A U of T Mississauga researcher is challenging naïve assumptions that technology can be easily controlled or grounded by policy and law, arguing that all technologies will be weaponized as the military establishment continues to seek increasingly sophisticated systems.
“It’s kind of a naïve notion that you can create technology and keep it separate from the military realm,” says Jeremy Packer, associate professor with UTM’s Institute of Communication, Culture, Information and Technology. “Any AI (artificial intelligence) system will inevitably be used by militaries.”
In his newest book, “Killer Apps: War, Media, Machine,” Packer and co-author Joshua Reeves, provide a detailed account of the rise of automation in warfare, focusing on the underlying military strategies and logic that drive how warfare is conducted and how technologies are used and developed.
“Fundamental technologies in our lives have military roots,” Packer says, noting the digital environment is built on military technology. The Internet was created by the United States military to maintain communications while GPS systems were used to guide and direct missiles.
Even the seemingly most mundane technologies can be weaponized. Packer points to Twitter as an example, explaining the platform was seen as a simple and straightforward communications tool, but now it is a weaponized environment where there is both military and geopolitical subterfuge.
Manipulating political campaigns is the oldest form of geopolitical warfare, he explains, and it’s just as important as ensuring tank formations move in unison.
“Warfare is constantly taking place between geopolitical actors,” Packer says, noting there’s a long history of media, communications and information technology development directly tied to the military. Even those that don’t seem to have a military connection are part of military objectives.
The British development of a near-global telegraph network, for example, was about maintaining military colonial dominance as much as it was about having news travel quickly, he explains.
As the tools of warfare become more sophisticated on all sides, the military establishment increasingly turns to automation.
The world saw widescale use of drones in the late 2000s, and the public was assured there would always be a human in the kill chain, Packer says. But by the mid-2010s suggestions emerged that machines could be more ethical than humans because they don’t respond to emotion.
The drive for automated intelligence, which has deep roots in warfare, is spurring a new arms race because the only way to detect an enemy AI system is to develop a better AI system.
Packer explains the United States military is convinced the Chinese or Russian militaries will create fully autonomous AI guided munitions, so the United States has no choice but to develop their own because the only way to detect and fight a fully autonomous weapon to develop a better AI system. Packer says it’s an argument built into the logic of military escalation.
Packer suggests fully autonomous weapons are inevitable. Yet developing bots that determine which social media accounts to infect or amplify, or drones that decide who to execute, turns over both military and political capacity to an automated system.
Where that might lead isn’t settled, but Packer and Reeves put a great deal of thought into where it could go, while providing a new theory for understanding how the intersection of media and military strategy drives today’s AI arms race.
“Before new technologies are embraced widely, think about how militaries will use them, because they will be used,” says Packer.
University of Toronto Mississauga
Killer apps: New book explores media systems and the rise of military automation (2020, May 22)
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Facebook slaps labels on 'state-controlled' media outlets – ZDNet
Facebook has begun labelling media outlets it deems to be “state-controlled”, which it assesses based on various factors such as government influence and ownership. It also will slap similar labels on ads from these publishers later this year in a move, it says, aims to provide greater transparency.
The social media platform on Thursday kicked off efforts to label media organisations that were “wholly or partially” under the editorial control of their government. It had announced plans to do so last October as part of a string of initiatives to curb election interference on its site.
Applying labels to state-controlled media outlets would offer “greater transparency” to readers who should know if the news came from publications that might be under the influenced of a government, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, said in a post. He added that similar labels would be placed on ads from these publishers later this year.
Applied globally, these labels would be placed on the publication’s Pages, Ad Library Page, and Page Transparency section. They also would be extended to posts in News Feeds in the US over the next week, Gleicher said.
In addition, later this year, ads from such media outlets would be blocked in the US “to provide an extra layer or protection” against foreign influence in the public debate around the upcoming US elections in November, he said.
A check on China’s Xinhua News and Russia’s Sputnik News profiles on Facebook revealed each had a label, displayed as “China state-controlled media” and “Russian state-controlled media”, under their respective Page Transparency section.
Such labels, however, would not be added to US news outlets because Facebook believed these organisations, including those run by the US government, had editorial independence, Gleicher said in a Reuters report.
In establishing its policy criteria, he said in his post that Facebook consulted more than 65 experts worldwide who specialised in media, governance, and human rights development to understand the “different ways and degrees” to which governments exerted editorial control over media companies.
He noted that the defining qualities of state-controlled media extended beyond government funding and ownership and included an assessment of editorial control. To determine if publishers were wholly or partially under the government’s editorial control, he said Facebook looked at various factors including the media organisation’s mission statement and mandate, ownership structure, editorial guidelines around sources of content, information about newsroom staff, funding source, and accountability mechanisms.
Country-specific factors, such as press freedom, also were assessed, he said.
Media organisations that disagreed with such labels could submit an appeal with Facebook and offer documentation to argue their case. To demonstrate their independence, publishers should provide indication of established procedures to ensure editorial independence or an assessment by an independent, credible organisation that determined such procedures had been adhered to and their country’s statute — safeguarding editorial independence — had been observed.
But while it is moving to stick labels on such media outlets, Facebook is less willing to do so for other types of content. CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently came under fire for refusing to take action against posts from US President Donald Trump, including one that appeared to incite violence against protesters in the country. The post, which first appeared on Twitter and was reposted on Facebook, was later restricted on Twitter for breaching its policies on glorifying violence. Zuckerberg, however, specifically declined to enforce similar action, prompting several of his employees to stage a “virtual walkout” in protest.
Facebook last September said advertisers running campaigns on social issues, elections, and politics on its platform in Singapore would have to confirm their identity and location, and reveal who was responsible for the ads. It said the move was part of efforts to stem the spread of “misinformation” and help block foreign interference in local elections. It also came amid calls from Singapore’s Minister for Law and Home Affairs K. Shanmugam for regulations to deal with “hostile information campaigns”.
Facebook earlier this week complied with a Singapore government directive to block local access the National Times Singapore page, but described the order as “severe and risk being misused to stifle voices and perspectives” online. The social media platform in February also had adhered to the government’s order to block local access the States Times Review page, whilst highlighting it was “deeply concerned” that the move stifled freedom of expression in Singapore.
Such government directives were enabled by the country’s Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA), which was passed in May last year, following a brief public debate, and came into effect on last October along with details on how appeals against directives could be made. The Bill had passed despite strong criticism that it gave the government far-reaching powers over online communication and would be used to stifle free speech as well as quell political opponents.
China says social media firms should not selectively create obstacles for media – The Guardian
BEIJING (Reuters) – China said on Friday that social media companies should not selectively create obstacles for media agencies, responding to Facebook Inc’s decision to start labeling state-controlled media organisations.
Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters during a daily briefing that any media agency operating in line with relevant laws of various countries should be treated equally.
The world’s biggest social network will apply the label to Russia’s Sputnik, Iran’s Press TV and China’s Xinhua News, according to a partial list Facebook provided.
(Reporting by Huizhong Wu; writing by Se Young Lee; editing by John Stonestreet)
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