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TOPIC: technology


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.

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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How WeChat Is Helping Bhutan's Disappearing Languages Find A New Voice

Phd candidate Tashi Dema, from the University of New England, discusses how social media apps, particularly WeChat, are helping to preserve local Bhutanese languages without a written alphabet. Dema argues that preservation of these languages has far-reaching benefits for the small Himalayan country's rich culture and tradition.

THIMPHU — Dechen, 40, grew up in Thimphu, the capital city of Bhutan. Her native language was Mangdip, also known as Nyenkha, as her parents are originally from central Bhutan. She went to schools in the city, where the curriculum was predominantly taught in Dzongkha, the national language, and English.

In Dechen’s house, everyone spoke Dzongkha. She only spoke her mother tongue when she had guests from her village, who could not understand Dzongkha and during her occasional visits to her village nestled in the mountains. Her mother tongue knowledge was limited.

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However, things have now changed.

With 90% of Bhutanese people using social media and social media penetrating all remotes areas in Bhutan, Dechen’s relatives in remote villages are connected on WeChat.

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How October 7 Has Sabotaged Israel’s Tech And Spyware Sector

Hamas’ unprecedented attack last month reflected an intelligence failure for Israel, which raises questions about the country’s dominance on the global market for sophisticated espionage technology and other hi-tech offerings. Meanwhile, some of the best young Israeli coders have been called up for military service.

Beyond the horror and loss of human life wrought by Hamas, the collateral damage of the October 7 attack stretches into all corners of Israeli society. The complex, multi-front attack demolished Israel’s sense of security and military superiority in the face of Palestinian armed forces and other groups and countries in the region.

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But alongside the political, military and intelligence failures, the attack has been a blow to Israel’s thriving technology sector — notably its world-leading spyware — that will reverberate through the economy in the months and perhaps years to come.

The way Hamas fighters breached Israel’s defenses (pushing through a fortified border barrier, sneaking through the Mediterranean, or flying over the border) may have seemed rather low-tech. Yet the raid on more than 20 Israeli towns and army bases in southern Israel, and reported death count around 1,200, must make Israel’s spy agencies question its tools and methods.

“Hamas surprised us. It was both a military failure and an intelligence failure,” Yaakov Amidror, a former national security adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told The Hindu newspaper. “I can say that everything went wrong.”

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Inside Malaysia's Intel Factory, A Global Hub Of The Microchip Market

As the importance of the global microchip economy continues to grow, companies like Intel may one day reign supreme over today’s corporate giants: Meta, Apple and Google. And, in a measure some are calling “reverse globalization," production is beginning to move back into the Global North, including Poland. In a rare visit to Intel’s factories in Malaysia, Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza takes a look into what the future of its manufacturing will look like.

KULIM & PENANG — Today, microchips are even more important than oil. Although some say that data is the gold of the 21st century, the existence of data, and its processing and analysis, would be impossible without integrated circuits.

And unlike oil, which can be bought from many countries, the production of computing power depends on tools, chemicals and software which are often available from only a few companies — or sometimes only one.

In this way, Intel, Texas Instruments and the Taiwanese TSMC are companies which may have a greater global impact in the future than Apple, Meta or Google.

“At the heart of digital computing, there lie millions of zeroes and ones. The entire digital universe is made up of these two numbers. Every photo, every button on your iPhone, email and YouTube video is encoded with endless strings of 0s and 1s. But these numbers don’t really exist. Rather, they are a representation of whether or not electricity is flowing (1) or not (0). A microchip (or "chip") is a system of millions or billions of transistors, tiny electrical switches that turn on and off to process and store strings of 0s and 1s, and convert real phenomena, such as images, sounds and radio waves, into millions of millions of these two numbers" — this is how economic historian Chris Miller explains the essence of semiconductors in his best-selling book Chip War: The Fight for the World’s Most Critical Technology.

In June, tech giant Intel announced its plans to invest $4.6 billion USD in a semiconductor assembly and test plant located just outside of the city of Wrocław, in Western Poland. The measure was hailed by Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki as "the largest greenfield investment in the history of Poland."

To explore the future machines, processes and work philosophy which will reach Poland once Intel opens its plant in 2027, Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza traveled to semiconductor assembly and testing plants in Kulim and Penang, Malaysia, which will be a model for the plant set to be built in Poland.

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Marion Heilmann

Artificial Intelligence Shoots Up AXA's Insurance List Of Future Global Risks

French multinational insurance company AXA has just published the new edition of its Futures Risk Report — and if climate change remains the top concern, many are keeping a close eye on Big Data and Artificial Intelligence's worrying rise in the list.

PARIS — One month ahead of the UN COP28 in Dubai, climate change risks are more worrying than ever. Not only does the topic top, for the second edition in a row, the Futures Risks Report published by French multinational insurance company AXA insurer on Monday: For the first time, it tops the list of emerging risks in every single region of the world.

Conducted among 3,300 experts in 50 countries and 19,000 members of the general public in 15 countries last June, the influential Futures Risks Report annually measures and ranks people's perceptions of risk evolution and emergence. By studying new risks, the insurance company explains, "we identify new solutions."

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Pierre Haski

Urban Combat? Occupation? Why Israel's Coming Ground War In Gaza Has No Good Options

In response to the attack by Hamas, Israel promises to eradicate the group, but what does this really look like? With the promise of a high toll in human lives and the complex network of the Gaza Strip, an operation to retaliate against Hamas may be even more difficult that one may think.


