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Archive for August 12th, 2018

The Mind: Most polarizing card game of the year?

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Charlie Theel writes in Ars Technica:

When I first heard The Mind described, it didn’t make sense. This little German game has players cooperate to play cards from their hands in ascending order, without talking—and that’s about it. The concept sounds farcical in its simplicity, particularly when paired with the amount of furor the game has generated.

Then I played the thing, and it wouldn’t get out of my head.

Originally published by Nürnberger-Spielkarten-Verlag, The Mind has now been brought to North America by Pandasaurus Games. It was nominated for the prestigious Spiel des Jahres award (though it was beaten by Azuland has started a groundswell of both praise and consternation. How can such a simple game generate so much attention?

Cult of The Mind

The community that has fallen for this design tends to describe The Mind with a sense of mystique and wonder. The game, they say, breeds a feeling of collective action that’s almost cult-like—which is why The Mind is often described as an “experience” as opposed to a game.

That’s not to say this isn’t a game. Players are dealt out a random assortment of cards from a deck numbered 1 to 100. Everyone must then play their cards in ascending order to a joint pile on the table. Whoever has the lowest card in the group must play theirs first, followed by the person holding the next lowest, etc.

The Mind’s magic lies in how it limits communication. Players are not allowed to talk and must instead utilize non-verbal cues (like delayed action) as their primary tools. So if you’re dealt the three, you slowly slide the card face-down towards the middle of the table with your eyes wide as you stare down your peers. You want to push the card forward just cautiously enough to allow someone with a one or two to play first. If you sit there quietly with that three in your hand for too long, the player with the 10 may incorrectly assume she has the lowest value card and toss that out to the pile.

When a card is played out of order, players immediately discard those cards and the group loses a life. Play escalates round to round as each level has more cards dealt to the participants. The stakes increase. The difficulty can be staggering, which provides an otherworldly sense of satisfaction if you eventually eke out a win. When that happens, you’ll be nursing a bruised palm from a dozen high-fives, then hopping up on adrenaline for the rest of the evening.

The Mind is one of the most intensely clever exercises in simplicity I’ve seen. It brings a single mechanism to the table and offers a few restrictions that result in a fantastic trick. Very few games rely so completely on non-verbal communication, and that’s exactly where this title lives and dies.

In many ways, the experience is similar to the classic Ouija board. It offers a situation ripe for exploitation and allows players to do the heavy lifting and meet it more than halfway. This framework can produce euphoric moments shared between everyone at the table. That sense of exhilarating intoxication is powerful—and many tabletop games never achieve it.

Take the following common situation: . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

12 August 2018 at 1:08 pm

Posted in Games

Sugartime: The impact sugar has had on our culture

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Ruby Tandoh writes in Eater:

In a romantic oil painting by Will Cotton, Katy Perry lies naked on a cotton candy cloud, a whisper of pink spun sugar draped over her butt. The landscape bulges and billows with emphatic softness, dominating the painting except for a hint of blue sky. Perry offers a look both languid and post-orgasmic, lips parted, her hair nostalgically curled like a 1950s pinup. When the painting made its debut on the cover of Perry’s 2010 album Teenage Dream, it sat somewhere between commercial pop and high-art comment on all of the above. The uncomfortable excess of Cotton’s work was used to sell uncomfortable excess. And it all hinged on sugar.

Sugar is sprinkled everywhere in our language. When children are good and happy, they are cutie pies. Cool stuff can be “sweet, man.” Our crush is a sweetheart, and our sweetheart might be our honey. “A spoonful of sugar,” as Mary Poppins croons, is a bribe, something to help “the medicine go down.” Sugar is leisure and celebration — what British birthday would be complete without the stickiness of cake frosting on fingers? It is, according to Roland Barthes, an attitude — as integral to the concept of Americanness as wine is to Frenchness. In the 1958 hit song “Sugartime,” to which Barthes was referring, the sunny, smiling McGuire Sisters harmonize sweetly, filling their mouths with honey: “Sugar in the mornin’ / Sugar in the evenin’ / Sugar at suppertime / Be my little sugar / And love me all the time.”

