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United States

White House Issues Strategies To Combat Growing Orbital Debris Risks (wsj.com) 42

White House space officials have explicitly ruled out international treaties to combat hazards from orbital debris, even as they roll out strategies to revamp U.S. responses to the growing problem. From a report: President Donald Trump on Monday signed a directive formally establishing the Department of Commerce as the lead agency in providing collision-risk data to commercial satellite operators. The order, as expected, also calls for stepped-up efforts to develop voluntary industry standards covering satellite construction, orbit locations, and de-orbit plans -- all intended to reduce collision risks posed by aging satellites and thousands of pieces of debris circling the earth. Mr. Trump said the changes, among others he is championing, aim to ensure that "America will always be first in space" in both military and commercial arenas. The Pentagon will continue to maintain the central catalog of orbiting spacecraft and debris posing potential hazards to U.S. government and private satellites. But commerce department officials will have the authority to pass on that information to the industry, combined with data gathered from private or foreign government sources. Further reading: President Trump Directs Pentagon To Create New 'Space Force' Military Branch.
The Military

President Trump Directs Pentagon To Create New 'Space Force' Military Branch (defensenews.com) 478

Gunfighter shares a report from Defense News: President Donald Trump on Monday appeared to sign an executive order directing the Pentagon to create a new "Space Force," a move that could radically transform the U.S. military by pulling space functions variously owned by the Air Force, Navy and other military branches into a single independent service.

"I am hereby directing the Department of Defense and Pentagon to immediately begin the process necessary to establish a Space Force as the sixth branch of the armed forces," Trump said during a meeting of the National Space Council. "That's a big statement. We are going to have the Air Force and we are going to have the Space Force. Separate but equal. It is going to be something. So important," Trump added. "General Dunford, if you would carry that assignment out, I would be very greatly honored." Dunford responded in the affirmative, telling Trump, "We got you."
The oddity of Trump's statement was that it was followed up with a White House readout that "contained no language related to the creation of a new military branch, leaving open the question of whether Trump has actually issued formal guidance to the military," reports Defense News. It is believed that Trump still needs the support of Congress to actually establish a space force.
Education

We're All Getting Dumber, Says Science (fastcompany.com) 553

dryriver shares a report from Fast Company: Researchers at Norway's Ragnar Frisch Center for Economic Research now have scientific proof of something we've long suspected -- we're all getting dumber. In their paper, "Flynn effect and its reversal are both environmentally caused," which was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Bernt Bratsberg and Ole Rogeberg report that IQ scores have been steadily dropping since the 1970s.

The study consisted of analyzing 730,000 IQ test results gleaned from young men entering Norway's compulsory military service from 1970 to 2009. They found that scores declined by an average of seven points per generation, a reversal of the so-called "Flynn effect" where IQ was seen to be rising during the first part of the 20th century. The decline may be due to environmental factors, but because the researchers couldn't find consistent trends among families, Bratsberg and Rogeberg discounted factors like parental education, family size, increased immigration, and genetics as significant causes.

China

Senate Will Try To Reverse ZTE Deal Via a Must-Pass Defense Bill (politico.com) 139

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Senate leaders agreed Monday to include language in the annual defense spending bill that would reverse the Trump administration's decision to save Chinese telecommunications company ZTE after it was caught violating the terms of a 2017 penalty agreement by making illegal sales to Iran and North Korea. The language will be part of an amendment in the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, a $716 billion defense policy bill, H.R. 5515 (115).

If the Senate amendment becomes law, it would automatically reinstate the seven-year prohibition until Trump has certified to Congress that ZTE has met certain conditions. It also would ban all U.S. government agencies from purchasing or leasing telecommunications equipment and/or services from ZTE, a second Chinese telecommunications firm, Huawei, or any subsidiaries or affiliates of those two companies. The amendment language "prohibits the federal government from doing business with ZTE or Huawei or other Chinese telecom companies" and puts the company back on the sanctions list and "holds ZTE accountable for violating their previous commitment," Cotton said.
The senators supporting the amendment include Democratic minority leader Chuck Schumer and two Republican Senators -- Sen Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). "I and obviously every other senator believes the death penalty is the appropriate punishment for their behavior," Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) told reporters after Ross briefed senators on the department's latest ZTE action. "They're a repeat bad actor that should be put out of business. For eight years, ZTE was able to run wild and be able to become the fourth-largest telecom company in the world." If the Senate amendment becomes law, "I would expect there wouldn't be a ZTE," Cotton added.
United States

