OPEN SOURCE INSURGENCY >> How to start
Superempowerment — an increase in the ability of individuals and small groups to accomplish tasks/work through the combination of rapid improvements in technological tools and access to global networks — has enabled small groups to radically increase their productivity in conflict. For example, if a small group disrupts a system or a network by attacking systempunkts, it can amplify the results of its attacks to achieve as much as a 1,400,000 percent return on investment.
Open source warfare is an organizational method by which a large collection of small, violent, superempowered groups can work together to take on much larger foes (usually hierarchies). It is also a method of organization that can be applied to non-violent struggles. It enables:
- High rates of innovation.
- Increased survivability among the participant groups.
- More frequent attacks and an ability to swarm targets.
Here are some suggestions (this is but one of many methods based on recent history, I’m sure that over time a better method will emerge) for building an open source insurgency:
A)The plausible promise. The idea that holds the open source insurgency together. The plausible promise is composed of:
- An enemy. The enemy serves as the target of attacks. This enemy can either be either received or manufactured (any group or organization that can be depicted as a threat). The enemy can be any group that currently holds and exerts power: invader, the government, a company, an ethnic group, or a private organization.
- A goal. This objective animates the group. Because of the diversity of the groups and individuals that join together in an open source insurgency, the only goal that works is simple and extremely high level. More complex goal setting is impossible, since it will fracture/fork the insurgency.
- A demonstration. Viability. An attack that demonstrates that its possible to win against the enemy. It deflates any aura of invincibility that the enemy may currently enjoy. The demonstration serves as a rallying cry for the insurgency.
B)The foco. Every open source insurgency is ignited by a small founding group, a foco in guerrilla parlance. The foco sets the original goal and conducts the operation that provides the insurgency with its demonstration of viability. It’s important to understand that in order to grow an open source insurgency, the founding group or individuals must follow a simple path:
- Relinquish. Give up any control over the insurgency gained during its early phases. In practice, this means giving up control of how the goal is achieved, who may participate, how to communicate, etc. The only control that remains is the power of example and respect gained through being effective.
- Resist (temptation). Stay small. Don’t grow to a size that makes the original group easy for the enemy to target (very few new members). Further, don’t establish a formal collection of groups, a hierarchy of control, or set forth a complex agenda. This will only serve to alienate and fragment/fork the insurgency. In some cases, it will make the foco a target of the insurgency itself. It will also slow any advancement on the objective since it limits potential pathways/innovation.
- Share. Provide resources, ideas, information, knowledge, recruits, etc. with other groups and individuals that join the insurgency. Share everything possible that doesn’t directly compromise the foco’s integrity (operational security and viability). Expect sharing in return.
Will keep adding to this doctrine over the next couple of months. Could potentially package it into a PDF document for wider distribution when done.
The Hollow State Politics: The Left Behinds vs. Technorati
The shift from a marginally functional nation-state in manageable decline to a hollow state often comes suddenly…”Onward to a Hollow State“
The western-style democratic nation-state is in deep decline. As I’ve been warning for nearly a decade, the nation-state as we’ve known it is rapidly hollowing out. Simply, this century’s spike in globalization, financialization, and technological change is gutting it and there’s nothing that can be done about it. Further, this decline isn’t a secret anymore. It’s real and tangible and visible — it’s playing out in US politics right now.
Recently, we hit a new milestone in this decline. The forces hollowing us out have enabled the development of a unified ruling class. A class united by global outlook, education, financial success, status, and technological adoption.
This milestone became crystal clear after Super Tuesday, when everyone in the establishment, from the Democratic and Republican party regulars to the media elites to academic policy wonks to senior government employees to the heads of large corporations and financial firms, banded together to denounce Trump.
In that moment, connected as they were on social networks to confront their existential enemy, America’s technorati was born.
The technorati, a group held together by social networking and unified by common values. A group that strongly senses it has more in common with the technorati of different countries than it does with the other people living in this country. A group that now understands their common interests are far more important than the petty political issues, party loyalties, and policy nuances that divide them.
Of course, the only problem facing the technorati is that it is a very small slice of the population. A small segment of the population that isn’t growing. Globalization, financialization, and rapid technological change is not delivering the improvements it promised — at least, not to anyone but the technorati. The rest of America is being left behind.
The left behinds are the supermajority of Americans getting creamed by the hollowing out of America.
Americans who lose more good good jobs, benefits, and status with each passing year. Americans who went deep into debt for college (in order to ascend to a slot in the technorati) but are perpetually underemployed. Americans who work all day but can only make enough to buy food with the money they earn. Americans now adrift in an America so culturally unmoored, it makes the “people of walmart” not only possible, but common.
The problem for the technorati is that the left behinds are starting to realize they’ve been conned.
They are starting to find their political voice, and their candidates want big changes. A demand that will only grow more intense as the hollowing out of America continues.
- Violence as performance art. Selfies. Instagram videos. Twitter. We’ve been conditioned to record our experiences using social media. Naturally, we’re are seeing the same thing with violence. Recording violence and showing it to the world, raw and unedited, can be used to “elevate the act” and memorialize it. NOTE: ISIS recently stumbled onto this as a way to motivate people to engage in terrorism. In these cases, the attackers used social media to turn their bloody attacks into both performance art and solemn ceremony. It gave it meaning. We’ll see more of that in the future.
- We are bombarded with Instant outrage. We are more vulnerable to emotional manipulation than ever before. Our use of social media has changed us. We are constantly on the hunt for pics, news, stories, and videos that grab our attention and titillate us. Once we find them, we are then quick to share them with others. Few things provoke outrage faster than violence and injustice. It is proving particularly effective when the videos arrive raw and unedited from an individual rather than from the media. These personal broadcasts have an authenticity, a vulnerability, and an immediacy to them that greatly amplifies their emotional impact. This makes them more effective at triggering violence than any sterile broadcast from a traditional media outlet.
- Echo chambers. Our virtual networks on Facebook, Twitter, etc. surrounded us with people who think like we do. These networks can easily become echo chambers. Echo chambers that radically amplify outrageous social media videos, spreading the outrage like a contagion. More importantly, it appears that this amplification can trigger individuals on the fence to engage in violence.
This roiling dynamic for amplifying social violence is very, very dangerous. It has the potential to rip the lid off of this country faster than we can respond.
After a brief post Cold War hiatus, great power conflict has returned and it is likely to intensify as the economic woes of China, Russia, and the US worsen.
During the Cold War, great power conflicts were fought through proxies using a variety of different means (my friend Frank Hoffman’s Hybrid Warfare). This method of indirect fighting was used to avoid situations and military casualties that could trigger a nuclear war.
In the near future, we are likely to see the great powers — China, Russia, and the US — fight it out in the same way they did historically, in intense set piece battles (see explanation below).
What is a set piece battle?
- It’s optional. It only occurs when both opponents agree to fight (it’s not a siege).
- It’s contained. It’s only fought in a finite battlespace that both opponents agree on (e.g. a specific field or river crossing or island).
- It’s a showcase of capability. It allows both opponents to execute their plans simultaneously.
However, unlike historical set piece battles, these battles won’t be fought with people. That would be too dangerous since high numbers of Chinese, US, and Russian casualties could lead to a nuclear crisis.
Instead, these battles will be fought and won by autonomous robotic systems.
In the next dozen years, as robotic weapons become autonomous and capable of executing mission orders, we’re going to see a spike in the number of lethal (to the system) tactical engagements between robotic weapons fielded by peer competitors. These early engagements will condition the military and political leadership to fighting in this way without escalation.
However, it won’t be long before one of the great powers decides to test their capabilities in robotic weapons against a regional antagonist.
For example, China could deploy a fully robotic A2/AD (anti access, area denial) system of precision guided munitions, autonomous drones/UUVs/etc. across hundreds of the Spratly islands. A veritable hedgehog of lethal machines capable of destroying anything that entered the territory.
