Palantir’s First-Ever AI Warfare Conference

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian, written by Caroline Haskins: On May 7th and 8th in Washington, D.C., the city’s biggest convention hall welcomed America’s military-industrial complex, its top technology companies and its most outspoken justifiers of war crimes. Of course, that’s not how they would describe it. It was the inaugural “AI Expo for National Competitiveness,” hosted by the Special Competitive Studies Project — better known as the “techno-economic” thinktank created by the former Google CEO and current billionaire Eric Schmidt. The conference’s lead sponsor was Palantir, a software company co-founded by Peter Thiel that’s best known for inspiring 2019 protests against its work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) at the height of Trump’s family separation policy. Currently, Palantir is supplying some of its AI products to the Israel Defense Forces.

The conference hall was also filled with booths representing the U.S. military and dozens of its contractors, ranging from Booz Allen Hamilton to a random company that was described to me as Uber for airplane software. At industry conferences like these, powerful people tend to be more unfiltered – they assume they’re in a safe space, among friends and peers. I was curious, what would they say about the AI-powered violence in Gaza, or what they think is the future of war?

Attendees were told the conference highlight would be a series of panels in a large room toward the back of the hall. In reality, that room hosted just one of note. Featuring Schmidt and the Palantir CEO, Alex Karp, the fire-breathing panel would set the tone for the rest of the conference. More specifically, it divided attendees into two groups: those who see war as a matter of money and strategy, and those who see it as a matter of death. The vast majority of people there fell into group one. I’ve written about relationships between tech companies and the military before, so I shouldn’t have been surprised by anything I saw or heard at this conference. But when it ended, and I departed DC for home, it felt like my life force had been completely sucked out of my body. Some of the noteworthy quotes from the panel and convention, as highlighted in Haskins’ reporting, include:

“It’s always great when the CIA helps you out,” Schmidt joked when CIA deputy director David Cohen lent him his microphone when his didn’t work.

The U.S. has to “scare our adversaries to death” in war, said Karp. On university graduates protesting Israel’s war in Gaza, Karp described their views as a “pagan religion infecting our universities” and “an infection inside of our society.”

“The peace activists are war activists,” Karp insisted. “We are the peace activists.”

A huge aspect of war in a democracy, Karp went on to argue, is leaders successfully selling that war domestically. “If we lose the intellectual debate, you will not be able to deploy any armies in the west ever,” Karp said.

A man in nuclear weapons research jokingly referred to himself as “the new Oppenheimer.”

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Will America’s Next Soldiers Be Machines?

Foreign Policy magazine visits a U.S. military training exercise that pitted Lt. Isaac McCurdy and his platoon of infantry troops against machines with camera lenses for eyes and sheet metal for skin:

Driving on eight screeching wheels and carrying enough firepower on their truck beds to fill a small arms depot, a handful of U.S. Army robots stormed through the battlefield of the fictional city of Ujen. The robots shot up houses where the opposition force hid. Drones that had been loitering over the battlefield for hours hovered above McCurdy and his team and dropped “bombs” — foam footballs, in this case — right on top of them, a perfectly placed artillery shot. Robot dogs, with sensors for heads, searched houses to make sure they were clear.

“If you see the whites of someone’s eyes or their sunglasses, [and] you shoot back at that, they’re going to have a human response,” McCurdy said. “If it’s a robot pulling up, shooting something that’s bigger than you can carry yourself, and it’s not going to just die when you shoot a center mass, it’s a very different feeling.”

In the United States’ next major war, the Army’s brass is hoping that robots will be the ones taking the first punch, doing the dirty, dull, and dangerous jobs that killed hundreds — likely thousands — of the more than 7,000 U.S. service members who died during two decades of wars in the Middle East. The goal is to put a robot in the most dangerous spot on the battlefield instead of a 19-year-old private fresh out of basic training… [Several] Army leaders believe that almost every U.S. Army unit, down to the smallest foot patrols, will soon have drones in the sky to sense, protect, and attack. And it won’t be long before the United States is deploying ground robots into battle in human-machine teams.
The robots haven’t been tested with live ammunition yet — or in colder temperatures, the magazine notes. (And at one point in the exercise, “Army officials jammed themselves, and a swarm of drones dropped out of the sky.) But the U.S. Army is “considering a proposal to add a platoon of robots, the equivalent of 20 to 50 human soldiers, to its armored brigade combat team.”

