Paradoxically, the United States, which has engaged itself in a conflict in nearly every decade for the past century, does not condone assassinations.
Congress has refused time and again to do anything to define or outlaw the practice, but generally American exceptionalism prevents the word “assassination” from being used in terms of the enemy. Rather, leaders have chosen terms like “targeted killings” when describing the policy of killing specific individuals engaged in anti-American operations.
President Obama was elected on a campaign of “hope” and “change” in which he would close down the Guantanamo Bay complex where prisoners were held without trial and wind down the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many on the Republican side feared that Obama would not have “what it takes” to pull the trigger on sensitive national security matters, such as pulling the trigger on targeted killing missions. They needn’t have feared, however, because the past 8 years have brought serious advances in a technology near and dear to the heart of the military-industrial complex: drones.
First Non-Combat Drone Strike Was in 2002
While Obama’s presidency was not the beginning of drone warfare, as a much more primitive drone was used to conduct a strike in Yemen in 2002 under George W. Bush, Obama’s military policy has revolved around avoiding deploying soldiers and instead using the technology at the government’s disposal to achieve its ends. The government would rather its actions be seen as heroic and somewhat humanitarian than acts of international war. The strike in Yemen represented a shift in foreign policy, however, and one that has not been discontinued under the Obama administration. Yemen, after all, was not a declared war zone. The strike was conducted in a gray area. There had been no congressional authorization to conduct warfare in Yemen, and there were no guidelines for the use of such force.
A couple years ago, in May 2013, the Obama administration released a handy set of guidelines on how force could be applied outside of both the United States and its war zones. The document speaks of a “preference for capture” but it is unclear how deadly drones are supposed to cuff someone. The document, after all, does not even really cover drone operations. Just situations in which it’s okay for the government to kill people despite them not being in a war zone, which would indicate they could be an active threat to US personnel on the ground. The document does have an onerous provision which provides the president authority in “extraordinary circumstances,” stating:
These new standards and procedures do not limit the President’s authority to take action in extraordinary circumstances when doing so is both lawful and necessary to protect the United States or its allies.
According to new documents leaked to the Intercept, the government has increased its use of watch and kill lists in at least Afghanistan. A specific operation entitled Haymaker, which was designed to route specific targets in Northeastern Afghanistan, was deemed a failure during a brief in 2012. There was no indication in the slides that the program would be ended, however. Worse yet, of the more than 200 people killed in Operation Haymaker, only 35 were actually targeted. This means that somewhere around 5 people were killed for every person that was supposed to be killed – exactly the sort of metric the American public would be shocked to learn, and perhaps the reason the document remains “classified.”
Drone operators, a growing set of military personnel, are given lists and trained on what to look for. While sometimes drones are used for surveillance, and personnel are deployed to capture the target, often enough the drone operators are given orders to kill on sight. Other tools are available to the 21st-century commanders, such as the ability to detect calls from certain phones and then locate where they are. The complexity of operating in environments like the mountains of Afghanistan and the level of surveillance the military has been able to reach in the region is really quite impressive.
The Department of Defense wouldn’t comment to the Intercept about the documents it had received. The whistle blower, however, had some choice words about why he leaked the documents and who he feels is responsible for this escalation of US kill powers:
This outrageous explosion of watchlisting — of monitoring people and racking and stacking them on lists, assigning them numbers, assigning them ‘baseball cards,’ assigning them death sentences without notice, on a worldwide battlefield — it was, from the very first instance, wrong. […] We’re allowing this to happen. And by ‘we,’ I mean every American citizen who has access to this information now, but continues to do nothing about it.
Edward Snowden said on Twitter that an “unspeakable lie” had been shattered.
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) October 15, 2015
The documents themselves are mostly slides shown to higher level commanders during briefings. A fly on the wall in such a briefing would have much more insight into how the decisions are actually made. The bottom line is that if US foreign policy has changed under Barack Obama, then it’s been mostly in how it was described and presented to the American people.
