To fellow foreign policy aficianado Punditafor her unsolicited but gracious posting (cross-posted toRBOas well, doubleplusgood thanks!) on Threats in the Age of Obama. Despite our formidible marketing budget of $ 0, word-of-blog is the primary vehicle for raising attention on our national security project, which Pundita correctly identifies as a hard core Think Tank 2.0 effort committed to preservation in dead tree format. Here’s Pundita’s post:
Mark Safranski, whose ZenPundit blog has been a staple at Pundita since the early days, is a contributor to the newly-published Threats in the Age of Obama, a collection of essays edited by Michael Tanji.ZenPundit has assembled quotes from a few of the essays in Tanji’s book, which give an idea of the breadth of interests represented by the contributors. I haven’t yet read Threats, and I’m not familiar with all the people that Tanji has gathered for his book (see the list of contributors below). But from the names I’m familiar with the book is a good overview of the security threats that Obama’s administration needs to deal with.The book is also an example of the Virtual Think Tank; as such it’s as much an example of cross-discipline thinking as it is a primer on this era’s security threats.
….Tanji, a former supervisory intelligence officer at the Defense Intelligence Agency, is well-aware of the limitations of the Virtual Think Tank (see his essay on the topic, which I’ve linked to above). But clearly he hopes its unfettered scope will prevent the worst oversights to arise from the blinkered research and analysis that academia produces.We should all hope. In this era, when a handful of people can wreak as much destruction as a million-man army, the window for saying, ‘Back to the drawing board’ is very narrow.
International Relations professors “are often the last people a president turns to for advice on running the world. At least, that’s what the professors say,” in a 2008 survey of 1743 IR faculty at every 4-year college and university in the US. “Most revealing? Nearly 40 percent of respondents reported that these scholars have “no impact” on foreign policy or even the public discourse about it.” Foreign Policy reports the results.
If they, or you, are wondering why they are so irrelevant, just look at their top priority: “It’s a largely liberal internationalist agenda, one that names the most important foreign-policy priorities facing the United States as global climate change (37 percent).”
….Still wondering? Read on:
“In 2008, for instance, we see fewer than half as many scholars (23 percent of respondents in 2008 compared to to 48 percent in 2006) describing terrorism as one of the three most significant current foreign policy challenges facing the United States. Most surprisingly, while 50 percent of U.S. scholars in 2006 said that terrorism was one of the most important foreign policy issues the United states would face over the subsequent decade, in 2008 only 1 percent of respondents agreed….Concern over several other foreign policy issues is also declining markedly: when asked about the most important problems facing the country over the next ten years 18 percent fewer respondents chose WMD proliferation, 12 percent fewer said armed conflict in the Middle east, and 13 percent fewer indicated failed states. At the same time, 17 percent more respondents in 2008 than in 2006 believed that climate change will pose a serious challenge…”
I suspect political ideology, intellectual fashion and academic tenure and promotion requirements for increasingly fractionated specialization all play a role in creating a worldview divorced from the actual community of senior foreign policy practitioners, career and appointee, Democrat and Republican. As for impacting public discourse, you have a few, august, “big names” who command a wide respect in and outside of the field and then some younger professor bloggers (like Daniel Drezneror our friends at Duck of Minerva) with a demonstrated ability to communicate effectively in normal, well-written, English. The vast, jargon -enamored, academic IR mainstream goes unheard and would probably not be understood by the average voter if they were ( my field, history, is no shining example of persuasive writing either).
….Machines that walk upright will assist civilians and the military alike, said Stefan Schaal, associate professor of computer science and neuroscience at the University of Southern California.“We should at some point be able to create an artificial human being and I think humanoid robots are currently the first step toward that,” he said at the Army Science conference.“This is going to happen,” he predicted. “And it’s going to happen in this century.”It may not be as “polished” as the iRobot movie, he added.While other experts noted that there are huge technological hurdles to overcome, basic research continues on several critical technologies such as vision, movement and computational models that will allow robots to “think” like humans.A parallel effort to map – or reverse engineer – the human brain is going to give robotics experts inspiration that will allow them to create these advanced models, researchers at the conference said.The National Academy of Engineering is spearheading this “Grand Challenge.” Just as researchers successfully mapped the human genome earlier in the decade, the engineering community – not normally thought of as being a part of the life science discipline – says there will be a clear benefit to a Herculean effort to figure out exactly how the human mind works.“If we could determine the software of the human brain, we could embed all sorts of systems so as to provide human like quality for machines,” said John Parmentola, director of research and laboratory management at the Army office of the deputy assistant secretary for research and technology.Neural models will enable robots to better perceive, think, plan and act, said James Albus of the Krasnow Institute at George Mason University, Va.
“Significant economic and military applications will develop undoubtedly early in this century and in fact are already developing,” he said.
The part that makes me a tad skeptical is the “reverse engineering” of the brain. This is no small task. “Wetware” isn’t hardware and the wetware here is dynamically adaptive and to an extent individualized within parameters we do not yet fully understand. Unless I am missing something ( please correct me if I am) in terms of difficulty, reverse engineering the brain would appear to be harder than almost any other question that could possibly be related to the whole field of robotics itself.
While scientists have learned more about the human brain in the last 10 years that the previous 10,000, brain science is still in it’s infancy. The exciting MRI scan studies are primarily exercises in positively identifying correlation of brain activity with specific cognitive and physical tasks; what these studies mean in terms of application requires extrapolative speculation and experimentation.
By all means guys, go for it! I’m behind the effort 100 % as the spillover benefits are going to be enormous. However, I’d wager that this strategy is not the fastest route to functionally useful, autonomously acting, robots on a societal scale.
I just picked up P.W. Singer ‘s new book Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century. Flipping through it quickly, I will say this is an extremely cool book designed to appeal to war nerds, tech geeks and defense policy wonks alike ( For example, if you read Singer’s ref to “the Big Cebrowski” and get it, well, then this book is for you). Some well known figures in the blogosphere also make it into Singer’s book but to find out who, you’ll have to go get a copy. 🙂
Jeff Hawkins at TED.comon the revolutionary potential of brain science:
Zenpundit is a blog dedicated to exploring the intersections of foreign policy, history, military theory, national security,strategic thinking, futurism, cognition and a number of other esoteric pursuits.