next Revolution in Military Affairs? – Review of AI at War

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05/31/2021

By Robbin Laird

Recently, USNI press has published a book edited by Sam J. Tangredi and George Galdorisi entitled AI at War: How Big Data, Artifical Intellignece and Machine Learning are Changing Naval Warfare.

The book provides a useful overview to various perspectives on how AI and autonomous systems might shape the way ahead with regard to the evolution of warfare.

I would suggest the might shape point.

In effect, the art of warfare is changing under the impact of several forces for change, not simply how data is managed or how machines might operate as force extenders for manned platforms.

In reality, the book really focuses on command and control, and many of the chapters focus on that subject.

The shift from the land wars back to peer competitor warfare is built around the return of mission command and C2 as the heart of shaping the way ahead for distributed forces.

The standup of Second Fleet in Norfolk and the associated commands under VADM Lewis’s leadership are being crafted into a warfighting force around mission command and distributed C2 and reworking task force concepts.

Autonomous systems and better information management will enhance the lethality, survivability and capability of such a force, but that is the mid-term.

But without working the core concept of operations shifts, adding new machines will not have the impact they might have.

A good way to look at this dynamic is provided in the chapter by Harrison Schramm and Bryan Clark.

“A more disaggregated and reconfigurable force structure would enable a wider variety of potential force presentations. An AI-enabled control system could exploit the composability of a disaggregated force to create greater adaptability for the U.S. military and impose more dilemmas and complexity on an adversary, thereby increasing the opponent’s uncertainty.”

In my work with the Australian Defence Force and the recent Williams Foundation Seminar on Next Generation Autonomous Systems this is a key focus of attention for the ADF.

Reshaping the maritime force to operate as a fleet, and to do so in terms of blue water expeditionary operations is the foundation from which a transition to use effectively autonomous systems within which AI would play a decision guidance role is foundational.

There are several thoughtful chapters on C2 as the U.S. Navy turns its focus to peer warfare.

But as it does so there are three very important considerations which affect big data, AI and its use.

The first is that the peer competitors we are talking about are nuclear powers, so that any consideration of how to manage attacks upon peer adversaries must consider how those attacks affect the calculations of adversaries.

The second is that understanding of how adversaries think and how they might act is part of the calculation which AI processing of data can assist if we indeed have the knowledge to know what we are looking for and what we are looking at.

This is a huge gap as we turn from being Middle East experts to calibrating how authoritarian leaders in Russia and China under the global stress of COVID-19 and the post-globalization era looks like and how best to use military tool sets?

The third is the question of targeting.

There is a good treatment of the targeting or fires solution problem by Michael O’Gara.

He provides a cautious and careful assessment of how AI can help in the decision process to make a fires solution.

As he notes: “AI holds promise in handling resource priorities across domains more seamlessly while being capable of initiating responses based on more accurate and timely threat assessments.”

But of course, the core targeting problem is not simply the speed to attack but also target selection in a crisis management setting.

But if confidence in both the speed and accuracy to attack is high and can be assisted by more rapid and effective data management and decision tools, then that can assist in providing for a wider set of crisis management options, from the standpoint of decision-making confidence as well.

The book does consider as well the problem of ability to spoof AI-enabled systems.

But there is as well the potential for distributed fleets to develop packages which they can deploy to deceive the adversary as well, even in terms of effective operating location.

The US Navy’s Nemesis program is suggestive of such a possibility.

And in considering the future, it is important not to ignore the warfighting advantages our force already has that the adversary does not.

For example, the ability of an 8-ship F-35 formation to fight as a wolfpack, suggests what swarming could deliver in the midterm future.

The ability of U.S. and allied F-35s to operate over large areas like the North Atlantic and the Mid-Pacific to shape a COP and target identification has barely been scratched. These are harbingers of things to come, but they are here now.

The future is now.

The mid-term and long-term future are just that and mostly unknowable.

How well did the forecasters in 2019 do in forecasting 2020?

The book provides a very useful collection of essays which frame ways to think about AI, big data and C2 might change the future of warfare. It is well worth reading.

https://www.usni.org/press/books/ai-war

Author’s Note: In a recently published Australian study on AI and the military, Peter Layton provided an interesting look at how to consider different ways AI-enabled assets might play out on future battlefields. 