China could then provoke a set piece battle by activating the system and declaring that anything within a very specific territory is off limits to all traffic not specifically approved by the Chinese government.
At this point, the US has three options in response to this “pop-up A2AD” (I love that term). It could:
- Ignore it. This would likely lead to more pop-ups all over the world from any power capable of fielding robotic A2AD.
- Engage it with manned forces. There are two options here. First, the US could sail a carrier battle group into the area in a classic Cold War test of strength, challenging the Chinese to sink it, which would escalate the engagement to a nuclear war. Second, the US could choose to attack it with conventional forces augmented with robotics (teaming), however the battle would likely result in significant loss of US life (a waste of lives if the islands aren’t retaken or neutralized).
- Engage it with autonomous robotics in a set piece battle. This option would test the relative strengths of the respective militaries in robotic systems and AGI (artificial general intelligence). It would be bloodless and contained to a specific battlespace.
These battles could be short and over in hours, fought with robotics and cyber combined arms. In some cases, they could go on for decades. An eternal contest until one side or the other runs out of money or the political need to distract an angry population.
The ROI (return on investment) from making FAKE attacks against EU targets could exceed $1,000,000 to $1. IF 10,000 FAKE attacks are made in the next year by self-activating, super-empowered individuals, the costs would be incalculable.
The successful terrorist attacks on Brussels and Paris have left the EU vulnerable to tens of thousands of fast, frequent and fake attacks by self-activating terrorists.
The recent attack on Brussels was big, bloody, and effective.
Fortunately, attacks on this scale don’t occur often. They take lots of time to prepare for and lots of support. Given these costs, it’s unlikely we’ll see an attack on this scale for a while.
Unfortunately, there is a way for terrorists to get around that limitation. A way to continue to damage the EU without mounting a new, large-scale attack. This is accomplished by self-activating terrorists making small, frequent and fake attacks. Fake attacks that have a disruptive impact similar to a real attack. Attacks like:
- threats to buildings, organizations and individuals
- suspicious packages left on trains, airports, etc. or mailed bombs/biochem
- reports of suspicious activity – building, organizations, and individuals
Why are fake attacks effective?
- in the current environment, every threat/attempt is taken seriously by the government. Police, fire, and the military responds. Buildings are searched. People are accosted.
- it costs orders of magnitude more to respond to a fake attack than it takes to mount it. Airports are closed. Subways are suspended. Traffic is stopped.
- these attacks can be made frequently, with very little risk/cost to the attacker. Simply, anybody can participate with 10 minutes of instruction.
Worse, at scale (tens of thousands), these attacks could deeply damage the socioeconomic fabric of the EU, by increasing distrust of minorities, generating hundreds of billions in security costs and sinking Schengen.
Many cyber weapons are designed for deep maneuver. These virtual weapons drift across the Internet, jumping from computer to computer to computer, potentially travelling for years until they find the target they were designed to destroy.
Deep maneuver is also possible with autonomous robotic weapons in the real, physical world. I’m not talking about the minimal performance improvements achieved by removing the weight of a pilot or crew from a manned system. Instead, I’m talking about autonomous robotic systems that can undertake missions that last for years and traverse tens of thousands of miles.
Let’s dig into this idea a bit.
The earliest example of robotic deep maneuver I’ve found is an operation from WW2 called Fu-Go. Fu-Go was the Japanese attempt to bomb the continental US using balloon bombs. Although Fu-Go was a complete failure, I find it useful as a way to think productively about how robotic intelligence can be used to surmount physical challenges (distance, time, etc.).
Here are some details about Fu-Go:
- The operation began in late 1944 in November, as US B-29s began the bombing mainland Japan and a couple of months after the Germans began launching V2 rockets. Operation Fu-Go was commanded by Major General Sueyoshi Kusaba of the Imperial Japanese Army and carried out by 2,800 soldiers. These soldiers launched 9,300 balloons made with mulberry paper and held together with potato paste, by hand.
- The balloons were built to carry hundreds of pounds of explosives across the Pacific in about three days, using the winter jet stream as propulsion. In order to access the jet stream the balloons were outfitted with systems (releasing ballast and venting gas) that kept them between 30,000 and 38,000 thousand feet. Some of the balloons were outfitted with radio transmitters, so their progress could be mapped by Japanese facilities on island bases across the Pacific.
- The operation was a complete failure. The level of robotic autonomy used by the Japanese wasn’t advanced enough to overcome the challenges of the task. For example, the Japanese predicted that 10% of the balloons would reach the US (about 900 balloons), but only 300 balloons made it. On top of that, no major damage was done by the balloons that completed the journey.
I find that this example provides me with some insight into how robotic weapons can make deep maneuvers like cyber weapons. As we know, cyber weapons are already experts at using the environment for propulsion. They use everything from open network connection to the stochastic motion of personal gadgets (cell phones, etc.) to maneuver themselves to their target.
Autonomous robots can do the same in the physical world by substituting intelligence for mechanical performance. This intelligence would allow them to leverage a wide variety of environmental factors to extend mission duration and range, from using wind/ocean currents to hitchhiking on vehicles (ships, trucks, aircraft, etc.) to slow self-propulsion using solar energy (or buoyancy). Deep maneuver makes it possible to:
- Traverse an ocean. Hide in the muck of an opponent’s harbor or in the coral reef near a disputed island. Engage kinetically with PGMs when required.
- Infiltrate a remote region and set up a sensor network to monitor enemy activity and look for targets of opportunity. Persist for a decade, permanently denying the area to opponents.
- Fly by night. Hide and/or recharge by day. Tap into the opponent’s electrical grid or fuel systems. Do so until target is found/neutralized.
I spent last year working for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on a vision for how advanced robots will transform warfare over the next twenty years. This year I’ll share my thinking with you. Tag along if you are interested.
The winner of the next big conflict will be the side with the best understanding of how to use bots in warfare. Bots aren’t just an iterative improvement in warfare, like stealth or PGMs, it’s a revolution in the making. The US military, to its credit, is working on this. So far, the US military has identified three (out of nearly a dozen) of the foundational ideas needed to successfully employ bots in warfare:
Learning from Nitro Zeus
However, these early ideas are a long way from the operational thinking required to win wars using bots. That type of thinking requires a synthesis of the foundational ideas into new operational concepts. Here’s a good example operational concept I’m calling zero day warfare. It builds off the thinking already demonstrated in recent US cyber operations:
- The US recently leaked plans for Nitro Zeus, a sweeping cyber attack on Iran to be used only if the nuclear negotiations with the country broke down.
- Nitro Zeus, building on the earlier success of the Stuxnet/”Olympic Games” (the earlier cyber attack that set back Iranian nuclear activities by destroying 1,000 centrifuges), was designed to seize control or knockout Iran’s air defense system, communications grid, transportation system, and energy grid on the first day of the conflict.
- The rapid onset of chaos caused by Nitro Zeus would have then made it possible for immediate kinetic attacks on the real objective of the operation: the Iranian nuclear facility at Fordo.
Zero Day Warfare
The goal of zero day warfare is to win the war before it starts (a very zen concept) by deeply penetrating the opponent’s territory years before the conflict begins. Like all maneuver warfare, it is focused on shattering the opponent’s physical and logical cohesiveness. Here’s a quick summary of the highlights:
- Autonomous robots and software bots (collectively “bots”) deeply penetrate the opponent’s territory both physically (territory) and logically (their computer systems). Most would be hidden and remain dormant until activation. Some would actively or passively map opponent networks, analyze them for vulnerabilities, and take advantage of opportunities for stealthy exploitation.
- When activated, these forward bots conduct a coordinated attack from inside the opponent’s territory and systems. Damaging, degrading, or taking control of computer systems and physical infrastructure. Advanced robots would emerge from stealth to kinetically engage with opponent forces or physically seize points (airports, ports, etc.) to enable the rapid entry of conventional forces.
