Which Way to the Cyber Battle?

Book cover image used with permission of the author.

It used to go something like this: Green Berets read.

Whatever country they deployed to, they read. They read about weather and terrain, culture, history, and religion. They studied maps, prior military actions in the region, even fiction if it provided an essence of a people and a place. Back in the day, this was a non-digital exercise. Many were former Rangers and as the Ranger mission evolved to more closely align with Special Forces, then one could imagine that Ranger reading increased as well.

Somewhere a paratroop is rolling his eyes. “Hey, I can read, too, ya know.”

OK, but you like videos better, am I right? Who, exactly, is placing those videos in your feed? Is is just an anonymous algorithm based on your prior views? Or is someone controlling the algorithm? Sun Tzu: All good commanders control everything the troops see and hear. Are you having weird dreams lately? Ignore that. Does it seem like there’s been a massive conservative pivot toward a peaceful American Renaissance in creativity, entrepreneurship, politics, morality, and classical liberty? Outstanding. Who can argue with such a positive and constructive mission? Nobody. Unless you’ve been forced or threatened. God doesn’t demand you love Him, or strong-arm you into doing his will. The Army has you sign some papers and say some words before it forces and threatens you. Just saying.

Back to reading. We can debate if Kindle’s constant monitoring of your reading speed is a good thing—spurring you to voluntarily read more, faster—or if it’s more akin to artificial intelligence forcing you to read more, faster by a no-touch machine-mind connection. The same battle is underway—meeting little resistance, I might add—to digitize how you learn, how you receive healthcare, how you are selected for a job. Think of it as a war to enslave you without you ever knowing it’s happening. In fact, you’ll readily agree to it while you’re watching life and geo-politics march on, annoyingly unabated. You’re glassing the wrong battlefield!

Could we just watch some Ranger TV and bat this around awhile? There’s a book you might want to read, or at least skim a few of its chapters. I’m too young to remember Sputnik, but I’m sure some of you older warriors do. There we Americans were, caught flatfooted by the Russians in the space race, and a miracle happened, a so-called “Sputnik moment”: Republicans and Democrats put aside their very real differences for the sake of national security. According to Michael Kanaan in “T-Minus AI: Humanity’s Countdown to Artificial Intelligence and the New Pursuit of Global Power,” the worldwide race for artificial intelligence dominance is the new “Sputnik moment.”

Somewhere a Ranger just spun the map around. We all need to reorient.

Kanaan doesn’t look old enough to be our country’s leading expert on AI. However, he is a US Air Force Academy graduate and headed up a National Intelligence Campaign during Operation Inherent Resolve (2017) in Syria and Iraq. He was the first chairperson for AI for the Air Force at the Pentagon where he created and oversaw AI and machine learning across USAF global operations. Presently, he is the director of a combined public-private USAF/MIT Artificial Intelligence Accelerator, which should tell you all you need to know. Public and private entities, bearing down, partnering to advance our understanding of these technologies—quickly!

“T-Minus AI” presents neither an all-good utopia with artificial intelligence nor a sci-fi-exaggerated dystopia. Kanaan simply details the history, facts, and language of AI and machine learning so that the rank and file can convey its needs to leadership, or rather so Americans can demand only liberty-centric and ethical use of AI. Too many, including the corrupt in our own government, will allow money and power to propel AI down nefarious paths. How well citizen warriors prepare, how well we study ourselves and the enemy, how much precision we apply to the fight, will determine whether we can free ourselves from digital enslavement.

Kanaan lays out five questions that every American needs to think about, not just those who think they’re in charge of this invisible war: “1. What exactly is AI? 2. What aspects of our lives will be changed by AI? 3. Which of those changes will be beneficial and which of them harmful? 4. Where do the nations of the world stand in relation to one other, especially China and Russia? and 5. What can we do to ensure that AI is only used in legal, moral, and ethical ways?”

Certainly you can skip to the chapters that interest you—you are a free American—however, I did end up learning much through the background material. First, Kanaan talks about the evolution of human biological intelligence and moves into the development of numbers, which allowed humans to assess quantities, distances, weights, times and the like. World War II gave us the German-engineered Enigma coding machine, which was cracked by the British Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park and ushered in the dawn of digital computer technology.

Then follows a brain-busting discussion of 1s and 0s, bits and bytes, and how huge computing abilities are now packaged into microscopically small nanoengineered parts. Intelligence, in both humans and machines, is comprised of language (semantics, or meaning; and syntax, the rules that govern the structure of the writing or speaking) and memory. Humans have access to their own memories, but computers, ah, they can link up and have access to each others’ memories. And that is pivotal, because with access to all the data in all the computers and the ability to assess that information and learn from it, artificial intelligence can provide solutions and strategies far beyond even a what a group of humans can generate. How timely that social distancing, mask muzzling, and fear for one’s health are pulling extra duty to prevent humans from linking up and sharing their knowledge and experience.

