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The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

The Pentagon is getting more serious about AI

The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Happy Friday! Thanks so much to my colleague Gerrit De Vynck for filling in on today’s newsletter top. You can reach him at:

Below: A European Union chief meets with a Sony gaming chief on the Microsoft-Activision deal, and the FBI cracks down on ransomware. First:

The Pentagon is getting more serious about AI

Last March, as Russian troops threw themselves against Ukraine’s defenses, the United States approved sending a shipment of 100 small drones as part of the weapons package meant to help its ally fend off the attack.

The Switchblade drones were different from the larger, remote-controlled drones used during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. These divebombed their enemies, exploding on impact. And they had the capability to operate autonomously, choosing their own targets with image-recognition systems and using onboard computers to navigate themselves.

It’s unclear how much the Switchblades have been used in the conflict, but their presence underscore how the age of autonomous warfare has arrived, despite much of the debate over AI-controlled weapons framing them as still in the realm of science-fiction.

“These use cases are no longer theoretical and in the far distant future, there are things that are much more close to the here and now,” said Paul Scharre, a vice president at the Center for a New American Security who specializes in autonomous weapons.

On Wednesday, the Pentagon put out a revamped and expanded policy on autonomous weapons that further showed that the U.S. military is taking the tech seriously. Despite calls from weapons-control advocates for a ban on all autonomous weapons, the United States is charging ahead and believes it can develop and field machines that make their own decisions as long as those machines have been thoroughly reviewed and approved by senior commanders.

Since the Pentagon’s last policy came out in 2012, military leaders have said that the United States will always have a “human in the loop” when it comes to killing people with autonomous weapons, but neither the old policy nor the new one have that rule. Instead, the 24-page policy focuses on clarifying who needs to approve new weapons and updates to existing ones.

Some of the language from the previous policy has been softened, said Ingvild Bode, a professor at the University of Southern Denmark who focuses on autonomous weapons policy. Where the 2012 policy said the Pentagon’s tests should “ensure” that weapons will act as expected, the new policy says tests should simply “provide sufficient confidence” in the weapons’ capabilities, Bode pointed out.

Another change removes the requirement that humans be physically located near autonomous weapons so they can pull the plug if they have to. That means drone ships and planes that have their own autopilot or are remotely controlled can now be fitted with autonomous weapons, Scharre said.

Overall though, the policy maintains the United States’ core position: Being at the cutting edge of developing and fielding new autonomous weapons is key to the country’s defense and ability to keep up with rivals like Russia and China, both of whom are also charging ahead on AI weaponry.

Though autonomous weapons have been around in some form for decades — such as machine guns mounted on ships that can detect and automatically shoot down incoming missiles — recent leaps in AI tech will open up the possibility of all kinds of new weapons, like drone swarms that can overwhelm defenses with thousands of small machines operating in concert, or chatbots that can hijack social media networks to spread propaganda in advance of an invasion.

The Pentagon’s new policy makes it clear to military leaders, those concerned about AI weapons and governments in other countries alike: The United States isn’t slowing down when it comes to this tech.

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Sony gaming lead meets with E.U. antitrust chief on Microsoft-Activision deal

The meeting between Sony gaming chief Jim Ryan and European Union antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager comes as the bloc is weighing whether to file a complaint against Microsoft’s $69 billion bid to acquire “Call of Duty” maker Activision Blizzard, Reuters’s Foo Yun Chee reports.

“The meeting came as the EU competition watchdog prepares to warn Microsoft this week about the potential anti-competitive effects of the U.S. software giant and Xbox maker’s acquisition in the biggest gaming industry deal in history,” according to the report. In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission has sued to block the acquisition.

The deal would help Microsoft compete in the gaming market with giants like Tencent and Sony, which has sharply criticized the deal. The E.U. did not respond to a request for comment from Reuters. 

ChatGPT creator huddles with lawmakers in Washington

OpenAI CEO and ChatGPT creator Sam Altman is “aiming to demystify the artificial intelligence tool that has captivated the world” in a series of meetings with lawmakers in Washington this week, Semafor’s Reed Albergotti reports. The trip marks an early visit for a tech leader whose surging product is just beginning to enter policymakers’ radars.

“In meetings, Altman has sought to head off misconceptions about ChatGPT by explaining to lawmakers its uses and limitations,” according to the report.

The tool, which uses large language models to generate humanlike responses to queries, has taken the internet by storm and could reshape the competitive landscape in Silicon Valley around artificial intelligence. 

“In the meetings, Altman told policymakers that OpenAI is on the path to creating ‘artificial general intelligence,’ a term used to describe an artificial intelligence that can think and understand on the level of the human brain,” according to the report. 

FBI shuts down ransomware gang targeting schools, hospitals

“The FBI and law enforcement in Europe have shut down a major ransomware operation accused of extorting more than $100 million from organizations across the world by encrypting victims’ computer systems and demanding payments to provide a key to unlock them,” my colleagues Joseph Menn, Perry Stein and Aaron Schaffer report.

According to the report, “Attorney General Merrick Garland said the ransomware group called Hive attacked hospitals, school districts, financial firms and others, stealing and sometimes publishing their data. Like some other prolific groups, Hive partnered with independent hackers who broke in through phishing or other means: The gang provided the encryption program and ransomware negotiations, and split the profits with the hackers.”

“Cybercrime is a constantly evolving threat,” Garland said. “But as I have said before, the Justice Department will spare no resource to identify and bring to justice anyone, anywhere, who targets the United States with a ransomware attack.”

Agency scanner

‘A Hard Sell’: Can Biden’s DOJ really shatter Google’s grip on digital ads? (Politico)

Hill happenings

Elon Musk meets with Kevin McCarthy in D.C. (Axios)

Inside the industry

A Federal Court Blocks California’s New Medical Misinformation Law

Twitter's Trust and Safety Head Ditches Protocol for Musk Whims (Bloomberg)

Trump’s typical social posts could push up against Meta’s rules (The Hill)

Workforce report

Laid Off Googlers Got More Severance Than Workers At Alphabet’s ‘Other Bets’ Like Waymo And Verily (Richard Nieva)


What Facebook and Trump have in common (By Will Oremus)


  • Thierry Breton, the European commissioner for internal market, speaks at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event on security and technology at 9 a.m. Friday. 

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