Six generals and several colonels watched the exercise, according to the article, which notes that the ultimate goal isn’t to replace all human soldiers. “The point is to get the advantage before China or Russia do.”

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Ukraine Is Now Using Steam Decks To Control Machine Gun Turrets

Thanks to a crowdfunding campaign dating back to 2014, soldiers in Ukraine are now using Steam Decks to remotely operate a high-caliber machine gun turret. The weapon is called the “Sabre” and is unique to Ukraine. Motherboard reports: Ukrainian news outlet TPO Media recently reported on the deployment of a new model of the Sabre on its Facebook page. Photos and videos of the system show soldiers operating a Steam Deck connected to a large machine gun via a heavy piece of cable. According to the TPO Media post, the Sabre system allows soldiers to fight the enemy from a great distance and can handle a range of calibers, from light machine guns firing anti-tank rounds to an AK-47.

In the TPO footage, the Sabre is firing what appears to be a PKT belt-fed machine gun. The PKT is a heavy barrelled machine that doesn’t have a stock and is typically mounted on vehicles like armored personnel carriers. It uses a solenoid trigger so it can be fired remotely, which is the cable running out of the back of the gun and into the complex of metal and wires on the side of the turret.

The Sabre system wasn’t always controlled with a Steam Deck […]. The first instances of the weapon appeared in 2014. The U.S. and the rest of NATO is giving Ukraine a lot of money for defense now, but that wasn’t the case when Russia first invaded in 2014. To fill its funding gaps, Ukrainians ran a variety of crowdfunding campaigns. Over the years, Ukraine has used crowdfunding to pay for everything from drones to hospitals. One of the most popular websites is The People’s Project, and it’s there that the Sabre was born. The People’s Project launched the crowdfunding campaign for Sabre in 2015 and collected more than $12,000 for the project over the next two years. It’s initial goal was to deploy 10 of these systems.

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Russian Forces Suffer Radiation Sickness After Digging Trenches and Fishing in Chernobyl

The Independent reports:

Russian troops who dug trenches in Chernobyl forest during their occupation of the area have been struck down with radiation sickness, authorities have confirmed.

Ukrainians living near the nuclear power station that exploded 37 years ago, and choked the surrounding area in radioactive contaminants, warned the Russians when they arrived against setting up camp in the forest. But the occupiers who, as one resident put it to The Times, “understood the risks” but were “just thick”, installed themselves in the forest, reportedly carved out trenches, fished in the reactor’s cooling channel — flush with catfish — and shot animals, leaving them dead on the roads…

In the years after the incident, teams of men were sent to dig up the contaminated topsoil and bury it below ground in the Red Forest — named after the colour the trees turned as a result of the catastrophe… Vladimir Putin’s men reportedly set up camp within a six-mile radius of reactor No 4, and dug defensive positions into the poisonous ground below the surface.

On 1 April, as Ukrainian troops mounted counterattacks from Kyiv, the last of the occupiers withdrew, leaving behind piles of rubbish. Russian soldiers stationed in the forest have since been struck down with radiation sickness, diplomats have confirmed. Symptoms can start within an hour of exposure and can last for several months, often resulting in death.

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US Army Officer Reply-All Email Chain Causes Pandemonium

An anonymous officer writes in an opinion piece via Military.com: It was the “reply-all” heard around the world. Around 06:30 Eastern time Feb. 2, approximately 13,000 Army inboxes pinged with an email from an unfamiliar sender. It was from a U.S. Army captain, asking to be removed from a distribution list. It initially seemed as though some unfortunate soul had inadvertently hit “reply-all” and made an embarrassing mistake. What followed can really be described only as professional anarchy, as thousands of inboxes became buried in an avalanche of email replies. Someone appears to have unwittingly edited an email distribution list, entitled “FA57 Voluntary Transfer Incentive Program,” routing replies back to the entire list.

