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Berkeley To Paris To Moscow, Eternal Ideals Of Youth

Students across the U.S. left class to take a stand against gun violence
Students across the U.S. left class to take a stand against gun violence
Samantha Dooley

-Essay-

PARIS — Growing up in Northern California, acts of public protest were never far away. It felt perfectly natural for me to join fellow students in the annual "Day of Silence," refusing to say a word in any of my classes to draw attention to discrimination against the LGBTQ community. My favorite English teacher recounted his arrests while demonstrating as a student at UC Berkeley in the Sixties. And this week, following from afar on Facebook, I saw that my high school had notified students that they were free to leave class to participate in the nationwide walkout for 17 minutes to take a stand against gun violence.

The movement that has grown in the wake of the massacre in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead is hardly limited to California. It is, however, very much a youth thing. Ahead of a massive March For Our Lives scheduled for March 24, young people are leading the call for stricter gun control laws through direct social activism.

There is something universal about young people demanding change. Though Vladimir Putin is assured reelection victory this Sunday, the only force that is making him uneasy are the nation's youth. But as reported in German daily Die Welt, authorities in Russia are not quite as understanding as the administration back in the U.S., as peaceful young protesters are routinely arrested and have their homes searched by the Russian government for simply opposing the ruling government.

In Syria, the consequences of youthful idealism have been far worse. Thursday marked the seven year anniversary of the start of the Syrian Civil War and it can be easy to forget that it all began with the actions of young people. With one anti-Assad graffiti, originally meant as a prank, a pair of high schoolers served as catalyst for larger demonstrations in the streets of the southern Syrian city of Daraa. Those protests were eventually met with violent repression from the government, which led to the bloody civil conflict that has left the country in ruins.

Still, such dire consequences can't quell others. In Iran, another repressive regime next door to Syria, a spontaneous movement is currently spreading of young women who remove their veils in the streets to protest the law that requires them to cover their heads. The movement is gaining traction on social media with the hashtag, "GirlsofRevolutionSt." Indeed, the arrival of social media multiplies the reach of such actions, but as we've seen elsewhere, also a means for repression.

In Paris, where Worldcrunch is based, there is talk ahead of this spring's 50-year anniversary of the May 1968 student protests. Sparked as a reaction against France's traditional values, the student-led street demonstrations brought the country to a virtual halt. And though certain policy changes came in its wake, in his book Mai 68, l'héritage impossible("The Impossible Legacy"), French sociologist Jean-Pierre Le Goff wonders what was ultimately achieved. "Today's France is still looking for itself," he writes. "May ‘68? It's a youth mistake that we still haven't outgrown."

Whether under the heavy hand of authoritarian regimes or simply the "reality" of modern life, we young people are told that ideals themselves are a mistake. But Montreal-based writer Peter Wheeland is not convinced. "If history is any indication, the groundswell of anger and the impetus for change will begin with students, whose ideals have not yet been tainted and corrupted and whose hopes for the future have not yet been consumed by the struggle to survive." Thanks to social media, I was able to verify that Monsieur Wheeland is a self-described "curmudgeon" with a first few gray hairs in his beard— and I think this young man may be on to something.

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Future

AI And War: Inside The Pentagon's $1.8 Billion Bet On Artificial Intelligence

Putting the latest AI breakthroughs at the service of national security raises major practical and ethical questions for the Pentagon.

Photo of a drone on the tarmac during a military exercise near Vícenice, in the Czech Republic

Drone on the tarmac during a military exercise near Vícenice, in the Czech Republic

Sarah Scoles

Number 4 Hamilton Place is a be-columned building in central London, home to the Royal Aeronautical Society and four floors of event space. In May, the early 20th-century Edwardian townhouse hosted a decidedly more modern meeting: Defense officials, contractors, and academics from around the world gathered to discuss the future of military air and space technology.

Things soon went awry. At that conference, Tucker Hamilton, chief of AI test and operations for the United States Air Force, seemed to describe a disturbing simulation in which an AI-enabled drone had been tasked with taking down missile sites. But when a human operator started interfering with that objective, he said, the drone killed its operator, and cut the communications system.

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