And like anything pleasurable, sugar is often characterized as a vice. The flood of industrial sugar into packaged food has real public health consequences, but predictably, the backlash has taken on a puritanical zeal far beyond reasonable concerns. Sugar is “America’s drug of choice,” one headline claimed. “Is sugar the world’s most popular drug?” wondered another. Even those selling sugary food winkingly parrot the language of addiction — consider Milk Bar’s notoriously sticky, seductively sweet Crack Pie. A drug that decimated predominantly poor, black American communities is now a punchline for middle-class white indulgence.

For black Americans, sweetness was an essential ingredient in Jim Crow-era stereotypes designed to keep newly emancipated people from their rights. Those stereotypes persist — and even generate profit — today. The racist trope of watermelon-eating African Americans, popularized in this era, framed black people as simpletons and children craving nothing beyond a sweet slice of melon. Aunt Jemima, a character derived from minstrel shows, is the apotheosis of the happy, nurturing “mammy” stereotype, empty and filled with sweet syrup, her smile used to sell sugar for PepsiCo. “The shelf on which i sit,” reads Lucille Clifton’s poem “Aunt Jemima”:

between the flour and cornmeal
is thick with dreams
oh how i long for

my own syrup
rich as blood
my true nephews my nieces
my kitchen my family 
my home

And sugar’s history is brutal. The artist Kara Walker tackled a profoundly different collision of femininity and sweetness than Katy Perry on a candy cloud when she conceived of a 35-foot sugar sphinx inside the former Domino Sugar Refinery in 2014. Titled A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, Walker’s sculpture was the single largest piece of public art ever shown in New York City. A crouching black woman made from 40 tons of glistening white sugar, surrounded by life-sized figurines of black boys carrying bananas or baskets, she hunched forward on her toes, knees, and forearms, her lips, breasts, butt, and labia swelling round in cartoonish extravagance — an uneasy reflection of the fetishization of black women’s bodies and the commodification of their flesh. The sugar sphinx, the artist wrote in the work’s full title, was “an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant.”

Sugar is survival. It is a respite for palates swept clean of childish joy for too long. It is sexual desire and pleasure, and also temptation and sin. And it is a commodity, one historically produced with some of the most brutal labor practices on the planet. In the Western imagination, sugar is pleasure, temptation, and vice — and in modern history, it is original sin.


Sweetness is a primal pleasure, like warmth or softness. Our desire to find, taste, and consume it is profoundly natural, but our quest to make more of it, to cook, bake, caramelize, and fry our way to sweet — that is profoundly human. Our love of sugar is shaped when we’re gummy infants, and follows us through adulthood into gummy old age. One study found that when sweet solutions were injected into the womb, fetuses, whose nutritional needs are entirely met by the umbilical cord, swallowed more amniotic fluid. When bitter solutions were injected, less was swallowed. Another study found that anencephalic infants — babies born with much of their brain mass missing, and who rarely live longer than a few hours — reacted positively when a sweet substance was placed on their lips, and grimaced when given something bitter, even though they lacked the part of the brain typically responsible for taste.

In the current age of abundant, industrial food, this sweet tooth is considered hedonistic. But our love of sugar is about survival: Where food was scarce, sweetness offered a clue it contained a large number of much-needed calories, just as an aversion to bitterness kept us away from many toxic plants. Even the breast milk that humans produce is sweet.

In nature, sweetness often accompanies ripeness, in just-picked peapods and baby corn cobs as well as melon slices and punnets of late-season cherries. As chef and author Samin Nosrat explained to me, “At the farmer’s market … one of the highest compliments is to say that something is very sweet.” Unlike the sledgehammer thwack of candy, natural sweetness is in constant flux, according to Nosrat, receding from the moment the fruit or vegetable is picked. “Peas,” she said, “can taste totally different from one day to the next.”

