USIP's Science, Technology & Peacebuilding Roundup

United States Institute of Peace


Center of Innovation: Science, Technology and Peacebuilding

Weekly News Roundup, January 19 - 25, 2012

Table of Contents

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New Drone Has No Pilot Anywhere, So Who's Accountable?
With the [X-47B] drone's ability to be flown autonomously by onboard computers, it could usher in an era when death and destruction can be dealt by machines operating semi-independently. Although humans would program an autonomous drone's flight plan and could override its decisions, the prospect of heavily armed aircraft screaming through the skies without direct human control is unnerving to many.
See the full article (Los Angeles Times, W.J. Hennigan, 1/26/11)
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Director of Google Ideas Jared Cohen: Tunisians Are The Heroes of My Lifetime
When anti-regime protests were at their height in Iran in 2009, Cohen became famous for convincing Twitter to postpone their routine maintenance and to keep the site online during this critical moment. At the time, Cohen was serving on the Department of State's Policy Planning staff, and was recognized by the Department of State for being an advocate of utilizing digital tools for facilitating global diplomacy. Now at Google Ideas, Cohen has a much freer rein to explore methods of using digital technology that can help solve larger global challenges.
See the full article (Tunisia Live, Kouichi Shirayanagi, 1/25/11)
Click to read about USIP's upcoming event "The Day After: President Saakashvili on Post-Revolutionary Societies and What Comes after the Arab Spring" on February 1 at 11:00am.
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Sudan Military May Be Poised for Major Offensive
Analysts say new satellite images [captured by the Satellite Sentinel Project] indicate a major government military offensive is about to begin. "What we're seeing is the grounds for issuing a Human Security Alert, which we issued today," said Nathaniel Raymond, director of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which analyzed the images. "Satellite imagery collected by DigitalGlobe has captured evidence of road construction and the presence of heavy armor units in position to the Kauda Valley."
See the full article (Voice of America, Joe DeCapua, 1/25/11)
Click to read "Science, Technology and Peacebuilding at USIP," a USIP On the Issues by Sheldon Himelfarb and Andrew Robertson.
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Cairo Contagion: Military Tracks Uprising's 'Infectious' Ideas
The revolt that started a year ago today in Egypt was spread by Twitter and YouTube, or so the popular conception goes. But a group of Navy-backed researchers has a more controversial thesis: Egyptians were infected by the idea of overthrowing their dictator. And now, these researchers claim, they're getting close to developing tools that can track the spread of infections like these. The software would use epidemiological modeling to chart the discussions and their trajectory.
See the full article (Wired, Katie Drummond and Noah Shachtman, 1/25/11)
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Newt Threatens China and Russia with Cyberwar
Newt Gingrich isn't the only politician who's freaked out by China and Russia's online spying. But the new Republican presidential frontrunner may be the highest-profile political figure all but openly calling for cyberwar with Moscow and Beijing. "I think that we have to treat state-based covert activities as the equivalent of acts of war," Gingrich said in response to a question about countries that target U.S. corporate and government information systems.
See the full article (Wired, Noah Shachtman, 1/25/11)
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Silicon Afghanistan: Kabul Innovation Lab Launches
The public forum that kicked off the Kabul Innovation Lab today in the Afghan capital isn't interested in the challenges facing today's Afghanistan. It is all about Afghanistan's future through technology. Organized by the International Synergy Group, a group focused on improving information flow in conflict areas, and Internews, a non-profit committed to empowering local media, it wants to build a community for IT developers and techies to help innovate solutions to Afghanistan's multitude of problems.
See the full article (Forbes, Elmira Bayrasli, 1/23/11)
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Do Drones Undermine Democracy?
Today, the United States military has more than 7,000 unmanned aerial systems. Last year, they carried out hundreds of strikes - both covert and overt - in six countries, transforming the way our democracy deliberates and engages in what we used to think of as war. I do not condemn these strikes; I support most of them. What troubles me, though, is how a new technology is short-circuiting the decision-making process for what used to be the most important choice a democracy could make.
See the full article (New York Times, Peter W. Singer, 1/21/12) *NYT sign-up may be required to view the full article
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How to Offset Your 'Conflict Mineral' Guilt
"Conflict minerals" that help fuel war in the Democratic Republic of Congo often end up in the most popular electronic gadgets. Can consumers offset their guilt by using the smartphone as a tool of change? Rather than stage a boycott, people who don't want their purchases to fund conflict minerals are now protesting with the very technology they hope to improve. "In a world where brand and reputation is so important to companies, your voice can be much more powerful than your dollars," says Mr Hanson.
See the full article (BBC, Kate Dailey, 1/19/12)
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Air Force's Top Brain Wants a 'Social Radar' to 'See Into Hearts and Minds'
Chief Scientists of the Air Force usually spend their time trying to figure out how to build better satellites or make jets go insanely fast. [Today's Chief Scientist Dr. Mark Maybury] would like to build a set of sensors that peer into people's souls - and forecast wars before they erupt. But Social Radar won't be a single sensor to discover your secret yearnings. It'll be more of a virtual sensor, combining a vast array of technologies and disciplines, all employed to take a society's pulse and assess its future health.
See the full article (Wired, Noah Shachtman, 1/19/12)
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