Most Army officers receive emails from human resources managers from time to time, usually sent using the blind copy (BCC) address line with replies routed to specific inboxes, preventing someone from accidentally triggering the mayhem that unfolded Feb. 2. The voluntary incentive program list, however, hadn’t been so prudently designed and, in addition to 13,000 Army captains and some newly promoted majors, a single chief warrant officer, a Space Force captain and a specialist began to have their inboxes groan under the weight of inbound traffic. Within a few short hours of the initial email, predictable hilarity ensued. Hundreds of Army captains were sending emails asking to be removed from the distro list. In short order, hundreds of other captains replied, demanding that everyone stop hitting “reply-all” and berating their peers’ professionalism (oblivious to the fact that they were also part of the problem). Many others found humor in the event, writing poems, sending memes and adding snarky comments to the growing dumpster fire. Before long, the ever-popular U.S. Army WTF! Moments Facebook page picked up on the mayhem and posted one of the memes that had been circulating in the email thread.

By 7 p.m. Eastern time, more than 1,000 emails had been blasted out to this massive group of Army officers. Those in different time zones (like Hawaii) came into work and were quickly overwhelmed by the deluge of emails clogging their inboxes. Some of the humorless officers resorted to typing in all caps “PLEASE REMOVE ME FROM THIS DISTRO,” prompting at least two to three sarcastic replies in return. Other captains took the opportunity to blast out helpful (or not so helpful) instructions on how to properly create email sorting rules in Outlook. A few intrepid officers tried to Rickroll everyone, and one even wrote new lyrics to the tune of an Eminem song. A particularly funny officer wrote a Nigerian prince scheme email and blasted it out to the group. Eventually, someone created and shared a Microsoft Teams group to move the devolving conversation to a new forum, quickly amassing more than 1,700 members. What started off as a gloriously chaotic email chain quickly turned into one the largest and most successful professional networking opportunities most of us have ever seen. Officers from multiple branches and functional areas across the globe took to the Microsoft Teams page, sharing useful products, making professional connections, and generally raising everyone’s esprit de corps. The group’s creator even started a petition to promote the one specialist who was inadvertently added to the distro list.

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Pentagon Elects Not To Shoot Down Chinese Spy Balloon Traveling Over Montana

“A Chinese spy balloon is floating over the continental United States,” writes Slashdot reader q4Fry. “As it headed over Montana, ‘civilian flights in the area were halted and U.S. military aircraft, including advanced F-22 fighter jets, were put in the air.'” The Washington Post reports: The balloon’s flight path takes it over “a number of sensitive sites,” the senior [Pentagon] official said, but it appears it does not have the ability collect information that is “over and above” other tools at China’s disposal, like low-orbit satellites. Nevertheless, the Pentagon is taking undisclosed “mitigation steps” to prevent Beijing from gathering additional intelligence.
“We put some things on station in the event that a decision was made to bring this down,” the official said. “So we wanted to make sure we were coordinating with civil authorities to empty out the airspace around that potential area. But even with those protective measures taken, it was the judgment of our military commanders that we didn’t drive the risk down low enough. So we didn’t take the shot.” “The US believes Chinese spy satellites in low Earth orbit are capable of offering similar or better intelligence, limiting the value of whatever Beijing can glean from the high-altitude balloon, which is the size of three buses,” reports CNN, citing a defense official.

“It does not create significant value added over and above what the PRC is likely able to collect through things like satellites in low Earth orbit,” the senior defense official said. Nevertheless, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy called for a briefing of the “Gang of Eight” — the group of lawmakers charged with reviewing the nation’s most sensitive intelligence information.