Cooking unlocks sweetness in wondrous ways, and we’ve become experts in harnessing that power: Red bell peppers are sweet when they’re roasted, and onions yield to a sticky, caramelized tangle if cooked slowly. Entire meal courses are devoted to candies, chocolate, cakes, ice cream, and pie. These foods — from sticky slabs of ginger cake to root beer floats — are joy that unfurls across the tongue. Molecules responsible for sweetness fit with protein receptors on the taste buds like pieces of some honeyed jigsaw puzzle.

It is also a pleasure contained in its own little box. For American and western European palates, sweetness occupies its own lonely niche in our cooking, sequestered and scrutinized. We have steaks and lobster rolls and quiche and potatoes and pizza … and then dessert separately, afterward. We eat vegetables and milk and bread … and then ice cream as a treat. Sugar is craved one moment, and controlled the next.

We’ve not always had such polarized tastes. Capon (a type of castrated cockerel, bred for eating), blanched almonds, rice, lard, salt, and sugar were the cornerstones of a medieval blancmange, or blank mang, as it was written in the 14th-century The Forme of Cury, one of the earliest-known collections of English cookery writing. The blancmange Brits are familiar with today is a sweet milk custard, set like a jelly, often in a decorative mold. The medieval version is a jarring admixture of sugar alongside meat. And this was in no way an unusual dish. Sweet courses were interspersed throughout a meal, and dishes such as frytour of erbes, or honeyed herb fritters, whose recipe is also archived in The Forme of Cury, straddled the sweet-savory divide. With such a strikingly different culinary grammar, the idea of a monolithic, wondrous, dreadful sugar would hardly have made sense to medieval cooks. Sweetness was not a behemoth category in itself, but a seasoning, no different than salt, or a pinch of spice.

In many cultures, this sugar-salt symphony is still foundational. “The food I grew up eating every night — that is to say, Persian home cooking — is all about balancing the plate with sweet and sour, salty and rich, crisp and soft,” says Nosrat. “Fresh and dried fruits — pomegranates, sour cherries, dates, raisins — all regularly found their way onto our dinner plates. So I have always been drawn to a little sweetness in my food.”

Food writer Yemisi Aribisala explained to me that Nigerian tastes demand sweet with an acidic counterbalance: “There won’t be any kind of dessert accompanying meals in most homes. People will snack on star apples (which are very tart) or cashew fruits, almond fruits, or guavas. I can’t even bring to mind one common fruit that is like the European apple, with considerably more sweetness than tartness.”

Some vestiges of this approach to flavor remain in Western cooking — sugar coaxes out flavor in everything from ketchup to honey-glazed ham — but these happy harmonies are largely erased by rigid taxonomies. In a 2016 article in the Charlotte Observer, Kathleen Purvis documented the disdain that white Southerners often hold for their black neighbors’ cornbread: light, cakey, and sweetened with sugar, compared to the paler, more savory cornbreads that cater to white tastes. Food writer Ronni Lundy once commented that, “If God had meant cornbread to have sugar, he would have made it cake.” Rather than finding value in the million ways that good taste can manifest, we are drawn into a polarized debate, where blackness is sweetness and excess, and whiteness is tasteful restraint.


How has sweetness — something we are evolutionarily programmed to like, for survival — come to stand in for sex and escapism and hedonism? Humans are metaphor machines, and our mouths are liminal places where food and words mingle, where hot dogs, tagliatelle, and Nigerian puff puff meet “my name is,” memory, and “I.” True synesthesia — the blurring between one sense and another — is relatively rare, but its logic pervades our language, so that trumpets might sound hot, or sadness taste sour. One study found that honeycomb toffee tastes less sweet when eaten whilst listening to a “bitter” soundtrack than when eaten whilst listening to a “sweet” soundtrack. And our senses don’t just crisscross randomly — “How come silence is sweet but sweetness isn’t silent?” one paper asked.

