July 17, 2018

Networked Press Freedom: Creating Infrastructures for a Public Right to Hear

If freedom of speech guarantees the right to speak, what about the right to hear?

A new book by Mike Ananny, CPD Summer Institute instructor and USC Annenberg assistant professor of communication and journalism, re-examines the notion of a free press: beyond an individual's right to share information, the book focuses on the public's access to it. 

Networked Press Freedom: Creating Infrastructures for a Public Right to Hear is a timely contribution in the realm of public diplomacy as the need to counter disinformation and combat the spread of fake news increases.

Publisher MIT Press explains, "Ananny challenges the idea that press freedom comes only from heroic, lone journalists who speak truth to power. Instead, drawing on journalism studies, institutional sociology, political theory, science and technology studies, and an analysis of ten years of journalism discourse about news and technology, he argues that press freedom emerges from social, technological, institutional, and normative forces that vie for power and fight for visions of democratic life."

The book can be found on the MIT Press website here.


USC Public Diplomacy


Jul 16, 2018

Corneliu Bjola

In the introductory chapter to the edited volume on Digital Diplomacy: Theory and Practice that Marcus Holmes and I published four years ago, I asked the question of whether digital technologies could be seen as a harbinger of change for diplomacy by revolutionizing the way diplomats perform their traditional functions of representation, communication and negotiation.

As the question remains valid today, it might be useful to take stock of the common conceptions and misconceptions of digital diplomacy so that we can get a better picture of how digital technologies have shaped expectations about diplomatic practice in the past decade and how digital diplomacy may continue to evolve in the coming years.

The Superman Myth

The first and surprisingly common misconception about digital diplomacy is the Superman myth, which claims that digital technology can grant extraordinary powers to those using them, and in so doing, it can help them increase their diplomatic clout to levels they might otherwise not be able to reach.

It is largely for this reason that small- and medium-sized states (e.g., Sweden, the Netherlands, Mexico, Israel, Australia) have proved so keen adopters of digital diplomacy, as it presented itself to them as a great opportunity to “punch” diplomatically above their political or economic weight. It is thus assumed that by being able to directly reach and engage millions of people, MFAs and their network of embassies could positively shape the views of the global public about the country of origin, and in so doing, they could increase the diplomatic standing of the country in bilateral or multilateral contexts.

The argument has a seductive logic, not least because of the scope, scale and reach that digital diplomacy affords MFAs to pursue. At the same time, it suffers from a structural flaw, namely, that digital technologies constitute a distinct source of power, which, if properly harnessed, can offset deficiencies in hard or soft power. In fact, the way in which digital technologies operate is by creating a platform through which other forms of power can be projected in support of certain foreign policy objectives. In short, the digital cannot give MFAs Superman strength, but it can help them channel the strength they already have more efficiently and productively.

The “Walk in the Park” Myth

The second and fairly entrenched misconception is the “Walk in the Park” myth, which supports the view that “going digital” is easy and that MFAs can successfully pursue their digital diplomatic ambitions with relatively modest investments in training and resources.

The speed by which the global public has migrated to the digital medium reinforces the idea of accessibility of social media platforms and the notion that anyone with basic technical skills can take part, shape and influence online conversations. What this view neglects, however, to acknowledge is the fact that with no clear direction or strategic compass, the tactical, trial-and-error methods by which MFAs seek to build their digital profile and to maximize the impact of their online presence cannot demonstrate their value beyond message dissemination. In other words, the adoption of digital tools without an overarching strategy of how they should be used in support of certain foreign policy objectives runs the risk of digital diplomacy becoming decoupled from foreign policy.

With 3.02 billion people or 38% of the world population expected to be on social media by 2021, a fast-growing rate of global mobile penetration and the anticipated launch of 5G technology in the next few years, the potential for positive and meaningful digital diplomatic engagement is strong and substantial.

The strategic use of digital platforms imposes order on digital activities through the definition of measurable goals, target audiences and parameters for evaluation. The goals determine the target audience, which in turn, determine the platforms, methods and metrics to be used. This implies that training cannot be limited to the art of crafting messages, but it must professionalize itself and focus on developing skills by which digital diplomats can strategically harness the power of digital platforms toward achieving pre-defined and measurable goals.

The Extinction Myth

The third and growing misconception is theExtinction myth, according to which digital diplomacy will gradually replace or make redundant traditional forms of diplomacy.

