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ASPI suggests

Posted By on July 28, 2017 @ 15:11

Welcome to a guest edition of ASPI suggests (sug-guests?)—I will be your guide.

Two tech industry billionaires spent a significant portion of this week debating how best to deal with the threat of killer robots. While that might sound like the plot of a Michael Bay movie, the participants in this debate were none other than Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg [1]. Musk, of SpaceX and Tesla fame, has repeatedly warned the world [2] about the potentially apocalyptic consequences of an unrestrained push to develop fully fledged artificial intelligence (AI). Facebook’s Zuckerberg believes Musk is being overly dramatic, and he’s a lot more optimistic [3] about the future of AI. Though Musk says that’s just because Zuckerberg’s ‘understanding of the subject is limited [4]’.

Whether by conspiracy or coincidence, the internet has been rife with articles about AI and robots this week. On the military side, Lockheed Martin is talking up [5] the potential role of AI in the next generation of fighter jets. Meanwhile, old US Air Force F-16s are being converted into unmanned target drones, and one was recently shot down [6] during test exercises. But drones aren’t restricted to the air domain: underwater robots are going to be integral to the future of naval warfare [7]. And it’s not just us—China wants to be the world leader in AI [8] by 2030.

On the commercial side, this VICE piece [9] suggests that improvements in AI may be costing jobs, but there’s also something of a jobs boom in the software engineering industry. Also, the UK government is introducing compulsory registration [10] for hobbyist drones, and iRobot (maker of the Roomba [11] robot vacuum cleaner) has come under scrutiny for contemplating the sale of house-mapping data [12].

It seems we can’t go a whole week without talking about our American friends, but this one might drum up some local discussion, too. President Trump has said that he wants to ban transgender people [13] from serving in the US military, leaving many scratching their heads. It looks like the announcement may have blindsided Defence Secretary Mattis [14] and the Pentagon, and some of Trump’s fellow Republicans [15] on the Hill have been critical of the new policy—although it’s not altogether clear [16] if there has actually been any official change in policy.

Trump cited high healthcare costs as one of the reasons to bar transgender individuals from serving. In other entirely coincidental news, the US Navy commissioned its new aircraft carrier [17], USS Gerald R. Ford, last weekend, which cost roughly the same as the nominal annual GDP of South Sudan.

A few interesting research pickings this week: the US Army’s Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) put out a new publication on the future of war into 2050 [18] (PDF), including many buzzwords like cyber warfare, synthetic biology and lasers. Don’t let the ’90s video-game instruction manual cover deter you—they’re absolutely thinking about the right things. They’ve also put together a collection of sci-fi short stories [19] (PDF) on the subject. Defense One has been thinking about the future, too. It has released a new ebook, The future of military tech [20].

There’s also a new paper on Central Asia, Russia and China [21] from the German Marshall Fund. The region has historically been considered part of Russia’s sphere of influence, but that relationship was severed during the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Now Moscow may have to compete with Beijing’s growing influence in the region, and the GMF paper looks at policy options for the US in that context.

And coming full circle on artificial intelligence, there’s an extensive new report from the Belfer Center on the policy implications of AI and national security [22]. There’s a lot we should be thinking about in this space, even if we don’t take Elon Musk’s robopocalypse concerns seriously.


This week’s episode of The Spear [23] from the Modern War Institute looks at the 2003 invasion of Iraq from the perspective of Maj. John Spencer. Spencer was a platoon leader during the invasion and offers some unique first-person accounts.

And for the World War I enthusiast, this week’s Dead Prussian Podcast [24] talks to Kings College London scholar David Morgan-Owen about British strategic thinking over the 30-or-so years leading up to the eventual breakout of the Great War in 1914.


The Council on Foreign Relations’ Richard N. Haass and former US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter discuss a new VICE documentary [25], A world in disarray (40 minutes). The documentary is based on the book of the same name [26] by Haass, which examines the recent upending of the global order. You can also check out the trailer here [27].