No sugared association is stronger than that between sweetness and . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 August 2018 at 11:25 am

Posted in Business, Daily life, Food, Memes

‘Lies My Teacher Told Me,’ And How American History Can Be Used As A Weapon

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Anya Kamentz reports at NPR:

When I was a high school junior in New Orleans taking AP American history, my teacher assigned us a paperback book. Slim in contrast to our hulking required textbook, it was a funny, compelling, even shocking read. Lies My Teacher Told Me, by James Loewen, explained how history textbooks got the story of America wrong, usually by soft-pedaling, oversimplifying and burying the thorny drama and uncertainties of the past under a blanket of dull, voice-of-God narration.

The book also taught a lot of history. It introduced me to concepts that still help me make sense of the world, like the “racial nadir” — the downturn in American race relations, starting after Reconstruction, that saw the rise of lynchings and the Ku Klux Klan. In doing so, Lies My Teacher Told Me overturned one assumption embedded in the history classes I’d been sitting through all my life: that the United States is constantly ascending from greatness to greatness.

The book has racked up many awards and sold around 2 million copies since it was first published in 1995. In a new edition out this summer, James Loewen — now professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Vermont — is championing the cause of critical thinking in the age of fake news.

He tells NPR, “I started out the new edition with the famous two photographs of the inaugural crowds of this guy named President Obama, his first inauguration, and this guy named President Trump, his first and maybe only inauguration. And you just look at those two photos and they’re completely different. There’s all kinds of grass and gaps that you see in the Trump photo. … What that does, I hope, is signal to every reader of the book: Yes, there are such things as facts here. You can see with your own eyes.”

The following conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Can you take me back to the original inspiration for the book?

My first full-time teaching job was at a black college, Tougaloo College in Mississippi. I had 17 new students in my new second semester [freshman sociology] seminar and I didn’t want to do all the talking the first day of class so I asked them, “OK, what is Reconstruction? What comes to your mind from that period?”

And what happened to me was an aha experience, although you might better consider it an oh-no experience: 16 out of my 17 students said, “Well, Reconstruction was the period right after the Civil War when blacks took over the government of the Southern states. But they were too soon out of slavery and so they screwed up and white folks had to take control again.”

My little heart sank. I mean, there’s at least three direct lies in that sentence.

Blacks never took over the government of the Southern states — all of the Southern states had white governors throughout the period. All but one had white legislative majorities.

Second, the Reconstruction governments did not screw up. Across the South without exception they built the best state constitutions that the Southern states have ever had. Mississippi, in particular, had better government during Reconstruction than at any later point in the 19th century.

A third lie would be, whites didn’t take control. It was white supremacist Democrats — indeed, it was the original Ku Klux Klan.

So I thought to myself, “My gosh, what must it do to you to believe that the one time your group was center stage in American history, they screwed up?”

So you set out to write your own textbook, didn’t you?

[Loewen, along with colleagues and students, co-wrote a new high school state history textbook called Mississippi: Conflict and Change. Despite high ratings from reviewers, the Mississippi State Textbook Purchasing Board rejected the book on the grounds that it was racially inflammatory. Loewen and his co-authors sued the board.]

The lawsuit had a “Perry Mason” moment — only your older listeners will understand what that is. Let’s say it had a dramatic moment, and that came when John Turnipseed [of the Mississippi State Textbook Purchasing Board] was on the stand.

The assistant attorney general for the state of Mississippi asked why he had voted against our book. And he had us turn to [a] page where there’s a photo of a lynching. Now, our textbook at that time was the only textbook in America that included a photo of a lynching. And ironically almost none do to this day.

Turnipseed is on the stand and he says: “Now, you know, some ninth-graders, especially black male ninth-graders, are pretty big, and I worried that teachers, especially white lady teachers, would have trouble controlling their classes with material like this in the book.”

Wow.