US Sanctions Russians Over Military, Intelligence Hacking (reuters.com) 159

The U.S. Treasury imposed sanctions on three Russian individuals and five companies on Monday, saying they had worked with Moscow's military and intelligence services on ways to conduct cyber attacks against the United States and its allies. From a report: "The United States is engaged in an ongoing effort to counter malicious actors working at the behest of the Russian Federation and its military and intelligence units to increase Russiaâ(TM)s offensive cyber capabilities," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. "The entities designated today have directly contributed to improving Russia's cyber and underwater capabilities through their work with the FSB and therefore jeopardize the safety and security of the United States and our allies," Mnuchin said, using an acronym for Russia's Federal Security Service.
AI

Secret Pentagon AI Program Hunts Hidden Nuclear Missiles (reuters.com) 40

Slashdot reader drdread66 shares this article from Reuters: The U.S. military is increasing spending on a secret research effort to use artificial intelligence to help anticipate the launch of a nuclear-capable missile, as well as track and target mobile launchers in North Korea and elsewhere. The effort has gone largely unreported, and the few publicly available details about it are buried under a layer of near impenetrable jargon in the latest Pentagon budget. But U.S. officials familiar with the research told Reuters there are multiple classified programs now under way to explore how to develop AI-driven systems to better protect the United States against a potential nuclear missile strike.

If the research is successful, such computer systems would be able to think for themselves, scouring huge amounts of data, including satellite imagery, with a speed and accuracy beyond the capability of humans, to look for signs of preparations for a missile launch, according to more than half a dozen sources. The sources included U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the research is classified. Forewarned, the U.S. government would be able to pursue diplomatic options or, in the case of an imminent attack, the military would have more time to try to destroy the missiles before they were launched, or try to intercept them.

Reuters calls it "one indicator of the growing importance of the research on AI-powered anti-missile systems," adding "The Pentagon is in a race against China and Russia to infuse more AI into its war machine, to create more sophisticated autonomous systems that are able to learn by themselves to carry out specific tasks."

One official told Reuters that an AI prototype for tracking missile launchers is already being tested.
United States

China Hacked a Navy Contractor and Secured a Trove of Highly Sensitive Data on Submarine Warfare (washingtonpost.com) 112

Ellen Nakashima and Paul Sonne, reporting for The Washington Post: Chinese government hackers have compromised the computers of a Navy contractor, stealing massive amounts of highly sensitive data related to undersea warfare -- including secret plans to develop a supersonic anti-ship missile for use on U.S. submarines by 2020, according to American officials. The breaches occurred in January and February, the officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation. The hackers targeted a contractor who works for the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, a military organization headquartered in Newport, R.I., that conducts research and development for submarines and underwater weaponry. The officials did not identify the contractor. Taken were 614 gigabytes of material relating to a closely held project known as Sea Dragon, as well as signals and sensor data, submarine radio room information relating to cryptographic systems, and the Navy submarine development unit's electronic warfare library. The Washington Post agreed to withhold certain details about the compromised missile project at the request of the Navy, which argued that their release could harm national security.
AI

Google Promises Its AI Will Not Be Used For Weapons (nytimes.com) 102

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times: Google, reeling from an employee protest over the use of artificial intelligence for military purposes, said Thursday that it would not use A.I. for weapons or for surveillance that violates human rights (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source). But it will continue to work with governments and the military. The new rules were part of a set of principles Google unveiled relating to the use of artificial intelligence. In a company blog post, Sundar Pichai, the chief executive, laid out seven objectives for its A.I. technology, including "avoid creating or reinforcing unfair bias" and "be socially beneficial."

Google also detailed applications of the technology that the company will not pursue, including A.I. for "weapons or other technologies whose principal purpose or implementation is to cause or directly facilitate injury to people" and "technologies that gather or use information for surveillance violating internationally accepted norms of human rights." But Google said it would continue to work with governments and military using A.I. in areas including cybersecurity, training and military recruitment. "We recognize that such powerful technology raises equally powerful questions about its use. How A.I. is developed and used will have a significant impact on society for many years to come," Mr. Pichai wrote.