- External forces, both bots and conventional, would utilize the disruption of the Zero Day attack to rapidly enter the territory and seize control of key facilities and capture remaining leadership.
PS: A zero day warfare that includes deeply deployed autonomous robots will be possible within the next decade. Almost all of the tech needed to pull it off is almost here.
The current revolution in robotics is due to rapid advances in the ability of robots to think (enough to fly themselves).
This means that most of the big improvements we’ll see in the use of autonomous robots in warfare will be due to finding new uses of this attribute more than any other. Let’s explore this a bit.
It’s now possible to turn a simple low performance drone into a weapon that is nearly as effective as a precision guided missile (PGM) that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. This is accomplished through the creative substitute inexpensive and sophisticated machine thinking for expensive mechanical performance.
In other words, the smarter the drone is, the better it can mimic the performance of the much more expensive PGM.
This is already possible today with inexpensive, commercially available drones. Low cost drones are now smart enough to approximate the performance of an expensive surface to surface missile system with a little creativity. Let’s dive into this a bit.
From a mechanical perspective, consumer drones aren’t that impressive:
- ~1-2 pound payload
- ~20 min flight time
- 20-40 miles per hour flight speed
However, these drones are already very smart:
- They can fly themselves. They can take-off, fly enroute, and land autonomously.
- They can precisely navigate a course based on the GPS waypoints you designate.
- They can now (a recent development) use digital cameras to find, track, and follow objects. Some can even land on objects they find based on a description of that object.
Even this basic capability is more than enough to turn a basic drone into an extremely dangerous first strike weapon. Here’s a scenario that pits ten drones against a major airport:
- Ten drones would take off autonomously in 1 minute intervals.
- Each would follow a GPS flightpath to a preselected portion of an airport.
- Upon arrival, a digital camera would identify the nearest wing of an aircraft.
- The drone would land itself in the middle of that wing.
- A pound of thermite in the payload would ignite upon landing.
- The thermite would burn through the wing, igniting the fuel inside…
- Most of the airport and nearly all of the planes on the tarmac are destroyed.
Here are the takeaways:
- Even the simple robotic platforms of today can be extremely effective as weapons. At current rates of improvement in machine intelligence, the situation will get much more interesting very, very soon.
- It’s possible to creatively trade inexpensive machine smarts for expensive mechanical performance.
- We need to figure this out before the bad guys do. However, figuring this out requires a deep insight into the dynamics driving this forward.
Episode 236 – Regulatory Guerrillas
Published January 12, 2016
SPECIAL GUEST: John Robb (Global Guerrillas). We’re joined by JOHN ROBB, author/entrepreneur/inventor/former USAF pilot, for some futurist looks into drones and self-driving cars. How does the current situation with these technologies mirror the early days of the Internet, what possible ways they will transform society, and through it all, how is DEEP LEARNING reshaping our lives. With a side of social networking, including our favorite kicking target FACEBOOK. Recorded on 1/7/2016.
Mike & Matt’s Recommended Reading:
John’s blog Global Guerrillas, about Networked tribes, system disruption and the emerging bazaar of violence, the future of conflict.
John on Twitter
Global Guerrillas on Facebook
John’s Wikipedia entry
Google Brain: “Can we build a centralized machine leaning platform?” Smarter Devices for our Connected Environments, suggested “find out more” link by our Twitter friend, Nicholas Perry
What is culture? In the broad sense, it’s a way of life. More specifically, it’s a basket of shared behaviors that determine how we solve problems, define success, and treat each other.
Culture is important. It has been proven critical to socioeconomic success, at every level, from the extremely large group to the individual (although at the individual scale, we call it character). For example, in the corporate world, most successful CEOs will tell you the same thing: culture is everything.
So, if it’s so important, why don’t we talk about culture more?
It isn’t easy to quantify. It’s not easy for bureaucrats to dictate or markets to measure.
Fortunately, there is a way to understand it a bit better. Culture is important because it plays a critical role in personal and group decision making. More specifically, it drives the “orientation” step of John Boyd’s decision making model, the OODA (observe, orient, decide, act) loop.
Orientation is different than the other steps in decision making. It’s a gut check. A check of core values. It is a synthesis of everything you’ve learned as it applies to the problem you face. This makes it squishy and holistic. It’s the step that Einstein so elegantly referred to in this quote:
If I had only one hour to save the world, I would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem, and only five minutes finding the solution.
Unlike orientation, the other steps (observe, decide, act) used in decision making are largely mechanistic, analytic and quantitative. To improve these other steps, you speed them up (i.e. computers), increase their fidelity (accuracy without error), and widen their scope (more data).
In contrast, culture is how human beings have learned to speed up orientation in a dependable way.
Culture can provide any individual, organization, or country with the outlook needed to successfully orient problems repeatedly and without hesitation.
Here’s an example:
Some business cultures place a high value on treating the counterparty in a transaction with respect and dignity. In those cultures, it’s important that every business transaction is a win-win, where both sides are better off for doing business together, regardless of the contractual details.
In other business cultures, business transactions are highly competitive. In those cultures, it’s important to win every business transaction and contractual details are used as a weapon to bludgeon the counterparty into submission.
See the difference in approach due to culture?
What should also be obvious from this example is that cultures differ. They can be wildly different.
They aren’t equally effective, the usually don’t mix well, and some can be toxic.
PS: John Boyd developed the OODA loop to figure out how to win conflicts. He postulated, correctly, that successful decision making is the most important factor in survival — from simple organisms surviving evolutionary pressures in primordial pools to winning wars on modern battlefields. Therefore, success in any conflict was largely due to faster, better decision making. The faster you can make good decisions, the faster you can iterate to success.
Here’s some thinking on how warfare will change over the next twenty years.
Fast forward 20 years (about the age of the WWW). An aging, schlerotic EU has become the destination for over a hundred million refugees and migrants fleeing the densely populated killing fields of Africa and SW Asia.
The rapidity of influx has led the EU to take extreme measures. Tens of millions of these migrants/refugees are roughly housed in relocation camps all across Europe.
Violence within these camps has risen steadily, leading to an EU-wide Islamic insurgency.
The soldiers sent to counter this insurgency are outfitted with autonomous weapons. These weapons combine deep learning (making them very smart) and cloud robotics (allowing the military to rapidly share advances in training and technique) to provide these soldiers with capabilities far beyond what we’ve seen in previous wars.
Here’s an idealized example so you can get the idea. A human/robot team advances down a street in an urban environment.
- Big Data: The autonomous weapons used by the team continuously scans the street in all directions. These weapons can visually ID everyone on the street from a database of 3.5 billion people in under a second. It also continuously analyzes the people, windows, etc. down the street looking for the visual signatures of concealed weapons and IEDs. i.e. A car at the end of the street is resting a bit too heavily on its springs, indicating there may be explosives in it. These weapons learned to do this based on billions of hours of combat and police training images/footage (aka Big Data).
- Customized Training: The human members of the team have trained the weapons to alert the team when it sees any electric vehicles demonstrating even the slightest bit of irregular behavior — the rapid acceleration possible with autonomously driven electric vehicles can make them dangerous kinetic threats in three seconds.
- Cloud training: The autonomous weapons with the soldiers with connections to military’s cloud. Fortunately, this connection to the cloud gave these weapons access to the certified methodologies for identifying and neutralizing a new DIED (drone IED) used by Islamic insurgents only yesterday. This paid off. The new DIED entered the street behind the team, and the systems new how to ID it, engage it, and neutralize its countermeasures flawlessly. During the engagement, the human team member noticed a slight change in the behavior of the DIED — it released its homemade cluster bomblets earlier than anticipated. The data/footage of the engagement is tagged with a note to this effect and it is uploaded to the cloud in order to add to the approved methods for countering it.