The judge — who was an [older] white Mississippian, but a man of honor — took over the questioning, and he said, “But that happened, didn’t it? Didn’t Mississippi have more lynchings than any other state?” And Turnipseed said, and again I quote, “Well, yes, but that all happened so long ago. Why dwell on it now?” And the judge said, “Well, it is a history book.”

The U.S. District Court found for Loewen and the textbook was adopted for several years.

That whole escapade proved to me that history can be a weapon. And that it had been used against my students. And that’s what got me so interested in American history as a weapon.

The book is called Lies My Teacher Told Me. What’s the biggest lie in the book?

Usually when I’m asked, “What’s the biggest lie?” I put my hand out in front of me slanting upward and to the right. And what I mean by that is the overall theme of American history is we started out great and we’ve been getting better ever since kind of automatically. And the trouble with that is two things. First of all, it’s not always true. …

And the second part is what it does to the high school student. It says you don’t need to protest; you don’t need to write your congressman; you don’t need to do any of the things that citizens do, because everything’s getting better all the time.

So it encourages passivity.

Exactly.

And then the other part about it is the enormous textbooks. I mean, you talk about the way that they present history as being settled intellectually, too.

It’s so boring! If you think about it, the very first thing that happened in terms of American history is people came to the land that we now know as the United States. Now how did they get here?

Well, every single textbook that I looked at says that they came across the Bering Strait during an Ice Age. It turns out they might have. It also turns out they might not have.And what we should therefore do is let students in on the fact that we don’t know, that there’s a controversy here and invite them to go research it themselves. …

And that would be fascinating. That would get them thinking like a historian right from the beginning of a U.S. history course.

I feel like there is a tension in what you’re saying because we do want to debate and understand where there’s genuine uncertainty in history, but how do students discriminate among various sources of information? Especially in the age of the Internet and thousands of pages on any subject. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

12 August 2018 at 9:31 am

Posted in Books, Daily life, Education

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An 11-Year-Old Changed The Results Of Florida’s Presidential Vote At A Hacker Convention. Discuss.

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Kevin Collier reports at Buzzfeed News:

Election hackers have spent years trying to bring attention to flaws in election equipment. But with the world finally watching at DEFCON, the world’s largest hacker conference, they have a new struggle: pointing out flaws without causing the public to doubt that their vote will count.

This weekend saw the 26th annual DEFCON gathering. It was the second time the convention had featured a Voting Village, where organizers set up decommissioned election equipment and watch hackers find creative and alarming ways to break in. Last year, conference attendees found new vulnerabilities for all five voting machines and a single e-poll book of registered voters over the course of the weekend, catching the attention of both senators introducing legislation and the general public. This year’s Voting Village was bigger in every way, with equipment ranging from voting machines to tabulators to smart card readers, all currently in use in the US.

In a room set aside for kid hackers, an 11-year-old girl hacked a replica of the Florida secretary of state’s website within 10 minutes — and changed the results.

Before Russian hackers targeted the 2016 US election process, hacking voting equipment was a niche issue. The Voting Village has changed that. “As far as broad social impact,” said Jeff Moss, DEFCON’s founder, “it is Voting Village” that has achieved the most notoriety in the conference’s history.

But that attention has brought pushback. The day before the conference began, ES&S, one of the largest providers of election equipment in the US, sent an email to its customers assuring them that while “attendees will absolutely access some voting systems internal components … Physical security measures make it extremely unlikely that an unauthorized person, or a person with malicious intent, could ever access a voting machine,” the company said.

The National Association of Secretaries of State, the group that brings together each state’s top election official, issued an unusually testy statement against the Voting Village. “Our main concern with the approach taken by DEFCON is that it uses a pseudo environment which in no way replicates state election systems, networks, or physical security,” it said.

“Providing conference attendees with unlimited physical access to voting machines,” NASS said, “does not replicate accurate physical and cyber protections established by state and local governments before and on Election Day.”

The conflict brings into sharp relief the contrast between how cybersecurity research is usually conducted and the stodginess of government-approved election vendors and their customers.