Government

California's Efforts To Restrict Elon Musk's Flamethrowers Go Down In Flames (arstechnica.com) 153

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: A California state bill that would have more heavily regulated the use of flamethrowers has now effectively fizzled out in a legislative committee. In light of this development, there's nothing to stop Boring Company customers in California from receiving the company's sold-out flamethrowers. On May 26, the day after the bill died in committee, CEO Elon Musk tweeted: "About to ship. @BoringCompany holding flamethrower pickup parties in a week or so, then deliveries begin. Check https://www.boringcompany.com/... for details." After Musk said he would be selling a flamethrower dubbed "Not a Flamethrower" to get around customs, Assemblyman Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles) authored a bill that would have imposed more restrictions on their acquisition and use.

"I honestly thought it was a joke when I saw the news about this," the assemblyman said in a statement at the time. "This product, in the wake of California's deadliest wildfire year in state history, is incredibly insensitive, dangerous, and most definitely not funny." He added: "There are many times in which technology and inventions benefit society but are not made available to the public. We don't allow people to walk in off the street and purchase military grade tanks or armor-piercing ammunition... I cannot even begin to imagine the problems a flamethrower would cause firefighters and police officers alike."
Google

Google Plans Not To Renew its Contract for Project Maven, a Controversial Drone AI Imaging Program (gizmodo.com) 59

Kate Konger, reporting for Gizmodo: Google will not seek another contract for its controversial work providing artificial intelligence to the U.S. Department of Defense for analyzing drone footage after its current contract expires. Google Cloud CEO Diane Greene announced the decision at a meeting with employees Friday morning, three sources told Gizmodo. The current contract expires in 2019 and there will not be a follow-up contract, Greene said. The meeting, dubbed Weather Report, is a weekly update on Google Cloud's business. Google would not choose to pursue Maven today because the backlash has been terrible for the company, Greene said, adding that the decision was made at a time when Google was more aggressively pursuing military work. The company plans to unveil new ethical principles about its use of AI next week.
The Military

Leaked Emails Show Google Expected Military Drone AI Work To Grow Exponentially (theintercept.com) 84

In March, Google secretly signed an agreement with the Pentagon to provide cutting edge AI technology for drone warfare, causing about a dozen Google employees to resign in protest and thousands to sign a petition calling for an end to the contract. Google has since tried to quash the dissent, claiming that the contract was "only" for $9 million, according to the New York Times. Internal company emails obtained by The Intercept tell a different story: The September emails show that Google's business development arm expected the military drone artificial intelligence revenue to ramp up from an initial $15 million to an eventual $250 million per year. In fact, one month after news of the contract broke, the Pentagon allocated an additional $100 million to Project Maven [the endeavor designed to help drone operators recognize images captured on the battlefield]. The internal Google email chain also notes that several big tech players competed to win the Project Maven contract. Other tech firms such as Amazon were in the running, one Google executive involved in negotiations wrote. (Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.) Rather than serving solely as a minor experiment for the military, Google executives on the thread stated that Project Maven was "directly related" to a major cloud computing contract worth billions of dollars that other Silicon Valley firms are competing to win. The emails further note that Amazon Web Services, the cloud computing arm of Amazon, "has some work loads" related to Project Maven.
Google

Google Promises Ethical Principles To Guide Development of Military AI (theverge.com) 154

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Google is drawing up a set of guidelines that will steer its involvement in developing AI tools for the military, according to a report from The New York Times. What exactly these guidelines will stipulate isn't clear, but Google says they will include a ban on the use of artificial intelligence in weaponry. The principles are expected to be announced in full in the coming weeks. They are a response to the controversy over the company's decision to develop AI tools for the Pentagon that analyze drone surveillance footage.

Internal emails obtained by the Times show that Google was aware of the upset this news might cause. Chief scientist at Google Cloud, Fei-Fei Li, told colleagues that they should "avoid at ALL COSTS any mention or implication of AI" when announcing the Pentagon contract. "Weaponized AI is probably one of the most sensitized topics of AI -- if not THE most. This is red meat to the media to find all ways to damage Google," said Li. But Google never ended up making the announcement, and it has since been on the back foot defending its decision. The company says the technology it's helping to build for the Pentagon simply "flags images for human review" and is for "non-offensive uses only." The contract is also small by industry standards -- worth just $9 million to Google, according to the Times.