On the weaker side of the myth, there is the perception that digital technologies have the capacity to fundamentally change how diplomats perform their traditional functions of representation, communication and negotiation to the point that they may even put an “end to diplomacy,” as Lord Palmerstone once similarly quipped when he took notice of the arrival of the telegraph.

Stronger versions of the myth go a step further and acknowledge the possibility of having physical embassies and even diplomats replaced at some point by virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI), respectively. While digital technologies have demonstrated clear potential for revolutionizing how diplomats conduct public diplomacy, deliver consular services or manage crises, one should nevertheless be mindful of the fact that the core function of diplomacy that is relationship-building and management cannot be accomplished without close and sustained human contact.

The myth may thus be right about the fact that by increasing efficiency, digital technologies would likely reduce the number of diplomats required to perform certain routine functions. At the same time, the “extinction” hypothesis is hardly credible as the negotiation of human values and interests cannot be delegated to machines, and the amount of trust and mutual understanding that makes the “wheels” of diplomacy turn cannot be built without humans.

The Darth Vader Myth

The fourth and rather dark misconception of digital diplomacy is the Darth Vader myth, which sees the positive potential of digital platforms for engagement and cooperation at risk of being hijacked by the “dark side” of the technology and redirected for propaganda use.

The digital disinformation campaignsattributed to the Russian government, which has allegedly been seeking to disrupt electoral processes in Europe and the United States in recent years, offer credible evidence in support of this view. More worryingly, the digital medium operates in such a way that makes it an easy target for propaganda use.

Algorithmic dissemination of content and the circumvention of traditional media filters and opinion-formation gatekeepers makes disinformation spread faster, reach deeper, be more emotionally charged, and most importantly, be more resilient due to the confirmation bias that online echo chambers enable and reinforce. That being said, one should be mindful of the fact that any technology faces the problem of double use, as the case of nuclear energy clearly illustrates.

Trends are also important to consider. With 3.02 billion people or 38% of the world population expected to be on social media by 2021, a fast-growing rate of global mobile penetration and the anticipated launch of 5G technology in the next few years, the potential for positive and meaningful digital diplomatic engagement is strong and substantial. As long as the prospective benefits of digital diplomacy outweigh the risks, the pollution of the online medium by the “dark side” would likely stay contained, although its pernicious effects might not be completely eliminated.

As we look forward to the digital transformation of diplomacy in the next decade, it is also important to keep in mind the technological context in which MFAs are expected to operate. The 3G mobile technology made possible, for instance, the development and spread of social media networks. The 5G technology, which is due to arrive in just a few years, will likely usher in a whole new level of technological disruption, which could lead to the mass adoption of an entire range of tech tools of growing relevance for public diplomacy, such as mixed reality, satellite remote sensing or artificial intelligence.  

To a certain extent, the future is already here, as the appointment of the first-ever ambassador to the Big Tech industry by Denmark in 2017signaled the arrival of a new form of diplomatic engagement between state and non-state actors and the key role that technology is playing in this transformation

July 15, 2018

China's AI plan lays foundation for long-term strength


China's AI plan lays foundation for long-term strength

Monday, July 9, 2018

China is ploughing money into a nationwide multi-billion-dollar programme to gain the lead in artificial intelligence

China's artificial intelligence (AI) industry received investment of 28 billion dollars last year, according to the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology. The government last July issued a Next generation artificial intelligence development plan, which sets a 1-trillion-renminbi (151-billion-dollar) 2030 target for China's core AI industry and a 10-trillion-renminbi target for related industries. A Three-year action plan for promoting development of a new generation artificial intelligence industry followed in December, setting numerous quantitative targets for 2020.

What next

Firms and public institutions will enjoy generous public funding for AI-related initiatives. There is a danger of a policy-induced investment bubble but even if most of these individual investments fail in narrow financial terms, the combined effect on the national level will still upgrade China's AI-related infrastructure and human resource base significantly, laying a foundation for long-term strength in the field.

Subsidiary Impacts

Foreign AI professionals will be able to find well-paid employment in Chinese firms and institutions.Foreign firms working in AI will find eager partners and investors in China.Chinese experts will participate in international standard-setting and debates about ethics and safety.Close cooperation with the military on AI development will feed suspicion of Chinese technology firms overseas.


China's national-level AI development plans are aspirational, doing little to establish priorities or allocate resources and clearly define responsibilities (see CHINA: Artificial intelligence could transform China - September 21, 2017).

However, they establish AI overall as a high national priority, explicitly state an ambition to lead the world in the field by 2030 and signal that initiatives in AI by subsidiary levels of the state system will be rewarded.