“I think the statement was misguided,” said Matt Blaze, a veteran election security researcher who helped organize the Voting Village. “It’s only through scrutiny that we’re going to have confidence in elections. That said, the fact that a system has vulnerabilities in it, even incredibly serious vulnerabilities, is not the same as saying any given election has been tampered with.”

“There’s an interesting paradox.” Blaze said. “We know these systems are wildly insecure, and there’s been precious little evidence of these vulnerabilities so far being exploited in real elections. I think we’ve been very lucky, and I think there’s a little bit of a ticking time bomb here.”

Since October 2016, when intelligence agencies first put forth a statement warning that Russia was attempting to interfere in the US election, the US government has walked a tightrope between warning that Russia was trying various tactics to influence the outcome and insisting that everyone’s vote was counted accurately. While a number of Russian tactics with a range of effects have been exposed — hacking and leaking Democrats’ emails, scanning state voter registration databases, and sending phishing emails to county employees — there is, as numerous agencies have repeatedly stated, no known evidence of foreign hackers ever changing a US vote tally. One of Russia’s fundamental goals with such attacks, analysts stress, is undermining Americans’ faith in democracy itself.

“You have to balance raising awareness of vulnerabilities and pushing vendors to make more secure projects, which is a lot of what DEFCON is trying to do, with the ability for vendors to react to that,” said DHS’s top cybersecurity official, Jeanette Manfra, who spoke at the conference Friday. “And we have to explain that no, these are physically secure up until Election Day, then they’re wiped. There are all these other compensating controls that are in place.”

“If you’re saying ‘even a kid can hack into this,’ you’re not getting the full story, which can have the impact of the average voter not understanding,” Manfra told BuzzFeed News.

In the most fundamental sense, security researchers work by throwing the book at a piece of software, poking and prodding for any obscure or overt flaw in a program, usually causing developers to issue regular patches as vulnerabilities are discovered. Conferences like DEFCON provide a platform for both critical research and “stunt hacking,” flashy tricks that are often simple but designed to catch the broader public’s attention.

But that process is anathema to voting equipment manufacturers for a number of reasons. Vendors have to follow some government guidelines and undergo certain audits, but they’re largely unaccountable to the public. Patching voting equipment that isn’t connected to the internet is difficult for many counties with little technical expertise, and vendors fall back on how unlikely it is that a registered poll worker or an elected official would have the time it takes to tamper with a voting machine. The vendors also point out that even if someone had the time to work a hack, the overall US election system is decentralized enough that as unlikely as hacking one machine is, a coordinated effort to hack them in bulk is even less likely.

Copyright laws have previously made it difficult for researchers to legally acquire voting equipment to test it. With an incentive to assure customers that their product isn’t dangerous, vendors have historically lied outright about vulnerabilities they deemed unlikely to cause problems in the real world.

One hacker at this year’s village, who requested anonymity because he didn’t want to tie his research to his day job as a programmer, took a Diebold TSX voting machine — versions of which are in use in at least some areas of 20 states — and turned it into a jukebox that played music from its tinny speakers and a display for an Illuminati GIF he found online.

The trick, he found, was noticing that while the machine has tamper-resistant seals that would likely alert poll workers that somebody had tried to alter a voting file, he could access the operating system itself without any apparent effect on the machine. So he replaced what that machine was running, Windows 4.1, with Linux, where he could hook up his own laptop and display whatever he wanted.

The procedure took a few hours, he said, and it would be extremely difficult to pull off in the real world, but in theory, it could be done by someone with basic hacker skills and access to voting machines in storage.

“Obviously, it’s a long shot that people would tamper with these in a warehouse,” he said. “I chose to do this because I thought it was hilarious, but obviously there are serious implications.”

In another area of DEFCON, organizers set up a semicircle of computers preloaded with copies of secretaries of states’ websites to allow young children to try to alter the appearance of a vote result. While such an attack wouldn’t change actual votes, simply changing the appearance could cause havoc on Election Day, and reflects a tactic Russia did employ in Ukraine in 2014.