Of course, much of this capability might become open source and available to anyone smart enough to employ it.
This isn’t an academic question. Some organizations already employ truly autonomous systems and these systems are getting very good very quickly.
Since these systems are already in use, I think this question is about as important as it gets.
Unfortunately, these systems are so new, very few people are working on the answer to this question. Worse, this question is devilishly hard to answer, because a truly autonomous system…
- will solve problems that only human beings can currently solve.
- will write its own “code” and build its own models for solving problems and making decisions.
- will continuously learn/change/improve its code and its models as it gains experience.
Here’s my early thinking on this.
You can’t control these systems using the methods we built for controlling the human built software and machines we already have. If you attempt to control autonomous systems in the same way you control automation, you will fail (and fail badly).
A new method of command and control is needed. Here are some ideas for how to pull this off:
- Human beings must be paired with these systems. These people must act as coaches, trainers, teachers to these systems. They must take responsibility for failures in their training.
- These systems must be continually certified for use in way (largely qualitative vs. quantitative) that are similar to how we certify human beings. Put them through a series of real world exercises. If they can handle them and explain why they made the decisions they made (optimally, using natural language), they are certified for use.
- We need to develop and deploy something I’m calling BIG SIM. This is a compliment to the BIG DATA that’s used to bootstrap these systems to minimum capability. BIG SIM provides a massive real world sandbox that will allow autonomous systems to undergo extensive training and testing to suss out problems. BIG SIM can be completely virtual. It can also be accomplished through decentralized real-world testing as we are seeing with Tesla’s crowdsourced “autopilot” or via a corporate solution like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk.
There’s been a big change in the wind for a decade. Many of us have heard and felt it rumbling in the background, shaking the foundations of an already decrepit global socioeconomic system.
Depending on how you view the world, you see it differently. I see it as as technological transformation. A technological transformation that will upend everything.
Here’s a taste of what is driving this change forward. It’s real and it’s coming.
Up until three hundred years ago, the world relied on the work being done by people, largely by hand. The skills and methods required to do this work were largely inside the minds of the people doing that work. We created organizations to aggregate the people needed for doing work on a large scale and guilds to protect this knowledge.
To overcome the limits of a world made by hand, we developed something new: automation. We’ve transformed the world by building machines (in both hardware and software) that do work for us. Automation is based on a scientific process that figures out how things work and an engineering process that turns these scientific ideas into machines that actually do work.
However, we’ve now reached the limits of automation. How so? Automation is limited by the ability of human beings to construct the cognitive models (both scientific and engineering) needed to build the machines that provide it.
To overcome these limits, we’re now building cognitive machines that can build their own models for how things work and how to accomplish tasks. Unlike the machines that provide us with automation, these machines aren’t built in the traditional way and they can tackle problems far more complex than anything done by automation.
The big change is that these machines build themselves. They bootstrap their abilities in the same way human beings do: through learning, training, and experience. However, they can learn it MUCH faster (deep learning) than we do and once they do, they can share their new abilities with other machines all over the world instantly (cloud robotics).
If you don’t think this is a big deal, you are wrong. It’s the biggest shift in technology we’ve seen since the rise of automation over three hundred years ago and it’s going to change everything. In particular, it’s going to upend the rules of economics, warfare, and politics we thought were immutable.
Battles between the corporate allies of hollow nation-states and the gangs and tribes of black globalization are at the center of this century’s epochal war. That war will eventually put the senior executives of US tech and financial companies in the crosshairs. Here’s a good example. Over the weekend, ISIS threatened the life of Jack Dorsey, a co-founder and Chairman of Twitter. Why? Twitter, at the urging of the US government, has been shutting down the accounts of ISIS supporters for months. So, ISIS supporters responded by making a threat with a nifty graphic:
We told you from the beginning it’s not your war, but you didn’t get it and kept closing our accounts on Twitter, but we always come back. But when our lions come and take your breath, you will never come back to life
The CEO as an Objective of War
Unfortunately for the suits in Silicon Valley, ISIS isn’t as much of a pushover as al Qaeda was. They have mass and momentum and they are smart enough to understand the role of the Internet in this struggle. Additionally, they have lots of experience coercing CEOs and other senior executives. They did it quite a bit of it during the war in Iraq (and it worked).
Regardless, the targeted killing of a well known tech executive in sunny California by ISIS jihadis does appear impossible to imagine. Few places are more remote from each other, and not just geographically. Silicon Valley is a hyperconnected, financially mainlined zone striving for a tech nirvana. ISIS is a disconnected autonomous zone striving to return to the 7th Century. However, that’s probably a bad assumption. Charlie Hebdo showed the world that terrorism is evolving and corporate targeting on global scale is now on the agenda. This means an attack on a tech CEO isn’t just possible, but probable. Worse, once an attack on a senior tech executive happens, future threats will be instantly credible and highly coercive.
If that occurs, we are going to find out very quickly that the corporation, and particularly tech companies, are particularly bad organizations for warfare. One reason is that they are too centralized. In particular, the institution of the CEO is a grave weakness (a systempunkt in global guerrilla lingo). The CEO’s centrality to the corporate network makes him/her a single point of failure for the entire organization. Another is that executives in most of the western world are very soft targets. Easy to find (Google and Google maps), easy to isolate, and easy to kill…
Back in 2003, the US was headed towards complete dependence on foreign oil. Additionally, the demand for energy (particularly from China) was growing far faster than production, which meant an energy price spike was inevitable.
Of course, this could be avoided if another big source of oil was found and exploited. However, based on existing production technology, the only big fields left untapped were in Iraq, but due to sanctions (limiting production to 2m barrels a day, far less than the 8 m bpd projected to be possible).
The result was inevitable. The US invaded Iraq to free up production (that’s largely why the fields were secured in the first couple of days of the invasion), but it screwed up. The national security “brain-trust” didn’t anticipate that the Iraqi guerrillas would disrupt this production so effectively (I covered this in detail on this blog and in my book). The result? Iraq produced less oil, for years after the invasion, than it did under sanctions.
That loss of production in combination with disruption caused by Nigerian guerrillas (who copied the success of the Iraqis), produced an energy crunch that drove the global economy into a massive recession. Worse, this recession became a decade long depression due to the disruption caused by the banks and hedge funds we allow to hack the global financial system.
One of the benefits of this oil crunch was that high prices spurred technological innovation that led to an upheaval in the US energy system over the last decade. New technology has enabled US oil and natural gas production to boom. Not only that, this tech enables energy production to scale industrially — that’s a big change if you understand the implications.
The most immediate benefit of a return to US energy autonomy has been lower natural gas, oil, and gasoline prices (autonomy that will only grow as solar zooms). However, there’s other benefits that should be obvious too. Since the US isn’t dependent on Middle Eastern energy anymore, US national security policy will be decoupled from Middle Eastern conflicts. Like it or not, this is inevitable.
What does this mean?
- If the US does get involved in Middle East conflicts it’s due to outdated policy and doctrine.
- Nobody in the West will do anything to stop the spread of ISIS (as a humanitarian crisis it rates well below Rwanda).
- Saudi Arabia is going to get desperate to get the US to intervene. It sees ISIS as an existential threat. How will it do that? I’ve got some ideas…
Here’s a new way to think about something that should be obvious…
To the politicians in DC and financiers in New York, Saudi Arabia is an island of stability in a sea of chaos. A reliable ally, willing to keep the oil flowing, year in and year out. A place that’s not vulnerable to the instability that routinely guts the countries around it.
Of course, that line of thinking is utterly misguided. The opposite is true.
In reality, Saudi Arabia is extremely fragile and much of the chaos we see in the Middle East is due to the way Saudi Arabia avoids falling to pieces. Worse, we are largely to blame for this. We go along with this charade, and our willingness to play along is doing much of the damage.
