Celebrate the Facts!
2/28/2021 2 Comments
Reddit posters coined the term ‘deepfake’ in 2017 to describe photographic, audio, and video forgeries generated with artificial intelligence (AI) technologies. Media outlets had discussed the use of AI to generate deepfakes even though the technology is imperfect. The United States federal government is funding research ostensibly because the technology is evolving and could soon prove a disruptive force but the real reasons for the research are likely far more sinister.
An example of a beeneficial use of deepfakes is in Hollywood where filmmakers use it to replicate actors who have already died. Princess Leia was remastered in Star Wars: Rogue One, released in 2016, to universally negative reviews. Some film experts predict a future, after the technology is more developed, where actors license their images and voices for use reducing production costs and time.
There have been some instances of the use of deepfakes to manufacture pornographic videos using the likenesses of famous actors and actors. The frequency of people using deepfakes for what is termed revenge porn, where an enemy modifies an image or a video to superimpose a face onto a different body, is unknown.
Deepfakes have an as-yet unearned standing for precision but most are easily detectable by a trained observer using standard technology. For now, it is likely to be easier to fake reality using conventional video production techniques. Soon enough however relatively unskilled provocateurs could download free software tools and using publicly available data create convincing bogus content.
United States security concerns include scenarios where adversaries could use deepfakes as part of their information operations in a ‘grey zone’ conflict. The United States Special Operations Command defines grey zone challenges as ‘competitive interactions among and within state and non-state actors that fall between the traditional war and peace duality.’ Enemies could use deepfake technology against the United States to generate incorrect news reports, influence public discourse, corrode public trust, and attempt to blackmail government officials. Another scenario is where AI creates ‘patterns-of-life’ where it plots a person’s digital information against other private data, such as financial customs and job history, to create complete social profiles of service members, intelligence operatives, business officials, and political leaders.
Other specific concerns about deepfakes:
Despite alarming discussion in mainstream media of the potential use of deepfakes in 2020 elections, very little of that occurred. An unknown entity used conventional tools to present a video clip edited to make it look like Joe Biden had greeted Floridians as Minnesotans. A jumbled smear against Joe Biden’s son was sponsored by a fake persona with a deepfake profile photo, but the deepfake portion played only a marginal role in that piece of untruth. Another unidentified person or organization slowed down an actual video by 25% of Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, apparently to create the impression she was slurring her words.
Regardless the United States government has been spending some serious cash. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has been developing technologies for identifying the audiovisual inconsistencies present in deepfakes, including inconsistencies in digital integrity, physical integrity, and semantic integrity. DARPA created the backbone of the Internet, developed the Saturn V and Centaur rockets, the first computer mouse, and the first stealth fighter among many other technological feats.
DARPA’s Medifor program intends to change the deepfake game, which currently favors the deepfake creators, by developing an AI assessment of the integrity of an image or video. The MediFor technology will detect manipulations and provide other technical information. MediFor received $17.5 million in funding in 2019 and $5.3 million in 2020. After program completion in 2021, DARPA will deploy the technologies to the operational portion of the military-intelligence community.
In-Q-Tel Inc., a venture-capital firm located in Virginia, is a thin disguise for research funded by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). In-Q-Tel differs from other venture-capital firms, aside from its CIA affiliation, in that it is a nonprofit. Its chartered purpose is the development of technology to support the CIA mission of intelligence gathering. In-Q-Tel has an enormous portfolio including 24 different firms involved in AI and machine learning and received nearly $490 million in taxpayer funding during five years ending in 2017.
American intelligence agencies have historically used covert strategies to put leaders into office who are favorable to United States interests. This practice of interfering dates to the early days of the CIA in the post-World War II years and was a formal policy to help contain the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Whether the CIA is or plans to interfere with foreign elections using deepfakes is unknown but the odds are not against it. One can wager the CIA will use this technology soon if it has not been already.
A summary of deepfakes and national security was provided by https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/IF/IF11333. More detailed information about AI and national security was obtained at https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/R/R45178. Information about CIA funding of AI research was provided by https://emerj.com/ai-sector-overviews/artificial-intelligence-at-the-cia-current-applications/. The website for In-Q-Tel can be found at https://www.iqt.org/about-iqt/.