The conclusion to his study provides a very helpful and balanced look at the way ahead with regard to AI and warfare:

In the near-to-medium term, AI’s principal attraction for military forces will be its ability to quickly identify patterns and detect items hidden within very large data troves. AI will make it much easier to detect, localise and identity objects across the battlespace. Hiding will become increasingly difficult.

However, the technology of contemporary AI has inherent problems. It is brittle, in being able to operate only in the context it has been trained for; it is unable to transfer knowledge gained in one task to another and it is dependent on data. Accordingly, AI when used in real-world situations needs to be teamed with humans. The strengths of AI can then counterbalance the weaknesses in human cognition and vice versa….

As a general-purpose technology, AI is becoming all-pervasive and will over time infuse most military equipment. Such ubiquity though means AI is likely to be initially employed within existing operational level thinking. In the short-to-medium term, it will enable the battlefield, not remake it.

In simple terms, AI’s principal warfighting utility can be expressed as ‘find and fool’. With its machine learning, AI is excellent at finding items hidden within a high-clutter background. In this role, AI is better than humans and tremendously faster. On the other hand, AI can be fooled through various means. AI’s great finding capabilities lack robustness.

AI’s ‘find’ abilities further provide mobile systems with a new level of autonomy, as the AI can analyse its surroundings to discern important operating data. This means that ‘find and fool’ tasks can be undertaken using in-motion and at-rest, AI-enabled systems featuring varying levels of autonomy. AI can bring to modern warfighting enhanced sensors, improved kinetic and non-kinetic kill systems, more convincing deception techniques and a wide array of ways to confuse. In this, it is crucial to remember that AI enlivens other technologies. AI is not a stand-alone actor, rather it works in combination with numerous other digital technologies, providing a form of cognition to these.

If being used for defensive tasks, a large number of low-cost IoT sensors using AI edge computing could be emplaced in the optimum land, sea, air, space and cyber locations in a territory in which an attacking force may move across. From these sensors, a deep understanding would be gained of the area’s terrain, sea conditions, physical environment and local virtual milieu. Having this background data accelerates AI’s detection of any movement of hostile military forces across it….

For Layton, the operational shift which AI-enabled warfare entailed could be understood as a shift from the kill chain to the kill web.

The kill chain model used by contemporary military forces tightly integrates the sense–decide–act logic flow. In contrast, the data flow across the large Internet of Things (IoT) field in the mosaic warfare construct creates a kill web, where the best path to achieve a task can be determined and used in near real-time. The use of the IoT field is then fluid and constantly varying, not a fixed data flow as the kill chain model implies. The outcome is that the mosaic warfare concept provides commanders with highly resilient networks of redundant nodes and multiple kill paths. Moreover, the mosaic concept aims to be scalable; the size and elements of the IoT field can be varied as battlefield circumstances demand.

OUR NEXT WAR AND HOW IT MIGHT UNFOLD By Reginald Blackstone

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San Diegans, living in the midst of a heavy military presence have daily reminders that the potential of warfare is something that we simply cannot just ignore. Indeed, as noted philosopher, essayist, and novelist George Santayana famously commented, “Only the dead have seen the end of war”.

Coronado resident and former naval aviator George Galdorisi has his focus on the horizon trying to intuit what future wars might be like in order to help the United States better prepare for a conflict that might one day force the nation’s hand. His latest novel, Fire and Ice, published by Braveship Books is another entry in an increasingly popular genre known as FICINT (Fictional Intelligence), which melds narrative and non-fiction. In essence, it is imagining future warfare scenarios based on the realities of high-end combat and real-world intelligence, not fantasy – the U.S. national security community has now embraced this new genre as a useful instrument to discern how tomorrow’s wars will be fought.

Fire and Ice is an engrossing thriller focused on the political-military tensions created by a modern-day Russia at its vindictive worst. Vladimir Putin emerges as a central character that uses the fulcrum of Belarus to hold Western Europe hostage by strangling their oil and gas supplies. Fire and Ice poses the plausible and highly realistic question: Can Putin and his rogue nation be thwarted through the combined efforts of EU and US political and military might?