To understand why this illusion Saudi stability is so toxic, let’s dig into a very smart idea from thermodynamics called dissipative structures. In fact, the idea was so good that won Ilya Prigogine the Nobel prize in Chemistry. Prigogine’s idea provides us with insight into how everything from how biological structures (e.g. bacteria, apes…) to natural phenomena (e.g. tornadoes) to social systems (e.g. nation-states) build order and prevent collapse.
The important part of this idea for us, is that all dissipative structures grow by exporting or expelling waste products into an external environment. In other words, they achieve “order” by getting rid of the disorder produced by building it.
Here it is in very simple terms. Within biological structures, eating produces the energy needed to build and maintain an organism. In turn, consuming food produces disorder in the form of feces. Organisms expel feces into the outside world because holding onto it is dangerous. The same process is true with almost all complex structures. With automobiles, it’s exhaust fumes. With complex social systems, it is everything from warfare to pollution.
We could spend all day on this idea, but let’s cut to the chase and apply this framework to Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is a particularly expensive dissipative structure because it is extremely rigid, anachronistic, and unchanging. To maintain this archaic structure despite the titanic forces of globalization trying to pull it apart, it must export an incredible amount of disorder (entropy) into the surrounding region. Disorder such as:
- A corrosive fundamentalist ideology. The KSA’s Wahhabism fuels both ISIS and al Qaeda and it’s spent billions spreading it around the world.
- Thousands of violent zealots. The vast majority of the hijackers during 9/11 were Saudi as well as thousands of ISIS members. People it can’t control are sent abroad.
- Billions in destabilizing financing. Saudi Arabia provided the start-up funding for both al Qaeda and ISIS. It even “invested” $10 billion in the current Egyptian military dictatorship.
Obviously, this Saudi entropy has damaged everyone in the world. It spreads violent instability throughout the world, from the terrorism of 9/11 to the violent ascent of ISIS in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Pakistan…
Worse, the damage being done by Saudi Arabia is increasing with each passing year, as it attempts to defy the inexorable gravitational attraction of a fluid, dynamic, and tightly integrated global system.
This means that even if ISIS is defeated in the next couple of years, Saudi Arabia’s dysfunctional system will produce something worse soon thereafter.
The jihadi entrepreneurs of ISIS don’t just accumulate wealth and territory.
They are also accumulating violence capital.
What is violence capital?
In traditional businesses, money is the primary form of capital. In on-line businesses, network capital (the size of the network it controls or influences) is often more valuable than the financial capital it has. In the fluid world of jihadi entrepreneurship, violence capital is often most important form of capital.
Groups and individuals accumulate violence capital through the calculated application of violence. It’s expended on the following:
- Credibility and Reputation.
- Coercive Influence.
- Instant FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt).
Violence capital comes in lots of different forms and is expended in lots of different ways — from the neighborhood bully to the petty mobster to petty tyrants to global superpowers to the Mongols (the unmatched, epic purveyors of violence capital).
Hopefully, you can see that it’s a useful tool for thinking about the use and value of violence.
In the case of ISIS, the violence capital they are accumulating is of a special type. They are building their capital by:
- enslaving, or
any and all apostates, unbelievers, moderates, etc.
Why are they doing this? To become credible as an expansionist jihad within the fundamentalist Wahhabi tradition. A credibility can only be built with lots of violence capital.
Here’s one of the reasons that the FAA has seized control of all drones (including toys) and is slowing the development of automated aviation to a crawl. It’s a dumb move, since it won’t work, but they are doing it anyway.
The reason is that drones make disruption easy.
For example. Let’s take a simple $1,350 drone like the X8 from 3D robotics. It’s a good product, with solid duration (15m) and payload (.8 kg) numbers.
That’s more than enough capability for significant disruption with a little innovation.
How so? With GPS auto-navigation and a container that auto-releases its payload over GPS coordinates (an easy mod), it can become the perfect delivery vehicle.
What could it deliver? Caltrops for example. A handful of caltrops can shut down automobile traffic on major highways for hours.
Combined with a drone, caltrops can shut down most ground transportation in a big city in less than an hour.
- Flight 3 mi. Fly to target. Drop payload. Fly back. – 13 minutes.
- Replace battery and refill cargo container – 5 minutes.
- Flight 2 mi. Fly to target. Drop payload. Fly back. – 9 minutes.
- Replace battery and refill cargo container – 5 minutes.
Recover vehicle and depart area. Potential for capture: very low.
Disruption potential? High.
The big question: Will the FAA effort to control drones protect against this type of disruption? No. It won’t.
It actually makes the situation worse. It prevents the development of the safeguards an economically viable drone delivery network would produce.
Perversely, limiting drone use to big corps (that make political contributions) and government agencies, won’t create the economic progress that will turn this technology into a beneficial innovation. It will do just the opposite. It will simply increase the level of economic corruption/stagnation we are already experiencing in the US.
Some of the recent protests over Furguson have attempted to block traffic (LA and Boston) to cause delays. Here’s an example (note the barricades on the left). Of course, this method isn’t much of a danger.
A more troublesome method?
Disruption that uses a very old technology: the caltrop (see below).
Caltrops were originally designed to damage the hooves of horses (or impale the foot of a soldier). They work equally well against tires.
A handful of these tossed onto a highway at periodic intervals and in different locations can achieve very high levels of disruption.
Not only that, they are actually very easy to make. Just clip a section from a chain fence. Clip the ends to a point and bend them into shape.
PS: Years ago, I pointed to a study by the Federal Reserve that showed that disruption like this can act as a “tax” on a urban target that can cause a severe economic contraction. The trick is keeping it going long enough to happen.
PPS: Here a vehicle (with a false bottom) that was used to disrupt the main N-S highway in China last year. Was it the cause of the 120 mile/week long traffic jam?
John Boyd is famous in large part for showing how decision making is critical to victory.
To do this he built the OODA loop. The OODA describes how we make decisions:
The OODA, when repeated quickly and accurately, allows any organism to quickly adapt to new and evolving circumstance.
As you can guess, making great decisions are particularly critical in warfare.
Although Boyd doesn’t spend much time on it, it’s also critical in economic activity.
Better decisions yield economic success for both individuals and the global economy as a whole (when many people make them).
The trick to doing it repeatedly is by getting the orientation right.
Orientation is the most critical step (by far) in the OODA.
Orientation is the step that combines everything in an instant — cultural tradition, morals, training, education, personal experience, emotional intelligence — in a way that provides a decision with direction, scope, and scale.
Orientation provides us with the cross connections necessary for high quality innovation.
Here’s an example.
I just saw this pic online. It’s from Spotify, the online music service, about how they develop products. It was meant to clever . It wasn’t.
I know from decades of developing innovative products (or being near to those who are) that real product innovation doesn’t work this way.
The depicted method is simply a description of incremental improvement.
Real innovation requires orientation.
Here’s Boyd’s example: the snowmobile. It’s unlikely that iteration will yield a snowmobile. It’s a strange device.
A mix of skis, tank treads, bike handlebars and outboard motor.
It’s a product derived from connections drawn from numerous sources to combine an innovative whole.
Simply, it’s a product of good orientation.
What happens when a terrorist network (ISIS) finds a way to activate terrorists using social media (neatly piercing the security defenses that we pay hundreds of billions of $$ for every year) to randomly attack civilians (like the knife attack in Roanoke VA last week)?
You get a society at a tipping point. A society at this tipping point is reactive and labile. It is EASILY sent into a frenzied retreat.
How is this different?
Unlike the classic example of yelling “fire” in a crowded movie theater, this panic can be induced by anything that sounds/looks/feels like a threat rather than the claim of a specific threat (like “fire”). Nearly anything can set them off.