The F-35 promises significant advances in military capability which advocates use to justify exceeding the original budget, delivery schedule, and per-hour operational cost. The F-35 fighter aircraft being procured in different versions for the United States Air Force, Marine Corps, and Navy and is the largest procurement program in the Department of Defense (DOD) history. Current plans call for acquiring a total of 2,456 F-35s, and United States allies have contracted for hundreds of additional F-35s, and eight nations are cost-sharing partners. Despite triumphant propaganda the F-35 is the biggest turkey ever built.
The F-35 was intended as a cheap replacement for the A-10 and the F-16 when Lockheed Martin won the contract in 2001. United States government officials promised the new jets would cost about $50 million each with a total cost of the program of $200 billion. Since that time total program costs have doubled to about $400 billion and when all the operating costs are accounted for over the 50-year anticipated service life of the plane the costs will be about $1.7 trillion.
Untrue claims about falling unit costs of F-35s surface when DOD staff in Washington develop the following year’s defense budget. In 2017, Lockheed Martin announced a price drop of about 7% per aircraft compared to the previous year, and in 2019, another lower price of about $81 million per plane. The real cost of an F-35 is best derived considering foreign sales values. Switzerland is planning on buying 40 F-35s for about $165 million each including spare parts and weaponry.
The RAND Corporation (a government-funded research organization) found that the fundamental concept behind the F-35 program—that of making one basic airframe serve multiple services’ requirements—may have been flawed. Lockheed Martin also chose to perform some aspects of design and construction concurrently to truncate the schedule in deploying the F-35, but that left fundamental problems to be managed after delivery.
The old-school view among combat aircraft designers was fighters were gauged by how high and how fast they could fly. Later evolutions of fighter design philosophy included looking at how easily a fighter could turn and accelerate in that turn. The most current view is how ‘stealthy’ the fighter is – in other words, how difficult it is to detect.
Proponents speak of the F-35 as having the radar signature of a bumblebee, allowing the fighter to arrive undetected at an enemy’s position or locate and kill the enemy fighter from a long distance. Defense analysts have compared the F-35 to an exotic luxury car - a hot reputation, but persnickety and costly to sustain. Advocates of the F-35 program site a phenomenon referred to as the S-curve where the disruptor technology often is not as good as the technology it is replacing and claim the F-35 has surpassed the F-16 fighter and will continue to improve.
The cost of operating the USAF’s F-35A has been cited as high as $44,000 per hour, according to the Department of Defense. The Pentagon’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation Office and the F-35 Joint Program Office previously have express skepticism that the F-35’s operating costs could be reduced to Lockheed Martin’s goal of $25,000 per hour by 2025. Given the empirical results of previous efforts, this doubt is well-founded.
Aside from cost and schedule overruns, the F-35 has fundamental problems including:
Instead of exclusively buying the F-35 per original plans, the Air Force is contemplating a future fighter armada that might include new F-16 fighters or a completely newly designed fighter. The Air Force requested in the 2020 United States federal budget eight of a total projected purchase of 144 F-15EX fighters, an indicator of the fundamental lack of faith in the F-35 by its end-users, . The F15EX is an improved version of the F-15 Eagle, an aircraft designed in the 1970s and last purchased in 2001. The Air Force also reduced its planned F-35 buy from 60 to 48 jets per year.
Another reason that might be driving the purchase of F-15s is its potential impact on the United States fighter industrial base. The award of the F-35 contract to Lockheed Martin posed the probability Boeing would lose the capabilities of designing and manufacturing fighter aircraft. The original designer and manufacturer of the F-15 was the McDonnell-Douglas Corporation which was gobbled up by Boeing during historical defense-industry consolidation events. Boeing continued to manufacture the F-15 to sell to foreign clients who liked the platform’s low initial cost, performance, and low operating cost. The F-35, however, is being actively marketed by Lockheed Martin and so the F-15’s days were anticipated to be numbered. The unspoken in conservative ‘free trade’ American circles is military contracts for the F-15s add much-needed stability to Boeing, allowing it to weather problems such as the 737 Max groundings and attendant production stoppages, and sustain a combat jet manufacturing capability.
