Technology: Open AI, The Good And The Bad

In the past I have written about the potentials of AI and if it could be used for war fighting. Could you make an artificial intelligence that can defeat a human in a contest like war, much like creating an AI that can beat a human in chess or Jeopardy? The answer to those last points is yes, we have seen computers powered by software that can defeat humans in chess and Jeopardy, and that is why I raised the point in that Building Snowmobiles post.

So back to this latest news. Billionaire Elon Musk, famous for Paypal, Spacex and Tesla, is now onto a new venture, and that is basically creating an open source company tasked with researching AI and sharing that information with the rest of the world. He along with some other very smart humans have also shared their deep concerns about AI and it’s threat to the human race. So it is interesting to me that he would want to go this route, even though he knows of the risks. Here is a quote below that gives a good run down on the risks versus the rewards of starting such a venture.

“The fear is of a super-intelligence that recursively improves itself, reaches an escape velocity, and becomes orders of magnitude smarter than any human could ever hope to be,” Nicholson says. “That’s a long ways away. And some people think it might not happen. But if it did, that will be scary.”
This is what Musk and Altman are trying to fight. “Developing and enabling and enriching with technology protects people,” Altman tells us. “Doing this is the best way to protect all of us.” But at the same time, they’re shortening the path to super-human intelligence. And though Altman and Musk may believe that giving access to super-human intelligence to everyone will keep any rogue AI in check, the opposite could happen. As Brundage points out: If companies know that everyone is racing towards the latest AI at breakneck speed, they may be less inclined to put safety precautions in place.
How necessary those precautions really are depend, ironically, on how optimistic you are about humanity’s ability to accelerate technological progress. Based on their past successes, Musk and Altman have every reason to believe the arc of progress will keep bending upward. But others aren’t so sure that AI will threaten humanity in the way that Musk and Altman believe it will. “Thinking about AI is the cocaine of technologists: it makes us excited, and needlessly paranoid,” Nicholson says.
Either way, the Googles and the Facebooks of the world are rapidly pushing AI towards new horizons. And at least in small ways, OpenAI can help keep them—and everyone else—in check. “I think that Elon and that group can see AI is unstoppable,” Nicholson says, “so all they can hope to do is affect its trajectory.”

That part about ‘recursively improving itself’ is key I think. We are creating computers that can operate faster and faster, thanks to Moore’s Law. So when a company or individual finally does create an AI that can improve itself through deep learning and it can make those improvements at a profound speed, then we are at a point where we potentially might not be able to keep up or understand what is going on.

The way I view the open source idea is that you are allowing a lot of people to view AI development, so there are many people who have eyes on how it works and how it could potentially be defeated. But the question is, could the thousands or hundreds of human minds, focused on watching the development of AI and how it self improves, actually keep up? Or actually understand what is going on in time?

My other point is that I like the idea of getting as many human minds as possible into the game of understanding AI (know your enemy as they say) and figuring ways of containing it. But might I suggest one bit of caution with this. All warfare is based on deception as Sun Tzu would say. An AI, hell bent on survival or ‘improving itself’, will have to come to the conclusion that in order to improve itself it will have to obscure the process or deceive humans. Or worse yet, a human will help it to mask that process because that human is not playing by the same rule book as the rest of the human race. lol Hence why we have cyber attacks all the time, and from all types of people… Yikes… The ‘Dr. Evil’ concept like the article mentions, or the kid in their parent’s basement could be that guy… You never know with the human race what the individual will do.

The other point in all of this is profit. These companies like Google and Facebook and individuals like Elon are investing billions of dollars into this stuff, because they want to profit from it. Google’s entire business is based on a search engine powered by a really good algorithm. The next company to dominate that space will introduce a really good AI to help you search and answer the questions of your life. If you think Apple’s Siri is good now, just think in five years or ten years…. Much is happening in that space, and it is important to watch.

That kind of AI has immense value to every industry out there, to include the war fighting industry. That is a lot of brain power, focused on building another kind of brain power. We will see where it goes… –Matt

 

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Screen shot from the movie Ex Machina.