Notably, the kids were instructed to use a simple database hacking tactic called SQL injection, the same tool the US has said Russian hackers used when targeting state voter registration databases in the summer of 2016.

Within a few minutes, Audrey, 11, had figured it out, and made it appear that libertarian candidate Darrell Castle had won Florida’s presidential vote in 2016.

“Basically what you’re doing is you’re taking advantage of it being not secure,” she explained.

Once she accessed that vote database, it was quick: “It took maybe a minute or so, because I’m a fast typer,” she told BuzzFeed News. “You can [subtract] points, you can do whatever you want.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 August 2018 at 9:25 am

The Chinese threat that an aircraft carrier can’t stop

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UPDATE below.

If you like techno-science-fiction, you surely must read Daniel Suarez’s novel Kill Decision, which pretty much lays out the issues underlying David Ignatius’s report in the Washington Post:

Will the Pentagon, with its 30-year planning cycle for building ships, still be launching aircraft carriers in 2048 — even though they’re highly vulnerable to attack today?

That’s an example of the military-modernization questions that kept nagging participants at last weekend’s gathering of the Aspen Strategy Group, which annually brings together top-level current and former national security officials, along with a few journalists, to discuss defense and foreign policy. This year’s focus was on “Maintaining America’s Edge” in the dawning era of high-tech combat, and the big takeaway was this: The future of warfare is now, and China is poised to dominate it.

Speakers at the conference described a new generation of combat systems, powered by artificial intelligence, cyberweapons and robots that can operate on land, sea and air. But America is still largely wedded to legacy weapons of the past — superbly engineered (but super-expensive) aircraft carriers, bombers, fighter jets and submarines.

“We have a small number of exquisite, expensive, manned, hard-to-replace systems that would have been familiar to Dwight D. Eisenhower. They are being overtaken by advanced technology,” argued Christian Brose, staff director of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Instead, he said, the Pentagon needs a large number of inexpensive, unmanned, expendable, autonomous systems that can survive in the new electronic battlespace and overwhelm any potential adversary.

“It is not that we lack money. It is that we are playing a losing game,” Brose contended in a paper presented to the group. “Our competitors are now using advanced technologies to erode our military edge. This situation is becoming increasingly dire.”

Future needs are being drowned out by past practices, because of what Brose’s boss, Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.), has called the “military-industrial-congressional complex.” Brose calculates that in the Pentagon’s initial request for $74 billion in new defense spending in fiscal 2019, only 0.006 percent was targeted for science and technology. The National Science Foundation estimates that in fiscal 2015, only 18 percent of the Pentagon’s research and development budget went to basic, applied and advanced research. Major systems claimed 81 percent.

Even when the Pentagon tries to push innovation, it often stumbles. When Ashton B. Carter was defense secretary under President Barack Obama, he created the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental, or DIUx, with offices in Silicon Valley, Boston and Austin. That operation thrived initially, negotiating 60 defense contracts with start-ups. The program has slowed under the Trump administration, despite support from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, because it lacks funds and bureaucratic support, warned Christopher Kirchhoff, a former DIUx partner. If Mattis can appoint a strong new DIUx leader soon, maybe he can revive this innovation hub.

The biggest technological challenge discussed here was artificial intelligence. In a few years, these systems have taught themselves to play complex games such as chess and Go better than humans, and to recognize voices and objects better, too. And soon, they will be driving the weapons of combat.

China appears determined to seize this AI “high ground” of future conflict. For the past two years, Chinese companies have won an AI competition for detecting objects. The Chinese are happy for the United States to keep building carriers and bombers, so long as they deploy the more advanced technologies that can disable these systems.