Images from Shutterstock.
Bitcoin Giant Bitmain Enters the High Stakes AI Race
The Sophon, named for a fictional proton-sized supercomputer, could be the tool to train neural networks in data centers worldwide. It is the latest project being developed by Bitmain Technologies Ltd., the bitcoin mining giant that has carved out a dominant position in bitcoin mining.
Such chips, called application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs), could unleash a new wave of distributed computing, according to Michael Bedford Taylor, a University of Washington professor who studies bitcoin mining and chips.
Sophon is due to debut before the end of the year.
Bitmain Has The Know-How
Bitmain has the background to play a role in the expanding artificial intelligence industry. The company designs the silicon that goes in bitcoin mining equipment, assembles the machines and sells them worldwide, in addition to its own bitcoin mining operation and the ones that it manages for other mining pools.
Bitmain’s founders are not averse to playing a spoiler role.
Jihan Wu, the co-founder of Bitmain, supports the New York Agreement that seeks to double the bitcoin block size under the SegWit2X proposal, a move that some in the bitcoin community view as an attempt to give the miners control over bitcoin.
Some also believe Wu was behind the recent bitcoin split known as bitcoin cash, which at least one of Bitmain’s miners supported, a contention that Wu has denied. Wu points out that he was among the supporters of Bitcoin Unlimited, an earlier bitcoin scaling proposal that did not get activated.
Why Wu Supports Forks
Wu nonetheless said splits should be allowed. He said a fork is inevitable since people in the bitcoin community do not agree on how to best scale bitcoin.
Wu met Micree Zhan, Bitcoin’s co-founder, when Zhan was running DivaIP in 2010, a company that made a device that allowed a user to stream a TV show on a computer screen.
In 2011, Wu needed a chip designer to build a mining operation and approached Zhan. Zhan first designed an ASIC to run SHA-256, the cryptographic calculation used in bitcoin, at maximum efficiency. It took him six months to finish the job. His first rig, Antminer S1, was ready in November 2013.
Bitmain felt the sting of the 2014 Mt. Gox meltdown. But by 2015, bitcoin’s price bottomed out and later recovered. In the meantime, Bitmain introduced its Antminer S5.
Bitmain now employs 600 people in Beijing.
Ready To Take On Google
Bitmain has since developed a deep learning chip with improved efficiency. Users will be able to build their own models on the ASICs, enabling neural networks to deliver results at a faster pace. Google’s DeepMind unit used this technique to train its AlphaGo artificial intelligence.
Bitmain plans to sell the chips to any company looking to train its own neural nets, including firms like Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu. Bitmain could build its own data centers with thousands of deep learning rigs, renting out the computation power to clients the way it does with bitcoin mines.
Professor Taylor said companies like Bitmain that have excelled in bitcoin mining could take on the Googles and Nvidias since they have developed the skills to survive in an ultra-competitive and highly commoditized industry, and have the system level design expertise and the ability to reduce data center costs.
Dutch Police Use Augmented Reality to Investigate Crime Scenes
Dutch police are undertaking an experiment to see if augmented reality can help officers at a crime scene, according to the New Scientist.
Using an AI system video from the body cameras worn on the officers at the scene will relay back to experts who can guide the officers by making virtual notes which the officers will be able to see via a smartphone or head-mounted device.
Dragos Datcu, principal researcher at augmented reality (AR) company Twnkls in Rotterdam, the Netherlands said:
We now have good enough software and hardware to use augmented reality at crime scenes.
What’s great about the new AI system is the fact that experts can get involved with what the crime scene investigators are doing regardless of where they are located.
So by viewing the footage that is sent from a camera on the police vest, a chemical specialist in one location can view it while a forensic scientist in another location can too. The system is similar to the popular Pokémon Go smartphone game that has grabbed the attention of millions of people around the world.