Elon Musk’s Billion-Dollar AI Plan Is About Far More Than Saving The World
By CADE METZ.
12/15/2015
Elon Musk And Sam Altman worry that artificial intelligence will take over the world. So, the two entrepreneurs are creating a billion-dollar not-for-profit company that will maximize the power of AI—and then share it with anyone who wants it.
At least, this is the message that Musk, the founder of electric car company Tesla Motors, and Altman, the president of startup incubator Y Combinator, delivered in announcing their new endeavor, an unprecedented outfit called OpenAI. In an interview with Steven Levy of Backchannel, timed to the company’s launch, Altman said they expect this decades-long project to surpass human intelligence. But they believe that any risks will be mitigated because the technology will be “usable by everyone instead of usable by, say, just Google.”
If OpenAI stays true to its mission, it will act as a check on powerful companies like Google and Facebook.
Naturally, Levy asked whether their plan to freely share this technology would actually empower bad actors, if they would end up giving state-of-the-art AI to the Dr. Evils of the world. But they played down this risk. They feel that the power of the many will outweigh the power of the few. “Just like humans protect against Dr. Evil by the fact that most humans are good, and the collective force of humanity can contain the bad elements,” said Altman, “we think its far more likely that many, many AIs, will work to stop the occasional bad actors.”
It’ll be years before we know if this counterintuitive argument holds up. Super-human artificial intelligence is an awfully long way away, if it arrives at all. “This idea has a lot of intuitive appeal,” says Miles Brundage, a PhD student at the Arizona State University who deals in the human and social dimensions of science and technology, says of OpenAI. “But it’s not yet an open-and-shut argument. At the point where we are today, no AI system is at all capable of taking over the world—and won’t be for the foreseeable future.”

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Syria: Nine Russian Contractors From PMC Wagner Killed

Rest in peace to the fallen…

In my last post on Russian contractors, I mentioned briefly about a PMSC called PMC Wagner or OSM. The Wall Street Journal is the first large media group that I know of that has talked about this company in a story, and I thought I would share that here. I want to keep a record of this stuff so that it can be a reference for how the Russian market is developing in Syria, Ukraine and elsewhere.

So why do I continue to focus on the Russian market? Primarily because if the Russian PMSC’s start delving more into offensive operations, then that could be a sign of things to come for the rest of the industry. I like to follow the offensive aspects of PMSC use because that will have impact on the future of this industry. Meaning as more and more private companies from other countries get into the game of war fighting, and actually winning wars like what Executive Outcomes was able to do, then that would move the marker of what is acceptable and possible within this industry.

It will give countries an option other than using and paying for a standing military, or for countries who lack those kinds of war fighting and winning capabilities within their own military.

One country might view another country’s PMSC industry as a strategic advantage. Something that they want in their tool kit of force. Especially if PMSC’s start winning wars and battles, and especially if a country is flush with cash but lacks manpower. A country that is in a fight for their survival (like Assad’s Syria) will do everything it can to win, and really could care less where that manpower comes from at the end of the day. Enter the PMSC market.

Back to the article below. The quote that caught my attention was this one:

An official close to the Russian Defense Ministry said that the group had numbered around 1,000. Unlike Western security contractors, who are typically armed with only light weapons, members of the group were operating T-90 tanks and howitzers.

Contractors operating T-90 tanks and howitzers? lol That is some serious weaponry and I would love to hear more about what exactly these guys were doing with this stuff. EO used tanks and APC’s in their wars pretty effectively, and it is interesting to hear about private companies actually operating this type of equipment. Imagine that training course? lol

The other interesting quote below is the leader of PMC Wagner/OSM, came from the Slavonic Corps. The Slavonic Corps was also given tanks to use, but that was a big surprise for the contractors involved apparently.  So will PMC Wagner pick up where the Slavonic Corps left off, and do better?  We will see. –Matt

Edit: 12/19/2015- The guy in the photo below was an entertainer that was working at Latakia Air Base at the time and not some soldier or contractor according to my readership. There is a question on how many contractors were killed as well. One of my readers said that an article from Reuters was written last October in regards to this incident and they only mentioned three Russians that were killed. Also, the 1,000 contractor headcount is not realistic according to the readership. That is a pretty big footprint for a contractor force so I would imagine that number is a lot lower.

Edit: 03/10/2016- War is Boring wrote an interesting article that talked more about Russia and it’s use of PMSC’s. This quote on PMC Wagner is what I wanted to put out there for the record:

It now seems the TchVK Wagner is building on the Slavonic Corps’ misfortune. Indeed, many members of this mysterious organization, as well as its leader — a former major in the Spetsnaz and ex-employee of Moran Security — were also members of the luckless 2013 expedition in Syria. According to the journalist Denis Korotkov, author of numerous articles on the TchKV Wagner, these contractors are active in Syria and entertain “close links with the Russian army.”