Central figures Rick Holden and Laura Peters find themselves thrown together by their parent agencies — the CIA and the DoD’s European Command — respectively. Their mission to rescue an American captured by Putin’s henchmen is successful, but then they must shift gears and race against time to thwart vengeful Chechen terrorists from getting their hands on weapons of mass destruction and starting a nuclear war in Europe. Drawing on cutting-edge military technology developed in recent years, and referred to as AI (Artificial Intelligence), Galdorisi leverages both his decades of experience as a naval aviator and his current work at a U.S. Navy laboratory creating innovative technology to inject a new and harrowing level of future warfare reality into the-for the moment-fictional Fire and Ice.

Whilst reading, I was struck by how prescient this book truly is given the fact that it was conceived in 2018, and without revealing the plot, the narrative of a larger country invading a smaller, the blockage of the Suez Canal, and cyber-attacks on energy facilities do populate today’s headlines.

Author George Galdorisi is a Coronado resident, career naval aviator, and New York Times bestselling author. His thirty years of active duty service included four command tours, five years as a carrier strike group chief of staff, and leader of the delegation for military-to-military consultations with the Chinese Navy. He is the Director of Strategic Assessments and Technical Futures at the Naval Information Warfare Center Pacific in San Diego.

Writing FICINT: George Galdorisi’s Rick Holden – Fire and Ice Review

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05/27/2021

By Robbin Laird

I have just finished reading George Galdorisi’s latest novel featuring Rick Holden, a Navy Seal and Naval Intelligence officer, engaged in helping resolve an East-West crisis. The scene of much of the action takes place in a country which I visited in the early 1990s, Belarus. The author has placed Belarus at the center of an East-West confrontation, which the recent Belarusian hijacking of a European aircraft to offboard a Belarusian dissident, reminds us of their potential to do so.

The book is of a genre which has been labelled FICINT or a genere of military-themed works of fiction. In such fiction, future warfare scenarios are shaped and played out and allow the reader to operate within the confines of those scenarios. What such an effort allows the reader to do is to imagine how crises can play out, what tools are most useful to resolving the crises, and how easily the world can spin into significant crises as well.

As Galdorisi has noted: “As one indication of how FICINT is having an impact, a number of U.S. military commands and think tanks focused on military matters such as The U.S Army Training and Doctrine Command, the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, the U.S. Naval War College, the U.S. Army War College, the Atlantic Council, the Center for International Maritime Security, the U.S. Naval Institute, and others, now sponsor fiction writing contests to tease out good ideas from FICINT writers.”

Recently, I had a chance to interview Galdorisi with regard to his latest Holden novel. He explained that with his lifetime of work in and with the U.S. Navy provides a backdrop to understanding how military operations roll out in the real world. But how might such military operations roll out in future contexts, with a changing global security environment?

In his Holden novels, he places military and political leaders in different strategic contexts and imagines how those leaders might react to different crisis settings. In the current novel, he crafted a crisis in which loose nucs in the hands of brokers willing to sell them to terrorists intersects with a significant hijacking of a an American important to the sitting Administration. These two events are woven into a narrative where the European Union and the United States need to work together to constrain the Russian leader from leveraging the crisis to gain a significant advantage.

This means in his piece, the Holden special ops team works within the U.S. military structure and the Washington-based policy team, to deal with events on the ground, European leaders and finding a way to deal with Putin directly, while working to deal with events on the ground in Belarus. Working through the novel reminds you of how many things have to go right to attenuate a crisis; they also remind you of how they might spin out of control as well.

The book is a good read and provides an opportunity to think through how crises can unfold in the evolving context of global disorder.

Who’s on Top?

We all recognize that big tech, especially the FAANG Five (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Alphabet (Google parent) have an increasingly dominant position in our lives.

Like it or not, we depend on this technology not only to enhance our lives, but to do the very basics of day-to-day living.

As one indication as to how the FAANG Five dominate our lives, one needs only look to what happened at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama. Here is how a recent article began the tale:

It is easy to imagine that Amazon executives popped champagne corks over the weekend after quashing the union drive in Bessemer, Ala. After a bruising fight, workers at the warehouse, in a suburb of Birmingham, rejected joining a union by more than a two-to-one ratio, chilling future union organizing efforts at the nation’s second-largest private employer.

