The “Future of War” is big business.
But for all of the defense contractors’ wild fantasies and enthusiasm for AI-powered drones and missiles, next-gen stealth technology, or electromagnetic rail-gun cannons, there’s an equally passionate counterbalance: good old, slow-moving federal bureaucracy Bryan Bender POLITICO recently reports in the DFD.
Today in POLITICO Magazine Hope Hodge Seck, defense reporter and former editor-in-chief of Military.com, tells a different story about what happened when an Australian company called Marathon invented a new breed of target practice dummy — a humanoid robot that attacks, deceives and generally moves like one real person impressive officers who wanted to give their soldiers more realistic combat training.
The robots were tested for the first time in 2011, but a decade later they are only just beginning to be used in large numbers. Seck’s story traces the Byzantine maze of approvals confronting the introduction of new military technology.
I called her to discuss how the Pentagon’s procedures can keep new technology away from soldiers for years — and also why a degree of caution is warranted, even when rivals like China may be quicker to implement new devices.
A slightly edited version of our conversation follows:
You write in the story that a single misplaced document in a desk at Quantico delayed the introduction of these robots by years. How can something like that happen?
The military is very analog and very paper based even though it’s 2022.
Often you have a general or a senior officer who says, “This is really great, go ahead and do this, we need some of these,” and it’s people behind the scenes, often civilians, who are then responsible for preparing these documents and to track . I’ve had several people describe to me meetings behind closed doors where some of these officers and some civilians said very bluntly, ‘I know the general wants this, but that’s not one of our priorities, so we have to’ we’ll just wait it out or let it pass by doing nothing.
In this lost document case, I don’t know if it was lost on purpose, but it shows the decentralized nature of this process and how easy it is to find something new that isn’t an established program and where there aren’t any relationships to go around just dying on the vine.
Why doesn’t a country like China, which has an impressive bureaucracy of its own, necessarily have these institutional barriers?
In countries like China, you have a very top-down system where people at the lower levels have less authority to make their own decisions. And you also have more of a laser focus. China is also adept at looking at ideas that already exist and replicating them, which may not be the best system in terms of pure innovation. I think there are compromises.
But in terms of saying, “This is our vision, this is our strategy, everyone has to stand behind it, and everyone has to line up,” countries like China and Russia have an advantage over the US, by the way. Many decisions are made at the lower level . And that is both a virtue and an obligation.
Compared to other federal bureaucracies, is there any reason why the military would be particularly vulnerable to these delays?
The stakes are higher.
Anytime you go into a combat zone where lives are at stake, it slows things down. Especially with things like naval shipbuilding and amphibious vehicles for the Marine Corps, you have to have a system that is robust and survivable, and you have to debug it in a really aggressive way.
With the army with these robot targets, they have some real autonomy concerns because they have soldiers with guns and there are people in the bureaucracy who say, “What if these things go out of range?” If they’re out of bounds and soldiers are shooting at them, what could happen in the crossfire?
The people I spoke to [robot manufacturer] Marathon and the Marine Corps say this can be mitigated with some simple checks, but again there are soldiers with edged weapons. You train them to go overseas and face an armed enemy, and at stakes this high, everything is done with an order of magnitude more caution.
More episodes of the crypto swoop: Over in Europe, regulators are considering whether NFTs should be their next target.
The EU’s proposed Markets in Crypto Assets Regulation (MiCA) is currently limited to the currencies themselves. But lawmakers are now considering including explicit rules for NFTs to better deter fraudsters and money launderers than Bjarke Smith-Meyer from POLITICO reports today.
Smith-Meyer also received a confidential memo from the Commission that left little ambiguity about EU regulators’ plans for NFTs, saying, “Unregulated, NFT markets remain vulnerable to serious risks of market manipulation such as wash trading and insider trading.”
Right now, that’s consistent with the mood in government on this side of the pond. As POLITICO’s Sam Sutton reportedThe industry’s rapid boom and bust has intensified the scrutiny on the hill and slowed the momentum of crypto lobbyists, with a former Treasury Department official Sutton saying that recent events, such as the freezing of payouts at crypto lender Celsius, are “compelling people to take a step and think about what’s going on” and “probably [force] Companies should be a little more cautious.”
One of the most complex challenges for the Metaverse is the concept of “interoperability,” or the idea that users could seamlessly travel between virtual worlds with questionably compatible programming under the hood and vastly different aesthetics.
This week, some of the biggest players in the industry, including Meta and Microsoft, came together to do something about it. Foundation of the Metaverse Standards Forum. According to that FAQ on his websitethe forum does not create standards that Metaverse developers could work by, but “simply align requirements and support for existing standards organizations developing standards relevant to the Metaverse within their existing governance models and intellectual property frameworks.”
Translated: It’s a kind of working group designed to gather feedback and build consensus on potential standards for topics like 3D graphics, privacy, geonetworks, and more.
In this light, it is particularly noteworthy who is not Part of the group: Apple, that is anything but confirmed to develop their own virtual reality headset and technology. The company didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment as to why — but their absence is even more striking given the company’s involvement in previous large-scale web developments like that HTML5 protocol.
- behavioral economists and psychologists have tips for those who want to avoid getting scammed with crypto.
- A Seattle startup promotes a big step to fusion power plants.
- Before the projected labor shortage, Amazon announced full autonomy storage robot.
- Instagram is testing one AI-powered age verification Tool to enforce its 13 and up policy.
- A certain South Korean stablecoin entrepreneur is already back, with a new coin to sell you
Keep in touch with the whole team: Ben Schreckinger ([email protected]); Derek Robertson (above[email protected]); Konstantin Kakaes ([email protected]); and Heidi Vogt ([email protected]). Follow us on Twitter @DigitalFuture.
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