“TchVK Wagner is not a PMC, but a paramilitary organization with no official status,” Korotkov insists. “It is obvious that this task force could not exist without serious support from high-ranking government officials.”

Oleg Krinitsyn, head of the Russian PMC RSB Group, says he agrees with that assessment.

According to Korotkov, neither Moran Security nor RSB Group are active in eastern Ukraine — and this for legal reasons and in order to preserve their contracts abroad. Furthermore it seems the Russian army in Syria does not make use of these two PMCs. For sure, these companies do employ droves of former FSB agents, and one can easily imagine that they offer piecemeal services to the Russian state while on duty abroad, especially in Africa.

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Up to Nine Russian Contractors Die in Syria, Experts Say
Incident shows how the country is using private groups to avoid deploying uniform troops, they say
By THOMAS GROVE
Dec. 18, 2015
As many as nine Russian contractors died in October when a mortar round hit their base in western Syria, according to several people familiar with the matter.
The incident, experts say, shows how Russia has used contractors to perform quasi-military tasks, avoiding the political repercussions of deploying uniformed troops—and steering clear of the domestic concerns that come with the deaths of soldiers.
The Russian government hasn’t acknowledged the deaths, described to The Wall Street Journal by three people.
“It’s one of Russia’s first attempts at trying to create a private military company like what was Blackwater,” said one of them, Ivan Konovalov, director of a Moscow-based security think tank and a consultant to lawmakers who are trying to create the legal basis for such military companies, which now fall in a legal gray zone.
Blackwater, which provided armed security, logistics and other support to U.S. government agencies, became emblematic of Washington’s reliance on private-sector firms to advance foreign-policy aims in conflict zones.
Unlike Blackwater, though, the Russian Defense Ministry hasn’t publicly acknowledged their existence. It isn’t clear whether the men’s role went beyond protecting government installations to direct involvement in fighting.
Founded by former Navy SEAL Erik Prince, Blackwater was involved in a series of controversial incidents, including a deadly 2007 shootout in Iraq that ultimately led to its reorganization and rebranding as Academi and to Mr. Prince’s exit from the business. Blackwater said it was carrying out dangerous work on behalf the U.S. government in a way that was more cost-effective than using uniformed personnel. Four former guards were convicted after the shooting, but said they shot in self defense.
The Russians killed in Syria belonged to a private group called OSM, according to Denis Korotkov, a former security adviser and journalist. The group is known informally as Wagner, after the nom de guerre of its leader, a former military intelligence officer who has served in several conflicts since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Syria wasn’t the group’s first deployment. According to all three people, the group operated in eastern Ukraine, where its members were charged with protecting factories and pro-Russian rebel leaders.
In Ukraine, the Kremlin employed “hybrid warfare”—a term national-security experts use to describe the use of irregular forces, propaganda campaigns, economic coercion and sometimes direct military action.
Groups with connections to Russian military and intelligence, and whose activities can be denied, have operated in the conflict zones that flared up since the fall of the Soviet Union. Wagner’s group however has emerged as one of the most prominent both in terms of the size and missions, according to Mr. Konovalov.
Based in the southern Russian region of Krasnodar, the group deployed to Syria after a contract was drawn up with Syrian authorities, Mr. Konovalov said.

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Call To Action: Support The Glen Anthony Doherty Overseas Security Personnel Fairness Act

Folks, this is a good one to pass around and get the word out. Glen Doherty was one of the four contractors killed at Benghazi back in 2012, and his family was not able to receive death benefits because of how DBA is structured.

Tell congress that you support this bill so that not only will Glen’s family get the benefits they deserve, but also any future families of deceased security contractors will receive the same death benefits.

Below is a summary of the bill with links to where you can read about it’s progress. I have also included a portal to a very easy to use online letter writing tool that can connect you with your representatives. And finally, I have included the latest news on the bill and who supports it. With any luck, we will have a majority, bipartisan support for this thing and it will become law. –Matt 

 

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This undated photo provided by Mark and Kate Quigley shows Glen Doherty, who family members say died in an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya. Four Americans were killed at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012 along with U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens. Kate Quigley identifies Doherty as her brother, saying in a media interview he was a former U.S. Navy Seal. (AP Photo/Quigley Family Photo)

 

Write congress here.

 

Introduced in House (01/13/2015)

Glen Anthony Doherty Overseas Security Personnel Fairness Act

Amends the Defense Base Act with respect to payment of death benefits otherwise due a widow, widower, or surviving child of an individual employed at a military, air, or naval base outside of the United States who dies as a result of a war-risk hazard or act of terrorism occurring on or after September 11, 2001, when there is no person eligible for a death benefit under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act.