Decentralised implementation

Concrete policies are left to ministries, local governments and public institutions such as universities and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

By mid-April this year, 18 provinces and cities had their own AI development plans, with a combined target output of 400 billion renminbi in 2020.

For example, Beijing municipality announced in January a 13.8-billion-renminbi AI development park, and Tianjin announced in May a 100-billion-renminbi fund to subsidise AI research institutions to set up in the city and attract top talent with salaries of up to 2 million renminbi.

The real figures will probably fall short of those announced in many cases but will be very significant nevertheless.

Decentralisation allows local experimentation and innovation, but it also carries risks

Investment bubble?

Local governments will follow political signals by ploughing resources into AI projects. Inter-regional competition will inflate the costs of incentives to attract businesses and talent as regional centres vie to become 'China's Silicon Valley' (China has no one leading technology hub). Private firms will leap into an area they know enjoys government favour and funding.

The result may be overcapacity and the collapse of many unviable investments (see CHINA: Monopolies and abuses hold back tech sector - February 12, 2018).

A possible warning sign is the seemingly opportunistic entry of firms with no relevant experience. For example, real estate conglomerate Evergrande announced in April a 100-billion-renminbi investment in three cutting-edge technology centres, with AI as one focus.

However, even investments that miss their desired objectives may create capacity that can be recycled for other, more successful innovative activities. This occurred in the United States after the end of the space race, when thousands of laid-off engineers built much of the US tech industry.

Government funding

Enterprises will carry out the majority of R&D, but often in partnership with public institutions or with state funding.

The central government will directly fund some projects. For example, the first half of 2018 saw the Ministry of Science and Technology allocate 2.73 billion renminbi to eight AI-related research projects.

However, 'government guidance funds' could be a much larger source. These are established mainly by provincial and city governments, and function like venture capital funds, raising private capital and adding public money to invest in start-ups in priority sectors. By end-2016, around 1,000 such funds had raised 1.9 trillion renminbi. Their two top priorities now are healthcare and AI. Most recently, Shanghai municipality launched on July 4 a 100-billion-renminbi AI investment fund.

The rapid launch of new funds could contribute to an investment bubble, and to its collapse if too many funds reach maturity simultaneously and M&A or stock market demand falls short of this supply.

Public procurement

China's AI industry will benefit from government procurement, with domestic firms having exclusive access in sensitive areas such as security. For example, SenseTime, which in April raised 600 million dollars to become the world's highest-valued AI start-up, valued at 4.5 billion dollars, derives at least one-third of its business selling real-time facial recognition surveillance systems to Chinese police forces.

The scale of military research and procurement is undisclosed but will be significant. The government promotes 'military-civil fusion', in which the military forges links with civilian research institutes, universities and private firms to pool resources and personnel, develop dual-use technologies, adopt shared standards and avoid duplication.

AI is a particularly attractive field for military-civil fusion because the private sector is on the cutting edge, rather than the state-owned defence firms that traditionally supply the military.

Private sector pivotal

The technology sector is unusual among China's major industries in that large private firms dominate it, namely Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent. These will be the preferred partners and major beneficiaries of public spending on AI. For example, the National Development and Reform Commission will fund Baidu's national deep-learning lab.

China's tech giants will come under heavy political pressure to contribute their resources to state objectives. Two months after the publication of the national AI strategy last year, Baidu launched a 1.5-billion-dollar fund to invest in AI companies. The month after that Alibaba announced a 15-billion-dollar programme to build seven labs in four countries focusing on AI and quantum computing. Such moves are not necessarily taken simply to please powerful politicians; state and commercial objectives will often converge.

The private sector is at the heart of China's AI plans

These private firms are also crucial to China's AI development because they collect the huge datasets necessary for training machine-learning algorithms. They will come under pressure to share them, for example, through partnerships with universities such as that announced between Alibaba and Tsinghua University in March.

The Ministry of Science and Technology last November designated the three largest private firms, Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent, as 'national champions' in developing self-driving cars, smart cities and computer vision for medical diagnostics respectively, and a fourth firm, iFlytek, the leader in speech recognition. These designations may indicate the central government's priority areas.

The national champions have good prospects. They are already world-class firms and can expect state support in their efforts to compete overseas and play a policy role domestically (such as assisting urbanisation through 'smart cities'). That means a huge captive market.

Technology transfer

The most controversial elements of China's AI policies will be its promotion of inward and outward foreign investment as a means to catch up with the world leader, the United States.