Not Suitable for Making an Arrest
However, while the technology may prove beneficial in providing an extra pair of eyes for investigating crime scenes, when it comes to making an actual arrest the technology is not suitable for that just yet.
According to Nick Koeman, innovation adviser from the National Police of the Netherlands, the officers undertaking the AI system trial found the extra information distracting.
Of course, some may simply say that ensuring a complete team is at the scene of a crime would be more beneficial for an investigation; however, that is not always possible due to budget cuts and time constraints.
As such the use of an AI system that can cut down on the number of people involved at a crime scene without sacrificing on the required thoroughness could potentially provide the answer that many police departments are searching for.
Not only that, but by reducing the number of people at a scene it cuts the potential possibility of contaminating evidence. The use of AI gives people the chance to assess the evidence and discover additional clues without being at the crime scene.
AI could also help in court cases by helping to recreate a scene for a jury, but as Michael Buerger, professor of criminal justice at Bowling Green State University in Ohio states, legal challenges are likely to raise when augmented reality (AR) is used in the courts.
Featured image from Shutterstock.
Apple Patent Reveals Siri-Assisted iMessage P2P Payments Platform
Apple has filed a patent application for a “virtual assistant in a communication session.” On first glance, application 14/713,410 might scare developers of chat bots and the like, but Apple is specific in the scope of their claims – Siri, their virtual assistant platform, will be able to directly communicate with either user in an iMessage conversation and then be able to act on the instructions given. The other participant of the conversation will not see messages intended to Siri, nor messages sent from Siri to the user activating her. This is somewhat different from current implementations of chat bots and virtual assistants in chat programs, in that the classical chat bot for, say, IRC, would be accessible by most of the users of the chatroom.
Siri will also be able to privately give information requested of the other party, even if the other party has not provided it. In the above image, Siri lets the user know that everyone will arrive within five minutes, clearly flexing the GPS data available to her from the other user’s iPhone. One would assume a massive update to the iMessage user agreement will be necessary, and the privacy implications of voluntarily allowing an AI to be involved in every conversation are clear. However, as shown, the default is for the user to give permission for their location information to be shared. If Siri is ever compromised, so too could every conversation on the famously secure iMessage protocol.
However, Siri is not involved in conversations until she is summoned. She is added as another participant when the user summons her or, presumably, adds her manually. As seen in the image above, she can schedule meetings in addition to her other functionalities. However, perhaps most interesting, and most appetizing for malicious hackers, is the prospect shown in the below image. Users who have their financial details linked to their Apple account (which is to say, most or all users) are able to send money via iMessage at the stroke of a message.
As you can see, Siri suggests giving the funds via cash, likely due to the small amount. According to the patent application, Siri first figures out what options are available to both party, and then presents options. Both users appear to use Bank of America and Paypal, but Siri recommends cash. Both the illustrations and their descriptions in the application make it unclear which option the user selects, although the logo to the left of the success message indicates that cash was, indeed, used. Also shown are some security features in the actual sending of funds, including a thumb print scan and password. One would assume that Apple Pay will play a role in all this, and speculation has abounded that the new platform is meant to rival the Venmo system.
About a year ago, reports were in circulation that Apple and banks were discussing the implementation of such a system, and indeed this patent was first filed over a year ago. Presumably it will see ratification within the next year or two, supposing that other major AI developers like Microsoft choose not to contest it on some of its broader implications.
Microsoft and Google would surely oppose paying patent licensing fees to Apple in order to instantiate their own AI peer-to-peer payment systems, and for the most part, the patent application seems to indicate that Apple would then have sole dominion over that field. Therefore, with numerous dogs in the fight including Cortana, the future of this patent and/or the platform itself (failure to acquire a patent would not prohibit Apple from creating the platform, necessarily) is still very much up in the air. More is sure to surface in the coming months, and Hacked will keep you posted.
Images from Shutterstock and USPTO.
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