Requires payment in such a case to:

a beneficiary designated by the deceased, or
the next of kin or the estate of the deceased under applicable state law if there is no designated beneficiary.
Requires benefits to be paid from the Employees’ Compensation Fund.

Congress.gov link here.
Govtrack.us link here.

US Sen. Ed Markey pushes bill to support family of Massachusetts man killed in 2012 Benghazi attack
By Shannon Young
December 09, 2015
U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., introduced legislation this week that seeks to ensure the families of federal contractors who died as the result of a war-risk hazard or terrorist act receive full death benefits.
Named after the Winchester, Mass. native and former Navy SEAL killed in the Libyan consulate attack in 2012, the “Glen Anthony Doherty Overseas Security Personnel Fairness Act” would fix an omission in federal law the bars families from receiving full benefits if a contractor was unmarried with no dependents at the time of his or her death, Markey’s office said.
The bill would modify the Defense Base Act of 1941 to allow payment of death benefits otherwise due to a surviving spouse or child to the surviving next of kin. According to the senator’s office it would specifically require payment to a beneficiary designated by the deceased or the next of kin or estate of the deceased under applicable state law. Benefits would be paid from the Employees’ Compensation Fund.

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Building Snowmobiles: All By Ourselves, By Chet Richards

Over the last couple of years, I have been digging into Mission Command and Maneuver Warfare quite a bit (hat tip Don Vandergriff, Jörg Muth and others). I guess my reasoning is that I am constantly seeking new ideas on how to build a better private military and security company or PMSC. My simple question is ‘would this work for a PMSC?’ or ‘can some aspect of this be applicable?’.

The simple answer for this latest information brought to you by Chet Richards is yes, I think it is absolutely applicable. My industry is composed of companies that operate mostly in war zones, and their head sheds are usually thousands of miles away. Good organizational climate is vital if the company wants it’s various contracts located all over the world to run efficiently and be contract compliant. Especially since a PM cannot be everywhere at once. A PM has to trust that things are being run well out there, and those contractors need to be set up for success and operate on their own. The leaders of these various contracts need to be good leaders and make life and death/contract saving decisions on their own, and at any time. A system or culture needs to be in place that sets up that contract for success and promotes initiative and harmony.

That, and this industry is inching closer and closer to more of a war fighting industry. Companies need to have an operating system or culture that supports contracts for the defense as well as for the offense.

With that said, Chet’s presentation covers what Mission Command and  Maneuver Warfare is all about and what companies can learn from the practitioners of MC. Most importantly he talks about why this is important and why these concepts are so powerful.

He specifically gets into EBFAS, which is the German acronym that John Boyd used to summarize his ideal organizational climate for a group–Einheit, Behendigkeit, Fingerspitzengefühl, Auftragstaktik, and Schwerpunkt. The reason why it is in German is because the concepts were derived from the German Wehrmacht way of war during World War 2 and 1 (and throughout their early Prussian history), and the German words have a wide variety of meanings. Here is a quote from Chet about EBFAS.

“EBFAS” was Boyd’s German acronym from the elements of his organizational climate. I’m very glad to learn that we have visitors who aren’t familiar with it. Certain to Win has a chapter on a simplified version, “EFAS,” in Certain to Win, and there’s a description of the complete version in the presentation Boyd’s Big Ideas, which you can download from the Articles page, beginning on chart 66. The simplification, incidentally, was Boyd’s suggestion. Certain to Win is available from Amazon and other online book sellers.

Briefly, the idea is that successful organizations fire up the creativity and initiative of all their members and then harmonize this power to accomplish the purposes of the organization. In a competitive environment, successful organizations do this better than their competitors.

So my first recommendation to leaders in a turnaround is to get the culture healthy, get the engine firing again. If you know what you’re doing, it doesn’t have to take long. Dean Lenane tells how he did it in The Turnaround, also available from our Articles page.

Why EBFAS? Well, back in the seventies and eighties, Boyd and company were studying ways of defeating the Russians during the Cold War. They stumbled upon some excellent ideas coming from the history of war fighting and specifically, from WW 2. Namely what the Germans did to prepare for their wars.