China has had some success in attracting foreign firms. Google announced plans last December to open an AI research centre in Beijing. Microsoft last month revealed plans to cooperate with four Chinese universities to create an open AI platform.

However, China will have to calibrate its efforts carefully. US firms may be deterred if Chinese partners apply too much pressure to share technology. For example, AmCham China reported last year that 36% of US firms held back investment because of technology transfer requirements. These requirements also risk political backlash; they are among the major grievances cited in the 'Section 301' report that underpins the Trump administration's tariffs on Chinese exports.

Overseas acquisitions

Chinese investments in the United States will sometimes face barriers too.

Baidu opened an AI lab in Silicon Valley in 2014 and plans another in the near future. Tencent set up an AI lab in Seattle in May, led by a former Microsoft scientist. Eleven Chinese 'accelerators' in San Francisco provide assistance to technology start-ups, some of them using government funding. Such initiatives give Chinese firms access to talent unavailable in China, including Chinese graduates of US institutions who do not wish to return.

US politicians and officials cite AI as a field with implications for national security when arguing for restrictions on Chinese investments in the US technology sector. Legislation now going through Congress would expand the powers of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which screens incoming foreign investment.

Fears will deepen when the cyberespionage and conventional espionage that will form an unspoken part of China's AI strategy are occasionally exposed.

Human resources

The Ministry of Education in April issued an 'AI Innovation Action Plan for Colleges and Universities' and a programme to train 500 teachers of AI and 5,000 students at top universities. The previous month it approved 2,311 new majors in high-technology subjects, including data science, robotics and AI. The first school textbook specifically on AI was published in April and pilot classes have been introduced in 40 high schools. A scholarship programme will fund Chinese postgraduate students to study AI in North America.

Training new talent in China will be a slow process because it requires hiring qualified instructors who must either be trained themselves or attracted from overseas.

Chinese recruiters visit US universities to head-hunt experts. The AI plan calls in particular for the recruitment of world-class scientists through the 'Thousand Talents' programme and similar initiatives, which offer scientists grants, higher salaries and more generous perks than they can get overseas.

The decentralisation of foreign talent recruitment makes definitive totals impossible, but state news agency Xinhua last year claimed that 40,000 "high-end professionals" have been recruited through the Thousand Talents programme since its launch in 2008. The US government in April put the current number at 2,629.

Overseas recruitment efforts struggle against the disadvantages of living in China compared to US industry centres such as California. These include pollution, poor choice of schools for children, censorship and conflicting political values or loyalties. Higher salaries cannot always compensate.

China may have more success attracting professionals from the Global South, for whom the pay hike may be relatively greater and the drop in living standards less severe.

The Trump administration's moves to restrict visas for Chinese science and technology students and restrict Chinese nationals from projects deemed sensitive could aid China's efforts to retain and repatriate talent.


China's government eyes a leading role in setting technical standards for AI, which is still in its early stages.

The Standards Administration of China issued a white paper on AI standardisation in January to coordinate the national effort. In April, Beijing hosted the first ever meeting of 'Subcommittee 42', established under the International Organization for Standardization and the International Electrotechnical Commission to coordinate AI standard-setting internationally.

Setting standards will help the industry by promoting interoperability and allowing the pooling of data. It will also reduce the risk of accidents or scandals that turn public opinion against AI.

Participating in setting global standards provides the opportunity to push for Chinese patents to be incorporated, bringing royalties to Chinese firms, and ensures that global standards are not crafted in a way that disadvantages China's large firms (or the Communist Party).

International exchange

Institutions and local governments in China organise academic and commercial conferences and forums in China. Such events do not always live up to their grandiose names, but do attract international participation. Microsoft attended the 'World Intelligence Congress' hosted by Tianjin in May, and Intel is supporting a competition related to the central-government-backed 'AI World 2018' conference in Shanghai in September.

Chinese firms and institutions also pursue partnerships with Western institutions, such as the five-year research agreement signed between Chinese voice-recognition firm iFlytek and MIT's AI lab in June.

Many in the West are keen to cooperate with China

Chinese researchers are encouraged to participate in international conferences. Last month, China's AI Industry Alliance co-hosted a 'US-China AI Tech Summit' with the AI Alliance of Silicon Valley and the Future Society, attended by academic researchers and representatives from major US and Chinese tech firms.