Space

Ariane Chief Seems Frustrated With SpaceX For Driving Down Launch Costs (arstechnica.com) 165

schwit1 shares a report from Ars Technica: Like United Launch Alliance, the [France-based] Ariane Group faces pricing pressure from SpaceX, which offers launch prices as low as $62 million for its Falcon 9 rocket. It has specifically developed the Ariane 6 rocket to compete with the Falcon 9 booster. But there are a couple of problems with this. Despite efforts to cut costs, the two variants of the Ariane 6 will still cost at least 25 percent more than SpaceX's present-day prices. Moreover, the Ariane 6 will not fly until 2020 at the earliest, by which time Falcon 9 could offer significantly cheaper prices on used Falcon 9 boosters if it needed to. (The Ariane 6 rocket is entirely expendable). With this background in mind, the chief executive of Ariane Group, Alain Charmeau, gave an interview to the German publication Der Spiegel. The interview was published in German, but a credible translation can be found here. During the interview, Charmeau expressed frustration with SpaceX and attributed its success to subsidized launches for the U.S. government.

When pressed on the price pressure that SpaceX has introduced into the launch market, Charmeau's central argument is that this has only been possible because, "SpaceX is charging the U.S. government 100 million dollar per launch, but launches for European customers are much cheaper." Essentially, he says, launches for the U.S. military and NASA are subsidizing SpaceX's commercial launch business. However, the pay-for-service prices that SpaceX offers to the U.S. Department of Defense for spy satellites and cargo and crew launches for NASA are below those of what other launch companies charge. And while $100 million or more for a military launch is significantly higher than a $62 million commercial launch, government contracts come with extra restrictions, reviews, and requirements that drive up this price.

AI

UK Military Fears Robots Learning War From Video Games (bbc.com) 68

Robots that train themselves in battle tactics by playing video games could be used to mount cyber-attacks, the UK military fears. From a report: The warning is in a Ministry of Defence report on artificial intelligence. Researchers in Silicon Valley are using strategy games, such as Starcraft II, to teach systems how to solve complex problems on their own. But artificial intelligence (AI) programs can then "be readily adapted" to wage cyber-warfare, the MoD says. Officials are particularly concerned about the ability of rogue states and terrorists to mount advanced persistent threat attacks, which can disable critical infrastructure and steal sensitive information.
United States

The US Military is Funding an Effort To Catch Deepfakes and Other AI Trickery (technologyreview.com) 70

The Department of Defense is funding a project that will try to determine whether the increasingly real-looking fake video and audio generated by artificial intelligence might soon be impossible to distinguish from the real thing -- even for another AI system. From a report: This summer, under a project funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the world's leading digital forensics experts will gather for an AI fakery contest. They will compete to generate the most convincing AI-generated fake video, imagery, and audio -- and they will also try to develop tools that can catch these counterfeits automatically. The contest will include so-called "deepfakes," videos in which one person's face is stitched onto another person's body.

Rather predictably, the technology has already been used to generate a number of counterfeit celebrity porn videos. But the method could also be used to create a clip of a politician saying or doing something outrageous. DARPA's technologists are especially concerned about a relatively new AI technique that could make AI fakery almost impossible to spot automatically. Using what are known as generative adversarial networks, or GANs, it is possible to generate stunningly realistic artificial imagery.

United States

Trump Ignores 'Inconvenient' Security Rules To Keep Tweeting On His iPhone, Says Report (politico.com) 542

According to Politico, "President Donald Trump uses a White House cellphone that isn't equipped with sophisticated security features designed to shield his communications." The decision is "a departure from the practice of his predecessors that potentially exposes him to hacking or surveillance." From the report: The president uses at least two iPhones, according to one of the officials. The phones -- one capable only of making calls, the other equipped only with the Twitter app and preloaded with a handful of news sites -- are issued by White House Information Technology and the White House Communications Agency, an office staffed by military personnel that oversees White House telecommunications. While aides have urged the president to swap out the Twitter phone on a monthly basis, Trump has resisted their entreaties, telling them it was "too inconvenient," the same administration official said. The president has gone as long as five months without having the phone checked by security experts. It is unclear how often Trump's call-capable phones, which are essentially used as burner phones, are swapped out.
Cellphones

Pentagon-Funded Project Will 'Solve' Cellphone Identity Verification Within Two Years (nextgov.com) 112

Long-time Slashdot reader Zorro quotes Nextgov: The Defense Department is funding a project that officials say could revolutionize the way companies, federal agencies and the military itself verify that people are who they say they are and it could be available in most commercial smartphones within two years. The technology, which will be embedded in smartphones' hardware, will analyze a variety of identifiers that are unique to an individual, such as the hand pressure and wrist tension when the person holds a smartphone and the person's peculiar gait while walking, said Steve Wallace, technical director at the Defense Information Systems Agency.