Here’s three examples of that over the last two weeks (there have been many more):
- JFK Airport. Unfounded reports of gunfire led to an evacuation of terminals. Police march passengers out of the terminal with their hands up. Police speculate that it was started by load fans of the Rio Olympics.
- CrabTree Valley Mall (NC): Unfounded reports of an active shooter leads to a panicked evacuation of the mall.
- LAX Airport. Unfounded reports of a shooter led to people storming the jetway doors and spilling out onto the tarmac, people barricading themselves into bathrooms in multiple terminals, and more.
This public reactiveness may become the new normal both here and in Europe. If so, we can expect people take advantage of it.
All it takes is a single audio clip. Like this or this either near a public space or done remotely on a timed playback device is all it would take to ignite the FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) that leads to a large scale evacuation. In fact, people are so reactive now, I suspect it wouldn’t even take a sound that is explicit, only something that sounds similar.
Think about this for a moment. The ability to shut down a public space for hours:
- anytime (just walk in and play the sounds),
- remotely (low cost playback device on timer/remote activation), or
- on a large scale (thousands of people playing the sounds on their smart phones in public spaces simultaneously)
is a substantial capability.
How so? Take this fall’s election for example.
It is a far easier to close a voting location with a sound than hack a voting machine.
This is big news. This is the first large scale demonstration that the “Terrorism Tax” I speculated about back in 2004, actually works.
Liz Alderman at the NYTimes reported that terrorism is squashing Europe’s first glimmer of recovery since the financial crash. EU economic growth has been halved since spring, with France now at zero. Here are some details:
- Tourism is sinking. For example: “In France, growth in nightly hotel room bookings after the Paris attacks fell to single digits from 20 percent. After the Brussels bombings, bookings went negative, and after Nice, bookings fell by double digits.”
- Daily security costs are spiking. Here’s an example from a single venue, “the Paris Plage, a makeshift beach erected along the Seine, a dozen armed police officers guarded an entry checkpoint on a recent day. Army troops marched past families playing in the sand and half-empty activity points along the river. The patrols, cost taxpayers about 1 million euros, or $1.1 million, a day.”
- Broad spectrum economic damage. For example: retail sales are slumping due to low traffic in stores and large numbers of entertainment events are being cancelled.
The Terrorism Tax
Although Europe has suffered terrorism before, this time it’s different. Instead of big and relatively infrequent terrorist attacks, these new attacks are small, numerous and geographically dispersed. This change is a big deal, because it makes it possible for terrorists to turn attacks into “a tax” that depresses economic activity by imposing new costs and changing economic behavior. Here’s some of the theory from my 2004 article on it:
A terrorism tax is an accumulation of excess costs inflicted on a city’s stakeholders by acts of terrorism. These include direct costs inflicted on the city by terrorists (systems sabotage) and indirect costs due to the security/insurance/policy/etc. changes needed to protect against attacks. A terrorism tax above a certain level will force the city to transition to a lower market equilibrium (aka shrink). So, what is that level? Here’s what they concluded:
- Singular terrorist events (black swans), like 9/11, do not impact city viability. The costs of a singular event dissipate quickly. In contrast, frequent attacks (even small ones) on a specific city can create a terrorism tax of a level necessary to shift equilibriums.
- In the labor pooling model of city formation, a terrorism tax of 7% will cause a city to collapse to a lower equilibrium. Labor pooling equilibrium reflects the benefits of aggregating workers in a single location. Workers get higher wages and more choices. Firms get stable wages (no one firm can deplete the market) and more candidates.
- In the core-periphery model of city formation, a terrorism tax of 6.3% will push a city to a lower equilibrium. The core-periphery model is based on transportation costs. Firms generate transportation savings by concentrating in a single location next to suppliers and customers. Customers and workers glean the benefit of lower transportation costs by locating near jobs and goods.
The terrorism tax is even more effective when it is combined with systems disruption (the intentional disruption of infrastructure). That combo puts in play hidden dynamics – both economic and societal – that can turn a functional society into a violent insurgency within months.
There’s a war for the future being waged online. It’s being fought across the world’s online social networks, and the outcomes of these online battles increasingly dictate the outcome of what happens later in the real world.
One of the most successful tactics used in this war is the manipulation of language in order to confuse, scare, nullify or outrage targeted audiences with the objective of making money, aggregating political power, and disrupting opponents.
While this manipulation has ALWAYs been true of human conflict, it’s being done on a scale and to a degree that we’ve never seen before due social networking, globalization, and social/media fragmentation.
A great example of tactical manipulation is called the the Russell Conjugation (or the “emotive conjugation” championed by the philosopher Bertrand Russell , the pollster Frank Luntz and recently Thiel Capital’s Eric Weinstein).
The Russell conjugation exploits the gap in the emotional content of a word or phrase and the factual content. Here are a few of Russell’s examples:
“I am firm; you are obstinate; he is a pig-headed fool.”
“I am righteously indignant; you are annoyed; he is making a fuss over nothing.”
Notice how the factual content remains unchanged. In each case, the person referenced is factually described as “a person who is reluctant to accept new information.” However, the words used change the emotional content drastically, from a positive to neutral-negative to negative-opprobrium.
The ability to change the emotional spin on a fact is critical. As all great marketing pros already know, the emotional content of a message is much more important than the factual content when it comes to selling anything. All brands are simply emotion (a commercial brand is monetized emotion).
However, this gets more complicated when an emotional spin is applied to facts presented as news. As Weinstein correctly points out, people don’t just care about the factual content since they don’t view a fact as a bit of disconnected information. They see all facts within a social context and that context is identified by the emotional context attached to that fact.
In fact, if historical behavior is a guide, people care more about the social consequences of the facts than the fact itself.
We’ve seen this before. Context seeking is also the basis of consumerism as Thorstein Veblen pointed out in his classic book on modern economics The Theory of the Leisure Class. Simply, the entire modern economy is based on people buying products and services in an attempt to mimic the choices and habits of people they consider cooler, wealthier or more successful than they are.
This is also true with news in a fragmented society. Most people go to news sources they trust to find out more than the facts. They want to find out how they should feel about a fact (or whether they should reject that fact) from people they consider to be leaders of their social network.
This context seeking used to be limited to the news presented by reporters/editors of the big papers like the New York Times and the TV network news organizations like CBS. That’s not true anymore. Control over the emotional content of news has fragmented due to the rise of social media and social networking. People don’t just look for the “correct” emotional spin on a fact from a big media company, they seek it from alt news orgs and personalities on social networks they identify with.
This suggests that the current debate over “fake news” isn’t due to the use of fabricated information. Instead, it’s really a negative way of describing news that has an emotional context that is at odds/war with the emotions approved by the major media, academia, or government.
PS: Here’s a good book from Frank Luntz on how this manipulation works in practice. Example: how the Estate Tax was redeemed by calling it the Death Tax and Illegal Immigrants were redeemed by calling them Undocumented Immigrants.
Social networking is changing politics, that fact should be clear by now. A simple proof: Trump wouldn’t be in the White House without it.
But where is political networking taking us? That’s the BIG question. I’ve been doing lots of thinking about this (it’s going into my book). Here’s my shorthand for where our political system is headed. We have three political networks to choose from:
Trump used an open source insurgency (I first wrote about this back in 2004) to become president. This insurgency didn’t just with the election, it:
- blew up both the Republican and Democrat parties
- did it without much organization or advertisement spending
- accomplished it despite vocal and strident opposition from the entire media establishment (from NY to Hollywood), all of academia, and most of Silicon Valley
Trump’s insurgency worked like open source insurgencies in the past (from the Iraq war to Egypt/Tunisia).
- An open source insurgency is a loose network (meshed) that is composed of many individuals and small groups working independently, but united by a single purpose (in this case: electing Trump).