Such exchange is likely to be well received in the West, not just because of the advanced technical content China contributes, but because some researchers fear that a country or group that reaches a major AI breakthrough might deploy it without adequately considering the ethical and safety implications (see INTERNATIONAL: The singularity is distant - October 11, 2017 and see INTERNATIONAL: Regulating AI - December 5, 2017). This concern is greater vis-a-vis states with opaque and authoritarian political systems such as China's.

Baidu's robot, Xiaodu (L) (Reuters/Kim Kyung)

July 09, 2018




Retired Colonel, U.S. Army Reserve

5:56 AM 07/09/2018

The U.S. Department of Defense Department just submitted to Congress its semiannual, June 2018 report titled “Enhancing Security and Stability in Afghanistan.”

The take-home message, like every such report for at least the last 10 years, remained the reassuring “progress is being made.” It is the contemporary equivalent to the Vietnam War assertion that there was “light at the end of the tunnel.”

Although the strategic conditions in the region have changed dramatically, the mission is the same:

“Our purpose in Afghanistan remains to prevent Afghanistan from again becoming a safe-haven from which terrorist groups can plan and execute attacks on the United States, or our allies and citizens abroad…To accomplish this, we continue to support Afghanistan and train, advise and assist its military and police forces.”

The strategy being implemented to achieve that mission is:

“The key to success remains sustained military pressure against the Taliban in order to eliminate the idea that they can achieve their objectives through violent conflict. The targeted investment of U.S. assets and personnel have increased the lethality of the [Afghan forces] this fighting season.”

In other words, progress is being made, but the Pentagon does not say just how much “lethality” will be needed to convince Taliban leaders that they cannot “achieve their objectives through violent conflict.”

There is an extensive Taliban infrastructure and support network in Pakistan along its border with Afghanistan, which includes education, recruiting, training and financial and command and control centers — none of which has been subjected to the “lethality.”

The enormous expansion of Islamic fundamentalist religious schools, madrassas, in Pakistan, largely through funding by Saudi Arabia, has provided a growing supply of potential jihadis to fight in Afghanistan. Well-organized and networked recruiters target the poor or disillusioned, reaching well beyond the Afghan refugee or Pashtun population in Pakistan and numbering in the tens of thousands. Pakistan will never run out of cannon fodder for its proxy war in Afghanistan.

Nazir, a typical potential recruit, is from the Balochi ethnic group, has no connection to the war in Afghanistan and lives hundreds of miles away from the border. In high school, he was subjected to a steady diet of the glories of jihad from his Arabic teacher and the school religious cleric, who distributed jihadi literature and cassettes to the students. After graduation, Nazir experienced a period of financial difficulties and was quickly referred to a Balochi Taliban recruiter based in Quetta, the headquarters and support base of the Taliban Quetta Shura. According to Nasir, nearly all the doctors in Quetta have been required to treat injured Taliban fighters in private hospitals far better supplied and equipped than hospitals for ordinary residents. Ultimately, Nazir did not go to Afghanistan, but scores of other young men from his region did.

It should be clear that the increase in “lethality” pursued by the Pentagon will, at best, only keep pace with the flow of jihadi fighters, educated, recruited, trained and supported in Pakistan.

It should also be clear that you get to the Taliban through Pakistan and you get to Pakistan through China. So, is “lethality” really the most relevant criterion?

U.S. strategy has simply not kept pace with the changing conditions on the ground in South Asia. The goal of those changes, primarily orchestrated by China, is to remove the U.S. presence from the region and position China as the peace mediator and alternative economic engine.

An American withdrawal from Afghanistan will only be a humiliating defeat, if the U.S. is forced into strategic retreat because we do not have a plan in place to address the changing conditions in South Asia.

The future of U.S. policy in South Asia does not reside solely in Afghanistan. Instead, the U.S. should be burden shifting and preparing to counter Chinese hegemony. Some of that effort involves learning to manage instability, to which our adversaries are no less susceptible and include national rivalries, ethnic separatism, and the Sunni-Shia divide.

The U.S. would actually gain greater leverage in Afghanistan by strategic disruption of Chinese ambitions in South Asia, particularly in Pakistan e.g. the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, than by continuing a fruitless, exhaustive and thankless policy of trying to establish and maintain stability in Afghanistan from which we will accrue a diminishing number of strategic benefits.

Lawrence Sellin, Ph.D. is a retired US Army Reserve colonel, an IT command and control subject matter expert, trained in Arabic and Kurdish, and a veteran of Afghanistan, northern Iraq and a humanitarian mission to West Africa. He receives email at lawrence.sellin@gmail.com.