Organizations that use the tool can combine those identifiers to give the phone holder a "risk score," Wallace said. If the risk score is low enough, the organization can presume the person is who she says she is and grant her access to sensitive files on the phone or on a connected computer or grant her access to a secure facility. If the score's too high, she'll be locked out... Another identifier that will likely be built into the chips is a GPS tracker that will store encrypted information about a person's movements, Wallace said. The verification tool would analyze historical information about a person's locations and major, recent anomalies would raise the person's risk score.

A technical director at the agency "declined to say which smartphone and chipmakers planned to participate in the project, but said the capability will be available 'in the vast majority of mobile devices.'"
Google

Google Employees Resign in Protest Against Pentagon Contract (gizmodo.com) 469

Kate Conger, reporting for Gizmodo: It's been nearly three months since many Google employees -- and the public -- learned about the company's decision to provide artificial intelligence to a controversial military pilot program known as Project Maven, which aims to speed up analysis of drone footage by automatically classifying images of objects and people. Now, about a dozen Google employees are resigning in protest over the company's continued involvement in Maven.

The resigning employees' frustrations range from particular ethical concerns over the use of artificial intelligence in drone warfare to broader worries about Google's political decisions -- and the erosion of user trust that could result from these actions. Many of them have written accounts of their decisions to leave the company, and their stories have been gathered and shared in an internal document, the contents of which multiple sources have described to Gizmodo.

Software

'Father of GPS' Receives the IEEE Medal of Honor (eetimes.com) 22

"A former paperboy from Wisconsin passionate about maps led the team in the Air Force responsible for designing the navigation system we use everyday," writes Slashdot reader dkatana. IoT Times reports: At the IEEE honors ceremony today in San Francisco, Bradford Parkinson, a retired Air Force colonel who spent his life between maps and navigation systems, will be awarded the 2018 IEEE Medal of Honor, "For fundamental contributions to and leadership in developing the design and driving the early applications of the Global Positioning System." The current Global Positioning System (GPS) did not exist until 1995, just 22 years ago, and the engineer who led the project for the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) was Mr. Parkinson.

Parkinson, whose first job was delivering newspapers, had a passion for maps. He used those maps when canoeing to navigate the lakes and streams of Minnesota, aided by a hand compass. When he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1957 with a Bachelor of Science in Engineering, he joined the Air Force to study navigation systems. In 1960, when his superiors saw his engineering potential, they sent him to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to pursue graduate studies. He became a protegee of Charles Stark (Doc) Draper, the father of inertial navigation, who was teaching at MIT at the time. Draper was the lead engineer developing the computer systems for NASA's Apollo program. [...] It was in 1972 when his path on inertial navigation collided with satellite systems. He had been recently promoted to colonel when he received a call from another colonel who was part of the Air Force inertial guidance "mafia." He moved to Los Angeles and joined the group, a bunch of Air Force engineers from MIT. Then Parkinson asked to work on the Air Force 621B program, the genesis of GPS.

The Military

The Pentagon Bans Huawei, ZTE Phones From Retail Stores On Military Bases (theverge.com) 86

The Pentagon is ordering retail outlets on U.S. military bases to stop selling Huawei and ZTE smartphones, citing security risks. "Huawei and ZTE devices may pose an unacceptable risk to the department's personnel, information and mission," a Pentagon spokesperson said in a statement to The Wall Street Journal. "In light of this information, it was not prudent for the department's exchanges to continue selling them." The Verge reports: U.S. military members can still buy Huawei and ZTE devices for personal use from other stores, as there's no outright ban on that for now. But the spokesperson elaborated that the Pentagon is considering whether it should send out a military-wide advisory about the devices. U.S. government officials have said that China could order its manufacturers to create backdoors for spying in their devices, although both Huawei and ZTE have denied the possibility. An anonymous source told the WSJ that military leaders are wary that Beijing could use ZTE and Huawei devices to locate soldiers' exact coordinates and track their movements. Huawei responded to the news in a statement to The Verge: "Huawei's products are sold in 170 countries worldwide and meet the highest standards of security, privacy and engineering in every country we operate globally including the U.S. We remain committed to openness and transparency in everything we do and want to be clear that no government has ever asked us compromise the security or integrity of any of our networks or devices."

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