How does a failed project like the F-35 continue, despite fundamental and unending complications? There are 1,400 subcontractors for the F-35 program spread out over 307 congressional districts in 45 states so there are 307 congressmen and 90 senators who have constituents whose livelihoods are related to the F-35 program. Burning additional billions appears to be unavoidable.
This investigation poses certain observations for consideration:
A congressional report on the status of the F-35 was obtained at https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/RL/RL30563. A concise and accurate account of the true costs of the program can be discovered at https://www.pogo.org/analysis/2020/10/selective-arithmetic-to-hide-the-f-35s-true-costs/. RAND Corporation military aircraft studies can be found at https://www.rand.org/about/glance.html. Information on the program from advocates was found at https://www.flightglobal.com/fixed-wing/lockheed-martin-defends-value-of-f-35-as-usaf-programme-under-new-pressure/142501.article.
El Salvador, ravaged by proxy wars during the 1980s, struggled to grow economic and democratic institutions in the time since with some success but a new populist President and threatens to return the governance of El Salvador to autocratic rule. Trump Administration policies helped destabilize El Salvador and the region in general and it is unclear if it is too late to stop the bleeding.
Salvadorans bolted during the 1979 to 1992 civil war to the United States but also to Canada and neighboring Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. Emigration to the United States increased again in the 1990s and 2000s as a result of worsening economic circumstances, natural disasters (a hurricane in 1998 and earthquakes in 2001), and family reunification.
El Salvador is a constitutional republic lead by President Nayib Bukele. Born in San Salvador in 1981, Bukele is of Palestinian descent, thirty-nine years old, and high school educated. Before becoming President, Bukele was mayor of Nuevo Cuscatlán and San Salvador from 2015 to 2018. As mayor, he restored the historic center of San Salvador and encouraged violence-prevention programs.
Bukele formed a political party called Nuevas Ideas in 2018 won the 2019 presidential general election. Traveling to attract business opportunities for the country is one of Bukele’s approval rating strategies and has been fruitful. A principally younger populace elected him and he has continued to romance his social media followers by posting images and statistics about his business development efforts. Surveys have shown as much as 80% approval for his work in the office.
For a young person with little governing experience, Bukele has done a good job of courting overseas investment. In late 2019 Bukele met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in China, gaining Chinese funding to build several major infrastructure projects in El Salvador including a stadium and water treatment plant. China will also develop coastal tourist sites, including building streets, parks, restaurants, and shops. The terms of these projects were not announced but the Chinese quid pro quo was continuing El Salvadoran support in the United Nations including refusing to recognize Taiwan as a legitimate government.
Mid-term elections will proceed on February 28, 2021, and Nuevas Ideas could end up breaking the old-style ARENA/FMLN (the two traditional main political parties) duopoly in the 84-seat legislative assembly. Bukele’s first-round presidential victory in the February 2019 presidential election demonstrated popular disenchantment with the FMLN and ARENA parties that have governed during the post-conflict period. The scale of Bukele’s victory, combined with his continued popularity, has given him a strong governing mandate, but his party lacks backing in the National Assembly.
Opposition figures accuse Bukele of authoritarian and dictatorial tendencies. In February 2020, he sparked a constitutional crisis when he sent military officers into the legislative chamber to pressure legislators to approve a loan for his security plan. Bukele supported the defense minister’s request the constitution be revised to allow the armed forces to take a more active political role, a return to historical autocratic governance. He has also shown a disregard for a free press, prompting criticism from the United States and other countries. There also have been credible accusations of deals with gang members to lower the homicide rate.
Bukele’s eye-popping approval ratings during his year-and-a-half in office will likely help his party gain a significant number of seats in the February 28, 2021, mid-term elections. If Nuevas Ideas captures a majority of the 84 seats in the Legislative Assembly, it could further enable Bukele’s autocratic behavior, auguring ill for El Salvador’s democracy.
In March 2019, the Trump Administration suspended most foreign assistance to El Salvador (as well as to Guatemala and Honduras) as part of its focus to attempt to make those governments align with its anti-immigration policies. This action further undermined stability in the region.