- Open source insurgencies are much more innovative than their bureaucratic counterparts. They constantly coming up with and trying out new ideas. For example: the seventy to one hundred groups in the Iraqi insurgency rolled out new innovations (tactics to weapons) in days, while it took months for the US military to counter them.
- Trump accelerated and directed this insurgency by interacting with it. For example, he accelerate the innovation of the insurgency by paying attention to it (read Gustavo’s essay for more). Tweets and media mentions incentivised innovation and spread new ideas across the insurgency in minutes (not days/weeks). Trump also selected targets for the insurgency. In many, many instances, Trump directed the insurgency to silence individuals in the opposition through a torrent of online/offline abuse.
Trump’s currently trying to adapt this insurgency to govern. Where will it take us? Early results suggest that Trump’s insurgency is better suited for dismantling a large, bureaucratic government and international order than running it. It’s also the type of network that will erode the rule of law over time.
The second form of political social networking I’m seeing is found in the opposition to Trump’s presidency. Right now, it’s known as the #resistance The orthodoxy wasn’t planned, it:
- arose out of the ashes of the political parties and it is growing without any formal leadership
- is ALREADY firmly in control of nearly all public forums
- enforces opposition to Trump
The orthodoxy is an open source insurgency in reverse. It uses social networking to crack down on deviation and dissent.
- The orthodoxy is tightly interconnected network that uses social networking to exert pressure on people to accept the orthodox position (in this case: #resistance to Trump).
- Online orthodoxies grow through peer pressure and disconnecting deviants from the network. It doesn’t innovate. It rejects, cajoles, and pillories.
- This online orthodoxy is growing at an accelerated pace because Trump feeds the outrage that fuels it.
How will an orthodox network govern? It will eventually formalize compliance with the orthodoxy. Compliance, evidenced by a long social networking history, will qualify people for positions of authority and power. Any deviation will result in bans, loss of income, etc. until the target repents. This orthodoxy will work in parallel to the rule of law and likely exceed its coercive power over time.
This form of social networking doesn’t have an example in the US yet.
- The Movement 5 Star in Italy is a political party run as a social network. It is running number one in the polls, has mayor in Rome and Turin, and recently deposed the Prime Minister.
- The political representatives the M5S sends to Rome must vote the way the party tells them to vote. They aren’t independent.
- The M5S is a participatory political party. The people in the party debate the issues and vote on how their representatives should vote in Rome.
The participatory party is still young, but it combines the fluidity of the “insurgency” with the solidarity of “orthodoxy.”
- A participatory party could be run as a cell phone app. This would allow it to scale… to 70 plus million members is possible.
- Unlike current political parties, this party wouldn’t just vote every 2 years to elect candidates. It would operate continuously. Voting on all major issues.
- A participatory party could arise independently, growing virally, or it could coopt an existing political party from the inside out.
How would a participatory network govern? Unlike the other systems, it has the best chance of working within the confines of the current US Constitution. It also has the strength to tame political distortions caused by globalization without resorting to the extremes of either the orthodoxy or the insurgency.
My bet is on a participatory political system made possible by social networking. It’s the best chance for a better future. A system where we put social networking to work for us instead of against us.
Of course, the reality is probably something different: we’re prepping for a civil war.
Here’s a new drone (warning, acronym creep) called the CICADA, or Close-In Covert Autonomous Disposable Aircraft.
It’s tiny and weighs only 65 grams. It is meant to be dropped by an aircraft in a swarm (dozens at a time). Once released, each drone flies/glides to its target location and takes up residence.
What are they good for? Not much right now, but they could evolve into a way to rapidly deploy large, geographically dispersed networks of sensors and/or mesh communication nodes.
Why use them? They have the potential to provide P2P communications and real time intel to human units and autonomous weapons operating in a contested environment. In other words, a relatively simple mesh comms/sensor network like this would allow units in the field to connect with each other and sources of intel sideways.
Longer term? We will likely see vast networks of drone sensor/comms nodes that provide resilient over the horizon services that surpass (both in survivability and usability) those provided by satellites and other traditional means.
I figured out what I’m going to talk about at the Prime Minister’s conference in Singapore next month: the automation of terrorism. Here’s the outline of what I’m going to discuss (I already have most of the thinking on this topic already done and the trend is already in motion).
New technologies have put us on the brink of a significant upgrade to extremist violence. Specifically, it may now be possible to fully automate a terrorist attack or worse, a terrorist network. Here’s how:
Social networking already connects billions of people worldwide and it is rewiring us psychosocially. We can already see the disruptive effects of this, creating an environment conducive to extremism:
- It made it possible to topple governments across the Middle East.
- It enabled ISIS to recruit 30,000 people from across the world.
- It made the very rapid shift to self-activated terrorism (over the last year) possible.
Bots (software) build make it possible to automate extremist activities on and across social networks (as seen in the recent US election).
- Bots have demonstrated the spread and amplification of extremist disinfo.
- Bots can shape public discourse online.
- AI fueled bots will make it possible to completely automate the recruitment, grooming and activation of extremists.
Drones (hardware bots) make it possible to automate physical attacks. With relatively simple DIY modifications, drones can already:
- Carry a payload large enough to cause significant damage.
- Fly and navigate to a target w/o human support.
- Visually identify targets and take action autonomously.
Written on a cool summer morning near “the shot heard around the world”
PS: Automation of this type has the potential to leverage (on a grand scale) the breakdown of masculinity in the West to disruptive effect.
One of the biggest revolutions over the past 15 years of war has been the rise of drones — remotely piloted vehicles that do everything from conduct air strikes to dismantle roadside bombs. Now a new generation of drones is coming. Only this time they are autonomous — able to operate on their own without humans controlling them from somewhere with a joy stick. Some autonomous machines are run by artificial intelligence which allows them to learn, getting better each time. It’s early in the revolution but the potential exists for all missions considered too dangerous or complex for humans to be turned over to autonomous machines that can make decisions faster and go in harm’s way without any fear. Think of it as the coming swarm, and if that sounds like the title of a sci-fi mini-series, well, as we first reported earlier this year, it’s already a military reality. We saw it with our own eyes and captured it on camera.
This swarm over the California desert is like nothing the U.S. military has ever fielded before. Each of those tiny drones is flying itself. Humans on the ground have given them a mission to patrol a three-square mile area, but the drones are figuring out for themselves how to do it. They are operating autonomously and the Pentagon’s Dr. Will Roper says what you’re seeing is a glimpse into the future of combat.
Will Roper: It opens up a completely different level of warfare, a completely different level of maneuver.
The drone is called Perdix. An unlikely name for an unlikely engine of revolution. Roper, head of a once-secret Pentagon organization called the Strategic Capabilities Office, remembers the first time he saw Perdix, which is named after a bird found in Greek mythology.
Will Roper: I held it up in my hands, it’s about as big as my hand. And I looked at it and said, “Really? This is, this is what you want me to, to get excited about?” You know, it looks like a toy.
Perdix flies too fast and too high to follow, so 60 Minutes brought specialized high-speed cameras to the China Lake Weapons Station in California to capture it in flight.
Developed by 20 and 30-somethings from MIT’s Lincoln Labs, Perdix, is designed to operate as a team, which you can see when you follow this group of eight on a computer screen.
Will Roper: We’ve given them a mission at this point, and that mission is as a team go fly down the road and so they allocate that amongst all the individual Perdix.
David Martin: And they’re talking to each other.
Will Roper: They are.
David Martin: By what?
Will Roper: So they’ve got radios on and they’re each telling each other not just what they’re doing but where they are in space.
David Martin: How frequently are they talking back and forth to each other?
Will Roper: Many, many times a second when they’re first sorting out.
David Martin: I mean, it looks helter skelter.
Will Roper: You want them to converge to a good enough solution and go ahead and get on with it. . . It’s faster than a human would sort it out.
Cheap and expendable, Perdix tries to make a soft landing but it’s no great loss if it crashes into the ground.