In its bitter battle against the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, Amazon won much more than a reprieve from labor’s advances; at stake in Alabama was securing corporate America’s carefully constructed supremacy over its workers.

Amazon was standing up for the big guys.

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

What Does the Future Hold?

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Every once in a while you read something that really makes you think. As a writer, I often wonder why those of us who write in the political-military sphere do what we do.

 

I resurrected an article I read almost ten years ago: “Novelists Predict Future With Eerie Accuracy.” Here is how the author begins:

 

Last year, he had described, in his dystopian comic novel “Super Sad True Love Story,” a near future world in which economic chaos followed the United States’ default on its debt, and Chinese creditors scolded America for its profligate ways.

 

Now the story seemed to have an echo in real life. Washington’s extended impasse over raising the debt ceiling was resolved with a last-minute vote, but the nearness of the miss and the subsequent credit downgrade by Standard & Poor’s sent markets on a wild ride. The admonition from China’s official Xinhua news agency — “The U.S. government has to come to terms with the painful fact that the good old days when it could just borrow its way out of messes of its own making are finally gone” — might as well have come from Mr. Shteyngart’s laptop.

 

That was then, this is now, and this general idea of looking to the future through fiction has evolved into a new genre called FICINT—imagining future warfare scenarios based on the realities of high-end combat and real-world intelligence, not fantasy. My most recent novel, Fire and Ice, is a engrossing thriller focused on the political-military tensions created by a modern-day Russia at its vindictive worst. It leaves the reader wondering not if, but when, such a cataclysmic scenario might play out in our lifetimes.

 

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

A link to Fire and Ice on Amazon is here

China Rising

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Last 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. What this report – which represents the collective efforts of all the Nation’s intelligence agencies – highlights is the fact that China is America’s most worrisome adversary.

Few have time to read the comprehensive Global Trends report, and that is why I found a summary by Julian Barnes so compelling. Here is how he begins:

China’s effort to expand its growing influence represents one of the largest threats to the United States, according to a major annual intelligence report released on Tuesday, which also warned of the broad national security challenges posed by Moscow and Beijing.

The report does not predict a military confrontation with either Russia or China, but it suggests that so-called gray-zone battles for power, which are meant to fall short of inciting all-out war, will intensify with intelligence operations, cyberattacks and global drives for influence.

The report predicts more tensions in the South China Sea, as Beijing continues to intimidate rivals in the region. It also predicts that China will press the government of Taiwan to move forward with unification and criticize efforts by the United States to bolster engagement with Taipei. But the report stopped short of predicting any kind of direct military conflict.

“We expect that friction will grow as Beijing steps up attempts to portray Taipei as internationally isolated and dependent on the mainland for economic prosperity, and as China continues to increase military activity around the island,” the report said.

Want more? Here is a link to the NYT article

Growing

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Covid-19 has impacted all of us, whether we have lost anyone close to us or not. I don’t know anyone personally who has not used this time to reflect.

That is why I was drawn to Charles Blow’s opinion piece. He seemed to sum up nicely what I – and I suspect many of us – am thinking as we power through this pandemic. Here is part of what he shared:

This seemingly sudden intrusion of death into your life changes you. At least it is changing me. It reminds me that life is terribly fragile and short, that we are all just passing through this plane, ever so briefly. And that has impressed upon me how important it is to live boldly, bravely and openly, to embrace every part of me and celebrate it, to say and write the important things: the truth and my truth.

I realize that, according to the odds, my life is nearly two-thirds over, that I have more summers behind me than in front of me. This doesn’t mean that I’ve grown fatalistic or even that I feel particularly old. It is just a realization that the math says what the math says. And as such, I have begun to make certain adjustments, to change my perspective on my life.

I have started to manage my regrets and to reduce them, to forgive myself for foolish mistakes and reckless choices, to remember that we are all just human beings stumbling through this life, trying to figure it out, falling down and getting back up along the way. I have learned to cut myself some slack and get on with being a better person.

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