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Someone Leaked Classified Chinese Tank Schematics To Win an Online Argument

schwit1 shares a report from Task & Purpose: A fan of the popular mechanized combat simulator ‘War Thunder’ shared the specs of China’s Type 99 Main Battle Tank online in order to win an argument over the game. […] The latest incident, first reported by the OSINTtechnical Twitter account, involves information in Mandarin on the penetrator section of a Chinese tank round along with a technical diagram. While many of the original images have been taken down, they were essentially the schematics for a Chinese tank munition, presumably revealed to the world so a video game could more accurately depict what would happen if a Chinese tank and an American tank — or British, French, Russian, German or Israeli tank — met in combat. And this isn’t the first time these forums have become an outlet for technical leaks. […]

The most recent leak, the latest leak, from someone with access to the latest technical manuals from China’s People’s Liberation Army, occurred because a user wanted the game’s Chinese battle tanks to have better in-game stats. While most of the information about the Chinese tank round was already known, it was still apparently more important for one gamer to prove another gamer wrong on a message board than it was to consider the implications of publishing the technical details of military munitions online.

The video game developer, Gaijin Entertainment, banned the user, telling Kotaku that, “Our community managers immediately banned the user and deleted his post, as the information on this particular shell is still classified in China. Publishing classified information on any vehicle of any nation at War Thunder forums is clearly prohibited, and the game developers never use it in their work.”

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What Happened After Russia Seized Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster Site?

The Associated Press files this report from Chernobyl, where invading tanks in February “churned up highly contaminated soil from the site of the 1986 accident that was the world’s worst nuclear disaster…”

“Here in the dirt of one of the world’s most radioactive places, Russian soldiers dug trenches. Ukrainian officials worry they were, in effect, digging their own graves.”

For more than a month, some Russian soldiers bunked in the earth within sight of the massive structure built to contain radiation from the damaged Chernobyl nuclear reactor. A close inspection of their trenches was impossible because even walking on the dirt is discouraged…. Maksym Shevchuck, the deputy head of the state agency managing the exclusion zone, believes hundreds or thousands of soldiers damaged their health, likely with little idea of the consequences, despite plant workers’ warnings to their commanders. “Most of the soldiers were around 20 years old,” he said….

The full extent of Russia’s activities in the Chernobyl exclusion zone is still unknown, especially because the troops scattered mines that the Ukrainian military is still searching for. Some have detonated, further disturbing the radioactive ground. The Russians also set several forest fires, which have been put out.
Ukrainian authorities can’t monitor radiation levels across the zone because Russian soldiers stole the main server for the system, severing the connection on March 2. The International Atomic Energy Agency said Saturday it still wasn’t receiving remote data from its monitoring systems. The Russians even took Chernobyl staffers’ personal radiation monitors….
When the Russians hurriedly departed March 31 as part of a withdrawal from the region that left behind scorched tanks and traumatized communities, they took more than 150 Ukrainian national guard members into Belarus. Shevchuck fears they’re now in Russia. In their rush, the Russians gave nuclear plant managers a choice: Sign a document saying the soldiers had protected the site and there were no complaints, or be taken into Belarus. The managers signed.

The article includes more stories from Chernobyl’s staff:
Even now, weeks after the Russians left, “I need to calm down,” the plant’s main security engineer, Valerii Semenov, told The Associated Press. He worked 35 days straight, sleeping only three hours a night, rationing cigarettes and staying on even after the Russians allowed a shift change. “I was afraid they would install something and damage the system,” he said in an interview….

Another Ukrainian nuclear plant, at Zaporizhzhia in southeastern Ukraine, remains under Russian control. It is the largest in Europe.

Long-time Slashdot reader MattSparkes also notes reports that researchers at Chernobyl “had been looking for bacteria to eat radioactive waste — but they now fear that their work was irreparably lost during the Russian invasion of the facility.”

New Scientist reports (in a pay-walled article) that scientist Olena Pareniuk “was attempting to identify bacteria that could consume radioactive waste within Chernobyl’s destroyed reactor before the Russian invasion. If her samples are lost it will likely be impossible to replace them.”

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