Richard Danzig, a former Navy secretary, published a brilliant paper discussed at the conference warning that as AI systems dominate warfare, they will “introduce important new risks of loss of control.” Humans must be “maximally thoughtful and creative” during design (and plan for failure), because these AI-driven weapons will have accidents and unintended consequences. Wise policymakers must avoid a “Dr. Strangelove” world of unsafe killer robots and doomsday machines.

America’s vulnerability to information warfare was a special topic of concern. One participant recalled a conversation several years ago with a Russian general who taunted him: “You have a cybercommand but no information operations. Don’t you know that information operations are how you take countries down?” . . .

Continue reading.

UPDATE: From Rob May’s InsideAI newsletter:

— Commentary —

This week’s commentary is brought to you by Evanna Hu, CEO of Omelas. (Disclosure, I’m an investor)  After I wrote last week about China’s AI policy and the frameworks for evaluating it, Evanna responded with her point of view.  As an expert in both AI and international affairs, she has a good perspective so I asked her if she would be willing to share.

At the Future of War Conference in Washington, DC this past April, Undersecretary of Defense of Research and Engineering Michael Griffin bluntly acknowledged that China is already winning the AI war. The databacks up the claim, with China filing 8,000 patents relating to AI while the US filed less than 1,000 AI-relevant patents in the same time period. In 2013, the two countries were comparable. Furthermore, unlike adversarial actors, such as China and Russia, and allies, including France, the UK, and the UAE, the US still does not have a comprehensive national AI strategy. Though the Pentagon has established a Joint AI Center and has allocated more money towards the adoption of AI in the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2019, the Center and DoD AI strategy are still in early stages.

Simultaneously, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), a government taskforce that earlier this year blocked the entrance of two Chinese conglomerates, Huawai and ZTE, into the US market, has newly-approved expanded powers. Under the new measures passed by Congress a week ago, the government will regulate funding from foreign origins- but specifically targeting China- in US companies, ranging from corporations all the way down to seed-stage tech startups. This means that theoretically CFIUS can stop startup X who is working on cutting-edge AI technology from receiving funding from Tencent, Alibaba, or any of the $2.4 billion Chinese firms poured into Silicon Valley from January to May of this year. On the flip side, if a company does decide to receive foreign funding above a certain percentage, they will not be able to receive grants or contracts from the US government, including DARPA, SBIR, In-Q-Tel, etc. These measures not only narrow the scope of funding but it also radically reduces addressable markets for US’s emerging technology markets.

If we see the new CFIU measures as the “stick” in the “carrot-and-stick” methodology, it is critical that the “carrot” be developed to help domestic AI companies thrive. While there are already conversations around the best approach at the Pentagon and the White House, the conversation is neither synchronized nor entrepreneur/company-centric. Domestic AI companies want two things: a) increase revenue from sales; and b) access to funding. Whatever form the carrot will be, it needs to address these two main concerns. It is the only way that the US can regain its competitive edge in AI and maintain its number one position in emerging technology.

Evanna Hu is the CEO of Omelas, which uses ML/AI to quantify and assess the online security threat environment. She is also an International Security Fellow at New America, a Washington, DC think tank.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 August 2018 at 9:11 am

Simpson Duke 3 Best, Tallow + Steel Dark, and the RazoRock German 37

with 2 comments

A pleasant night’s sleep, a pleasant shave, and a pleasant walk: I feel like it’s going to be a good day. The Duke did a good job on Tallow + Steel’s Dark shaving soap. As you can see from the label, the fragrance profile is unusual—and the fragrance is intriguing. The word hidden by the razor’s handle is “benzoin.”

The German 37 is an excellent slant—it has a significant advantage over the Merkur 37 on which it was modeled in that the German 37 is a three-piece design, so you can (a) swap handles and (b) buy the head by itself if you want. It’s also at least as comfortable and efficient as the Merkur 37, and may even be a bit better.

Three passes to a smooth finish, a splash of Tallow + Steel Dark aftershave, and then the walk. Today it was 62 minutes and I wasn’t really pushing myself. Great way to start the day.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 August 2018 at 9:03 am

Posted in Shaving

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