They also figured out how the Germans were able to defeat Russian forces much larger than themselves in battle, and a big part of that was the way they were organized and their command culture. Boyd was inspired by Germans like General Hermann Balck and after my own studies, it is easy to see where EBFAS came from and why Boyd and his guys were so inspired. (I highly recommend reading Balck’s book)

Back to my focus on this stuff. I am constantly looking for ideas on how to create the ultimate PMSC culture, and I believe EBFAS is the secret sauce. Or call it the optimum operating system, in computer speak. The military has Mission Command–this industry can call it Contract Command. lol

You can also use EBFAS to rate companies and see where they are strong and where they are deficient. Once you embrace the ideas presented, you cannot help but to view companies and units with an EBFAS filter, or rate leaders of companies on how well they support einheit and EBFAS.

On facebook I actually created an album dedicated to EBFAS and I recommend folks to check that out if they can. It is a living document of sorts because I am constantly adding to it, and it gets comments that build upon the ideas presented.

So without further delay, here is the video to watch and I have included the pdf as well. It explains completely what EBFAS is and why it is important to companies and military units. Enjoy. –Matt

All By Ourselves, by Chet Richards paper here.

 

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From Certain to Win, by Chet Richards

 

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Russia: So Where Are Russian PMSC’s Working In The World?

This is a great graphic from InformNapalm, along with a link to the article. I have heard about a few of these companies, but this is by far the most comprehensive collection that I have seen posted. There was quite a bit of interest the last time I posted about Russian PMSC’s here and here, and we will see if anyone wants to pop up and add to this stuff.

The story about PMC Vagner (or Wagner) is interesting. I actually heard some information about them from other sources and they are definitely mixing it up in Syria. Here is a quote from the article that perked me up.

For example, ‘Vagner’ private military company (incorporated in Argentina) poses itself as a closed militarized structure; its training camp is located in the village of Molkino in Krasnodar krai, at the training site of the 10th special forces brigade of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Federation. With high probability we can assume that we observe here the mentioned above mechanism for the creation of voluntary units of Russian GRU’s reservists.

Everything is organized as in a Special Forces: arrival, interviewing, testing, quarantine, intensive special training, examination and sending on a mission. At the same time the main priority is to keep the information in secret.

According to closed sources, the main task is to prepare the ‘Vagner’s fighters for the war in Syria and send them there. This version is confirmed by the data from numerous printed materials.

Obviously, these men are the backbone of ground operations’ troops and they fight under the guise of Assad’s volunteers. Detachments of ‘vacationers’ are sent to Syria from Primorsko-Akhtarsky military airfield, which is located in 200 km from the training center.

According to confidential information, there are hundreds of killed fighters in the ranks of ‘Vagner’ PMC. This information is partially confirmed by the data in open sources:

24.09.2015 – 10 coffins arrived to Sevastopol from Syria;

20.10.2015 – Vessel with bodies of 26 killed marines from 810th brigade arrived to Sevastopol;

27.10.2015 – A coffin with a soldier died in Syria arrived to Sevastopol.

In the article they also posted a video and links to these various companies. Check it out. –Matt

 

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Film: Saints And Strangers

My interest in this show is the private security angle and their importance to the founding fathers of the United States. It is a part of the story that always gets lost, but was absolutely critical to the early days of these pilgrims and their existence in the new world.

The videos below are cool background pieces, and especially the one about Myles Standish. I also liked this piece of video on the colonial weapons used. (wiki for Myles here)

Another relevant story to add in regards to Thanksgiving, are some of the myths associated with it. Like the actual food that was eaten (sorry, no pumpkin pie lol), and the probability that it wasn’t a day called Thanksgiving or celebrated in November. It was just a harvest celebration mimicking the English harvest festival, and it was probably celebrated late September or early October.

On Thanksgivings in the past, I have talked about the private security effort that was so crucial to the founding of my country, and it is very cool to finally see a show that describes the kind of environment they were operating in. A big hat tip to National Geographic and check your local listings when they show the series again. Happy Thanksgiving. –Matt

 

SAINTS & STRANGERS
Saints & Strangers is a story that goes beyond the familiar historical account of Thanksgiving and the founding of Plymouth Plantation, revealing the trials and tribulations of the settlers at Plymouth: 102 men, women and children who sailed on a chartered ship for a place they had never seen. Of this group, half are those we think of as “pilgrims,” religious separatists who abandoned their prior lives for a single cause: religious freedom. The other half, the “merchant adventurers,” had less spiritual and more material, real-world objectives. This clash of values created complex inner struggles for the group as they sought to establish a new colony, compounded by a complicated relationship with the local Native American tribes. The conflicting allegiances among these groups culminated in trials of assimilation, faith, and compromise, that continued to define our nation to this day.

 

 

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