Since Sunday, the Israeli air force has been relentlessly bombing hundreds of targets in Gaza. Reservists are being called up in preparation for what will likely be a large-scale ground operation in Palestinian territory. The declared objective is to destroy the military infrastructure that has enabled Hamas to strike at the heart of Israel and, if possible, to "eradicate" it — a word that has been used repeatedly.

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Part of this Israeli response is driven by the unprecedented brutality of what has occurred. The Israeli public would not understand if, after its catastrophic failures, the army did not exact a high price from the Palestinians in Gaza.

But is the political objective of eradicating the terrorist movement achievable? It raises many questions for Israeli leaders who have no good options before them.

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In The News

Worldcrunch Magazine #51 — A Tech Shift To The Right?

September 25 - October 1, 2023

Here's the latest edition of Worldcrunch Magazine, a selection of our best articles of the week from top international journalists, produced exclusively in English for Worldcrunch readers.


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Sarah Scoles

Life On "Mars": With The Teams Simulating Space Missions Under A Dome

A niche research community plays out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another planet.

In November 2022, Tara Sweeney’s plane landed on Thwaites Glacier, a 74,000-square-mile mass of frozen water in West Antarctica. She arrived with an international research team to study the glacier’s geology and ice fabric, and how its ice melt might contribute to sea level rise. But while near Earth’s southernmost point, Sweeney kept thinking about the moon.

“It felt every bit of what I think it will feel like being a space explorer,” said Sweeney, a former Air Force officer who’s now working on a doctorate in lunar geology at the University of Texas at El Paso. “You have all of these resources, and you get to be the one to go out and do the exploring and do the science. And that was really spectacular.”

That similarity is why space scientists study the physiology and psychology of people living in Antarctic and other remote outposts: For around 25 years, people have played out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another world. Polar explorers are, in a way, analogous to astronauts who land on alien planets. And while Sweeney wasn’t technically on an “analog astronaut” mission — her primary objective being the geological exploration of Earth — her days played out much the same as a space explorer’s might.

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Gianluca Nicoletti

Re;Memory — A New AI Program Makes Talking To The Dead Come Alive

There are many frontiers being crossed by AI lately, sparking debate and anxiety. But now, we're entering strange, new territory: an algorithm that lets bereaved family members communicate with deceased loved ones in the most realistic of ways. Yet it comes with very real and complicated risks.


TURIN — Generative artificial intelligence is said to be a threat to the jobs in a variety of creative professional fields. Are professional psychics next? Yes, communing with the dead, real or imagined, is an experience that the digital world may now be ready to outflank the human competition.

The technical term for these algorithms is "deadbots," which offer a sort of ephemeral evocation of the spirit of a deceased person. You don't have to look far to find them — even the usual suspect, ChatGPT, can light the path to the dead and establish a mutual, tangible dialogue between you and the dearly departed.

Yet the most realistic of these chatbot models is the consolatory Re;Memory. This ectoplasmic recreation, designed by South Korean company DeepBrain, comes almost as a natural evolution to the spiritual seances to which we're accustomed.

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Huang Yi Ying

Every Step, Every Swipe: Inside China's System Of Total Surveillance Of Uyghurs

Research by anthropologist Darren Byler provides a rare look inside the surveillance state China has created to control the Uyghur population of Xinjiang province, where every move is tracked, people are forced to carry cell phones, and "re-education camps" await anyone suspected of trying to break free.

With the release of police files and internal documents from Xinjiang's re-education camps, as well as testimonies from exiles in Xinjiang, the world has been able to get a better grasp of the reality of the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) control over the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and its human rights abuses.

Since the end of last year, a number of testimonies and publications have been revealed describing the experiences of people who have endured the re-education camps.

Research by anthropologist Darren Byler, assistant professor of international studies at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada, provides an insightful, raw look at the experiences of Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

Byler is an internationally recognized researcher on Uyghur society and China's surveillance system, and has been active in advocating for Uyghur human rights as a witness to the re-education system and surveillance governance in Xinjiang.

Singapore-based media news outlet Initium Media interviewed Byler during a recent visit to Taiwan. He presents his insights on technological surveillance in Xinjiang and the lives of Uyghurs there, and emphasized that what has happened to the Uyghurs could happen to anyone.

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Pierre Haski

Is There Any Way To Rein In The Power Of Big Tech?

A new biography of the Tesla, X (formerly Twitter) and Space X boss reveals that Elon Musk prevented the Ukrainian army from attacking the Russian fleet in Crimea last year, by limiting the beam of his Starlink satellites. Unchecked power is a problem.

This article was updated Sept. 14, 2023 at 12:20 p.m


PARIS — Nothing Elon Musk does leaves us indifferent. The billionaire is often admired for his audacity, and regularly criticized for his attitude and some of his decisions.

A biography of the founder and CEO of Tesla and Space X, came out today in the United States — 688 pages published by Simon & Schuster and written by William Isaacson (the renowned biographer of Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein).

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One revelation from this book is making headlines, and it's a big one. Elon Musk — brace yourselves — prevented the Ukrainian army from destroying the Russian Black Sea fleet last year.

A bit of context: Starlink, the communications and internet satellite constellation owned by Musk, initially enabled Ukraine to escape Russian blackout attempts.

But when the Ukrainian army decided to send naval drones to destroy Russian ships anchored in Crimea, it found that the signal was blocked. And Starlink refused to extend it to Crimea, because, according to Issacson, Musk feared it would trigger World War III.

It's dizzying, and raises serious questions.

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This Happened

This Happened — September 14: ​First Computer With A Hard Drive

The IBM RAMAC 305, introduced on this day in 1956, was the world's first computer to use a magnetic hard disk drive for data storage. It stood for "Random Access Method of Accounting and Control" and was designed primarily for business data processing.

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