Kanaan is good at separating current-day reality from the nightmares bred into us by Hollywood. What is referred to as “narrow AI” is already here and everywhere, doing single and simple tasks: recommending movies and songs, programming your home’s thermostat, and yes, recording your every move and sound for the supposed purposes of making life better. You complain verbally or in a text that you can never find light cream at the grocery store and, lo! a couple of weeks later: light cream. You’re happy; the dairy farmers, packagers, truckers, grocers are also happy. Good? Bad? Up to you. An app listens in on your tone of voice, the sound of your movements around your house, and plays music to match your mood. I find that intrusive, but, hey, it’s up to each of us to decide. What is imperative is that we be aware of our cyber surroundings.

What is not a reality is what is called “general AI,” or GAI. That’s when not only do the machines have a conscience, but it’s evil and intent on eliminating humans. That does not mean such a thing couldn’t happen, but it is not a present- or even a near-day reality. What is indeed a reality is totalitarian nations using AI to enslave their own people and eventually the world’s. As in all things, it’s not the institution, innovation, or science that is bad; it is, always has been, and always will be, the intent of the humans involved in the system, product, or discovery that must be scrutinized for motivation.

“T-Minus AI,” like many books on AI devotes much space to games, gamification, and the quintessential game of infinite possibilities: chess. You don’t play games? You’re good, right? Not so fast, badge hunter. Humans have always competed for resources, mates, raises, promotions, bragging rights. If you ever have played a game on your phone, you’ll know it’s all about PBLs, points, badges, and leaderboards. Think wages, awards, and promotions. If you’re playing in real time, online, with other people in a video game in which your actions have consequences for you and others, the game reaches another layer of complexity and addiction. The concepts of gamification apply to the human condition, and it is how AI either leads us voluntarily toward a freer, healthier, wiser, more satisfying society, or involuntarily co-opts us down the garden path to totalitarianism, in which you will lose weight, you will read your daily dose of propaganda, and you will pledge allegiance to the party, or the computer will “fix” your mind until you’re fit to re-enter your enslavement with the illusion of freedom.

Finally, Kanaan gets to the US Defense Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which developed the first computer-to-computer link. The short discussion on privacy versus security warrants further exploration in our societal discourse. Kanaan then explains how AI is already performing those complex and beautifully artistic processes that were once thought only attributable to humans. AI can write articles, paint pictures, design buildings, compose music, and make deep-fake videos. Even the knowledge that much of what the computers produce is junk and needs to be sorted and ranked by humans is not comforting when you’re concerned how humans will differentiate themselves in this new AI-dominant world.

And who, exactly, is inputting the data into these systems? What are their biases? What if only data that supports AI is included? What if evil people box out the contributions of our Founding Fathers or those who love God and liberty in favor of human-secularist Marxists? This is why it is pivotal that we know ourselves and our enemies and that we watch the AI development in our own country and others. This is not an issue that can be left to those with money and AI knowledge; the people must speak out for only small-d democratic applications of these sciences.

So, what exactly is the state of AI in the world? Russia’s aim is to continue using AI to agitate and disrupt its opponents while focusing on robotic warfare. Totalitarians love disinformation because when people don’t know what to believe, they lose their capacity to judge and decide. They either withdraw or can be lead in any direction, including one that rejects freedom. Kanaan does not ignore or negate this threat, but Russia’s capabilities pale in comparison to China’s.

The Chinese Communist Party is hell-bent and financially committed to world domination through AI. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), according to Kanaan, is the modern-day Silk Road. At home and across the globe, the Chinese are pouring bucketloads of money into invention and entrepreneurship in the AI sphere, to the point where 30 nations throughout Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa signed on to at least part of the BRI. In 2019, Italy was the first G7 nation to accept BRI investment and infrastructure partnership. (Teasing out fact from fiction in day-to-day financial reports from China should be weighed against the country’s “Next (New) Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan.”)

How does China use AI on its own people? Social control, social shaming, and citizen tracking. Facial recognition dissuades protesting against an authoritarian communist state. If you pay your bills on time, you get a point. If you smoke and are sedentary, your neighbors give you a poor social rating. If you spout propaganda, you get a gold star.

See, it doesn’t matter if prompt bill payment and taking care of your own health is a positive for you and, arguably, society. A free people are free to make their own decisions—period. You can voluntarily use an app that encourages you to read more, faster or to exercise, or you can do such things on your own, by which the psychological rewards are far greater than any artificial gamification tally. AI can do much good in the realm of helping veterans, for example, with phantom pains from lost limbs, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder, but that is each and every veteran’s decision—not something that should be forced upon them. AI, in the wrong hands, can just as readily be used in crimes against humanity. In other words, who needs drugs, security guards, and physical torture, when governments and traffickers can use the modern equivalent of Project MKUltra against their own people and unwary victims.

We must educate ourselves. This is the new battlefield. This is the new weapon of choice. If you know zero about AI or machine learning and care to know even less, join the club. The problem is, we don’t have a choice. If we band together and learn how to separate the good from the bad, in ourselves, in each other, and in AI, we can steer these sciences away from any and all evil applications and solely toward the good of all mankind.   

The Lord is a warrior.
Exodus 15:3 (New International Version)

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