Big Tech urges Biden to embrace robot warfare – National & International News – TUE 2Mar2021

Big Tech CEOs are urging Biden to spend $billions to support a new robot-powered arms race.

Big Tech urges Biden to embrace robot warfare. CDC warns of 4th COVID wave. Kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls rescued. Blind Yemeni boy, 9, teaches classes in a warzone.


Big Tech urges Biden to embrace robot warfare

The National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (NCSAI) is headed by ex-Google chief Eric Schmidt and ex-Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work, who served under Obama and Trump. Other members include the CEOs of tech giants Amazon and Oracle and the AI chiefs of Google and Microsoft.

The NCSAI has released a report urging President Biden to reject calls for a global ban on AI-powered autonomous weapons systems. The group argues that China has already committed to global AI leadership by 2030 and Russia is equally unlikely to honor such a ban. They do, however, draw the line at AI-controlled nuclear weapons, saying the president should retain control over their deployment.

To start with, the tech billionaires want Biden to commit to $32 billion a year for AI-related research. They also advocate relaxing immigration laws to accelerate an existing “brain drain” from Russia and China and the establishment of special government bodies and universities for research and governance of AI applications.

The companies that these CEOs work for all have existing contracts with the Pentagon and have bids in for defense-related AI development. 

Critics warn that such proposals risk creating a dangerous and irresponsible new arms race. Prof Noel Sharkey, spokesman for the Campaign To Stop Killer Robots, says, “This is a shocking and frightening report that could lead to the proliferation of AI weapons making decisions about who to kill”. Sharkey also warns of grave potential violations of international law.

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CDC warns of 4th COVID wave

Dr. Rochelle Walensky of the Centers for Disease Control is sounding the alarm about a potentially deadlier 4th wave of COVID infections in the US. Every day last week saw about 70,000 new cases and 2,000 deaths. Walensky warns, “at this level of cases, with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained”. She specifically addressed concerns about more contagious COVID variants now circulating worldwide, calling them, “a very real threat to our people and our progress”. The CDC predicts that the highly contagious UK variant will become the dominant strain in the US this month.

Given these threats, Walensky says this is a bad time for states to be, “rolling back the exact public health measures we have recommended to protect people from Covid-19”.

While it hasn’t been proven that these strains are any deadlier than regular COVID, there are concerns that some, including the South African variants, could be more resistant to current vaccines.

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Kidnapped Nigerian school girls rescued

Earlier this week, bandits in Nigeria’s Zamfara region raided a boarding school and abducted 279 girls. The number was earlier reported to be 317, but it turns out may had run into the bush to hide during the raid. The girls, all wearing light blue veils, were gathered into a conference room of a government building in Zamfara and fed while awaiting their parents.

Most of the girls were unharmed, but some reported being beaten when they couldn’t continue walking barefoot in the bush. Some girls said the kidnappers threatened to shoot anyone who couldn’t continue walking.

The local government claims that the girls were released because some “repentant” kidnappers are working for the government. Officials have denied paying any ransom to the kidnappers in this case or in a separate mass kidnapping that took place just a week ago. The federal government has urged state governments in areas plagued by kidnappings not to pay ransom as it will only encourage more kidnappings.

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Blind Yemeni boy, 9, leads classes when teachers can’t make it

Ahmed, who was born blind, has taken it upon himself to lead younger classmates in reciting and memorizing knowledge he has already learned. Ahmed and hundreds of his schoolmates have continued attending classes in their bombed out school near the Yemeni warfront. Only the concrete skeleton of the building remains after it was first occupied by Houthi rebels 2016 and then shelled by the Saudi-led coalition. The walls, windows and doors are completely blown out. The teachers in the school are no longer paid, but have decided to carry on having classes in the devastated building to keep their students from falling further behind.

Sounds of warfare can still be heard in the distance, causing Ahmed to wince. “When I hear this noise, I think I am going to die”. Despite their fears, each day, he and his classmates make their way over rubble-strewn fields and flattened buildings to see their friends and attend their lessons.

War carries on, donations drying up

After 6 years of war, 80% of Yemen’s 28 million people depend on foreign aid for bare survival. There was a brief ray of hope when President Biden declared the US would stop selling weapons to the Saudis and end its support for the war in Yemen. Unfortunately, other weapons-producing countries, including the UK and France, have taken advantage to increase their sales to the kingdom.

Recent international funding drives have also fallen well short of what is needed. Yemenis and aid organizations have called the UK’s decision to cut its aid by 50% a “death sentence” for millions of Yemenis.

Click here to see the video about Ahmed’s story (opens in new tab).

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