And everyone’s favourite sock-puppet strategist, Binkov, looks at what a war between Pakistan and India [28] might look like in 2017 (10 minutes).


Canberra: Next Saturday, the Australian War Memorial [29] will host a curated talk on Australia’s role in the Guadalcanal campaign. That day, 7 August, marks the 75th anniversary of the campaign’s start.

Canberra: On 10 August, ANU’s Strategic and Defence Studies Centre will host a public lecture [30] on the future prospects for the ‘rules-based global order’.

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URL to article: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/aspi-suggests-52/

URLs in this post:

[1] Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg: https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2017/07/musk-vs-zuck/535077/

[2] repeatedly warned the world: http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/03/elon-musk-billion-dollar-crusade-to-stop-ai-space-x

[3] a lot more optimistic: http://www.news.com.au/technology/innovation/inventions/mark-zuckerberg-slams-elon-musk-and-says-artificial-intelligence-will-not-wipe-out-humanity/news-story/bc8c9376e0bca87d0e084e10411f7d0d

[4] understanding of the subject is limited: https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/889743782387761152

[5] is talking up: https://www.investors.com/news/lockheed-skunk-works-sees-this-making-huge-difference-in-future-fighter/

[6] recently shot down: http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/americas-f-16-fighting-falcon-can-be-converted-drone-was-21644

[7] the future of naval warfare: http://breakingdefense.com/2017/07/underwater-bloodhounds-darpas-robot-subs/

[8] world leader in AI: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/20/business/china-artificial-intelligence.html

[9] this VICE piece: https://news.vice.com/story/there-are-more-ai-jobs-than-ever-before

[10] introducing compulsory registration: https://www.gizmodo.com.au/2017/07/uk-government-says-all-drones-will-now-need-to-be-registered/

[11] Roomba: https://youtu.be/pXhsUPtsiLU

[12] sale of house-mapping data: https://www.gizmodo.com.au/2017/07/roombas-next-big-step-is-selling-maps-of-your-home-to-the-highest-bidder/

[13] ban transgender people: http://www.realcleardefense.com/articles/2017/07/26/trump_says_transgender_people_should_be_barred_from_military_111903.html

[14] blindsided Defence Secretary Mattis: https://www.businessinsider.com.au/mattis-vacation-appaulled-trump-trans-ban-2017-7?r=US&IR=T

[15] Trump’s fellow Republicans: https://news.vice.com/story/powerful-republicans-oppose-trumps-trans-military-ban

[16] not altogether clear: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-military-transgender-exclusive-idUSKBN1AC2FN

[17] new aircraft carrier: http://foxtrotalpha.jalopnik.com/americas-new-13-billion-aircraft-carrier-is-still-far-1797119016

[18] future of war into 2050: http://www.tradoc.army.mil/watch/OperationalEnvironment_ChangingCharacter_FutureWarfare.pdf

[19] sci-fi short stories: http://www.tradoc.army.mil/watch/MadSciStoriesCompendium.pdf

[20] The future of military tech: http://www.defenseone.com/assets/future-military-tech/portal/

[21] Central Asia, Russia and China: http://www.gmfus.org/publications/central-asia-russia-and-china-us-policy-eurasias-core

[22] AI and national security: https://www.belfercenter.org/publication/artificial-intelligence-and-national-security

[23] The Spear: https://mwi.usma.edu/podcast-spear-combat-stories-invasion-iraq/

[24] Dead Prussian Podcast: http://www.realcleardefense.com/video/2017/07/27/on_the_fear_of_invasion.html

[25] discuss a new VICE documentary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bB5S7KQ0Gr0

[26] book of the same name: https://www.cfr.org/book/world-disarray

[27] here: https://youtu.be/dY8pUKxSXdI

[28] war between Pakistan and India: https://youtu.be/LuIMF5IbdZ4

[29] Australian War Memorial: https://www.awm.gov.au/visit/events/guadalcanal

[30] a public lecture: http://sdsc.bellschool.anu.edu.au/news-events/events/5489/prospects-rules-based-global-order

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