President Joe Biden promoted a four-year, $4 billion economic development program in Central America to mitigate outmigration but he has limited ability to steer economic aid to El Salvador as that is the function of the United States Congress. On January 23, 2021, Biden issued an executive order suspending Trump Administration asylum agreements with El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, one of his first acts to undo that administration’s hardline immigration policies.
Information about the Chinese development agreements was presented at https://www.thedialogue.org/analysis/is-china-going-to-help-el-salvador-develop-faster/. Information about the upcoming elections was obtained at https://www.centralamerica.com/living/daily-life/central-america-elections-2021/. The political situation ahead of the upcoming election was found at https://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/articles/29328/corruption-scandals-stain-bukele-s-image-ahead-of-el-salvador-elections. Economic projections can be obtained at https://www.imf.org/en/Home. Information on the suspension of asylum agreements was provided by https://www.france24.com/en/americas/20210207-biden-ends-trump-asylum-deals-with-el-savador-guatemala-and-honduras.
Civil unrest spawned by a range of grievance politics combined with static income growth rates resulted in a revolution; it is unclear the American Empire’s counterrevolutionary responses will be robust enough to mitigate the problems. Wealth redistribution strategies in the 1930s and 1960s tamped down violent movements by initiating social programs and democratic structural change. The lesson learned from the tepid response to the Great Recession of 2008 was those stimulus bills were too small, informing the Biden Administration’s resolve about the proposed $1.9 trillion stimulus proposal, but much more will be required to return to social stability.
The Biden Administration has less than two years to jam through programs necessary to raise wealth among lower-class elements before mid-term elections and probable loss of one or two houses of Congress, which would stop progressive legislation and ensure economic trends that caused this unrest get worse.
In 2019, 290,720 ultra-high net worth (UHNW) individuals with a minimum of $30 million in wealth owned $35.4 trillion, an increase of 9.7% percent between 2018 and 2019. To place that number of 290,000 in perspective it is about the population of Fort Wayne, Indiana. The strongest regional returns were recorded in North America where the number of UHNW individuals increased by 14.5% to 105,080, about 36% of the global UHNW class. There was an almost identical rise in collective net worth, up 14.4% to $12.4 trillion.
Income disparity continues to increase while wage growth for people who earn their living remains stagnant. The upward mobility promise of the American Dream has vanished:
Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the total value of goods produced and services provided in a country during one year, dropped 4.3% in the United States during the 2020 pandemic year. Interesting observations:
Authoritative demographic information on grievance protest groups is unavailable and so any discussion of the composition of these revolutionary groups is conjecture. Grievance politics is where one party blames the other for their privations and is ignited by partisan media reinforcing their consumers in echo chambers. The logical extensions of this were evident during a tumultuous 2020 presidential campaign where a disenfranchised radical group of loosely aligned political groups stormed the capital attempting to overturn the results of the election.
When people are divorced from investment in society, they have little to lose and this becomes the seedbed for radicalization resulting in civil unrest. We are in a Revolution, discussed in an earlier investigation, and whether that revolution is successful in overturning democratic governance in the United States is a function of increasing the relative wealth of lower-class Americans.
The United States government and large corporations have responded to the ransacking of the capital on January 6, 2021, with a variety of measures:
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) projections for United States GDP growth rates from 2021 to 2024 average about 2.6% annually, which, if true, would not move the needle in raising incomes of lower-class Americans without some innovative federal government intervention.
Interesting proposals that have been discussed:
The Biden Administration has a short period to get something going. Traditionally mid-term elections revert to the opposition party and the Democrats have slim majorities in the House of Representatives and the Senate. It is likely one or both will revert to Republican control resulting in legislative gridlock.
Information on UHNW was obtained at https://www.wealthx.com/report/covid-19-wealth-impact-the-world-ultra-wealth-report-2020/. United States government economic statistics were discovered at https://www.bea.gov/. Unemployment data were provided by https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf. Information about QAnon demographics were provided by https://civiqs.com/results/qanon_support?annotations=true&uncertainty=true&zoomIn=true.
Michael Donnelly investigates societal concerns with an untribal approach - to limit the discussion to the facts derived from primary sources so the reader can make more informed decisions.