Perdix can be used as decoys to confuse enemy air defenses or equipped with electronic transmitters to jam their radars.
David Martin: This one looks like it has a camera.
As a swarm of miniature spy planes fitted with cellphone cameras they could hunt down fleeing terrorists.
Will Roper: There’s several different roads they could have gone down. And you don’t know which one to search. You can tell them, “Go search all the roads,” and tell them what to search for and let them sort out the best way to do it.
The Pentagon is spending $3 billion a year on autonomous systems, many of them much more sophisticated than a swarm of Perdix.
This pair of air and ground robots runs on artificial intelligence.
Jim Pineiro: I’m going to say “start the reconnaissance.”
They are searching a mock village for a suspected terrorist, reporting back to Marine Captain Jim Pineiro and his tablet.
Jim Pineiro: The ground robot’s continuing on its mission while the air robot is searching on its own.
The robots are slow and cumbersome but they’re just test beds for cutting edge computer software which could power more agile machines — ones that could act as advance scouts for a foot patrol.
Jim Pineiro: I would want to use a system like this to move maybe in front of me or in advance of me to give me early warning of, of enemy in the area.
David Martin (standup): This time I’m the target. The computer already knows what I look like, so now we’ll see if it can match what’s stored in its memory with the real thing as I move around this make-believe village.
The robots’ artificial intelligence had done its homework the night before, Tim Faltemier says, learning what I look like.
Tim Faltemier: We were able to get every picture of every story that you’ve ever been in.
David Martin: How many pictures of me are there out there?
Tim Faltemier: When we ran this through, we have about 50,000 different pictures of you that we were able to get. Had we had more time we probably could’ve done a better job.
David Martin: So because you’ve got 50,000 pictures of me, how certain would you be?
Tim Faltemier: Very.
David Martin: Now it’s looking at me.
Tim Faltemier: It recognized you instantly.
Tim Faltemier: So, what we reported today on our scores we’re about a one in 10,000 chance of being wrong.
While the robot was searching for me inside an auditorium at the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia, Lt. Cdr. Rollie Wicks was watching from a missile boat in the Potomac River.
Rollie Wicks: What I was doing was, I was turning over control of the weapon system to the autonomous systems that you’ve seen on the floor today.
Had Wicks given permission to shoot, the missile would have struck my location using a set of coordinates given to it by the robots.
Rollie Wicks: They were controlling a remote weapons system. They were controlling where that weapons system was pointing, with me supervising.
It will be about three years before these robots will be ready for the battlefield. By then, Captain Pineiro says, they will look considerably different.
David Martin: Will those robots when they reach the battlefield will they be able to defend themselves?
Jim Pineiro: We are looking into that. We are looking into defensive capability for a robot – armed robots.
David Martin: Shoot back?
Jim Pineiro: Correct.
This Pentagon directive states “autonomous . . . Systems shall be designed to allow commanders and operators to exercise appropriate levels of human judgment over the use of force.”
What that means, says General Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the military’s man in charge of autonomy, is that life or death decisions will be made only by humans — even though machines can do it faster and, in some cases, better.
David Martin: Are machines better at facial recognition than humans?
Paul Selva: All the research I’ve seen says about five years ago machines actually got better at image recognition than humans.
David Martin: Can a disguise defeat machine recognition?
Paul Selva: If you think about the proportions of the human body there are several that are discrete and difficult to hide. The example that I will use, as I look at you, is the distance between your pupils. It is very likely unique to you and a handful of other humans. A disguise cannot move your eyes.
David Martin: So if I have a ski mask on that doesn’t help?
Paul Selva: Not if your eyes are visible. If you have to see, you can’t change that proportion.
David Martin: So, if the machine’s better, why not let it make the decision?
Paul Selva: This goes to the ethics of the question of whether or not you allow a machine to take a human life without the intervention of a human.
David Martin: Do you know where this is headed?
Paul Selva: I don’t.
Virtually any military vehicle has the potential to become autonomous. The Navy has begun testing Sea Hunter, an autonomous ship to track submarines. Program manager Scott Littlefield says that when you no longer have to make room for a crew, you can afford to buy a lot of them.
Scott Littlefield: You could buy somewhere between 50 and 100 of these for the price of one warship.
David Martin: I’ve heard somebody describe this ship as looking like an overgrown Polynesian war canoe. Why does it look like it does?
Scott Littlefield: To be able to go across the Pacific Ocean without refueling, this hull form, the, the trimaran, was, was the best thing we could come up with.
David Martin: What is its range?
Scott Littlefield: We can go about 10,000 nautical miles on, on, on a tank of gas – 14,000 gallons.
Sea hunter is at least two years away from being ready to steam across the Pacific on its own. Among other things, it has to learn how to follow the rules of the road to avoid collisions with other ships. When we went aboard it had only been operating autonomously for a few weeks and there was still a human crew – just in case.
When testing is done, this pilot house will come off and the crew will be standing on the pier waving goodbye. From then on this will be a ghost ship commanded by 36 computers running 50 million lines of software code. And, these life lines will have to come off too since there’s no need for them with no humans on board.
It has a top speed of 26 knots and a tight turning radius which should enable it to use its sonar to track diesel-powered submarines for weeks at a time.
Scott Littlefield: Many countries have diesel submarines. That’s the most common kind of submarine that’s out there.
David Martin: China?
Scott Littlefield: China has them.
David Martin: Russia?
Scott Littlefield: Russia has them.
David Martin: Iran?
Scott Littlefield: Iran has them.
David Martin: North Korea?
Scott Littlefield: Yes.
David Martin: I think I get the picture.
Scott Littlefield: Yes.
But of everything we saw, tiny Perdix is closest to being ready to go operational – if it passes its final exam. Will Roper and his team of desert rats are about to attempt to fly the largest autonomous swarm ever: 100 Perdix drones.
Will Roper: This is one of the riskiest, most exciting things that’s going on right now in the Pentagon.
Risky not only because the swarm would be more than three times larger than anything Roper’s ever done before but also because 60 Minutes is here to record the outcome for all to see.
David Martin: Why are you letting us watch?
Will Roper: Couple of reasons, David, I, I, when this first came up, I have, I have to be honest with you, my first response was, “That sound, sounds like a horrible idea.” Right? I mean, it’s just human nature. I, I don’t want this to fail on camera. But I did not like the fear of failure being my only reason for not letting you be here. And we also wanted the world to see that we’re doing some new things.
This time, the Perdix will be launched from three F-18 jet fighters, just as they would on a real battlefield.
Will Roper: There they are.
David Martin: Yup.
Will Roper: All right. A little piece, a little piece of the future.
The F-18s are traveling at almost the speed of sound, so the first test for Perdix is whether they will survive their violent ejection into the atmosphere.
[Radio: Complete…104 alive.]
Will Roper: That’s 104 in the swarm, David.
David Martin: 104 alive.
Will Roper: That’s 100 swarm. There they are. You see them?
David Martin: Yeah, yeah.
Will Roper: Look at them, Look at them.
Will Roper: They flash in the sun as the come into view.
David Martin: There’s a – oh yeah.
As the Perdix descend in front of our cameras, they organize themselves into a tighter swarm. Imagine the split-second calculations a human would have to make to keep them from crashing into each other.
Will Roper: Look at that! It’s just everywhere you look it’s coming into view. It does feel like a plague of locusts.
Will Roper: So they’re running out of battery.
There are reams of data that still have to be analyzed but roper is confident Perdix passed its final exam.
[Radio: One vehicle down.]
And could become operational as early as this year.
David Martin: I’ve heard people say that autonomy is the biggest thing in military technology since nuclear weapons. Really?
Will Roper: I think I might agree with that, David. I mean, if what we mean is biggest thing is something that’s going to change everything, I think autonomy is going to change everything.