February 18, 2019

An AI that writes convincing prose risks mass-producing fake news

MIT Technology Review

Fed with billions of words, this algorithm creates convincing articles and shows how AI could be used to fool people on a mass scale.

by Will Knight 

February 14, 2019

Here’s some breaking fake news …

Russia has declared war on the United States after Donald Trump accidentally fired a missile in the air.

Russia said it had “identified the missile’s trajectory and will take necessary measures to ensure the security of the Russian population and the country’s strategic nuclear forces.” The White House said it was “extremely concerned by the Russian violation” of a treaty banning intermediate-range ballistic missiles.

The US and Russia have had an uneasy relationship since 2014, when Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region and backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

That story is, in fact, not only fake, but a troubling example of just how good AI is getting at fooling us. 

That’s because it wasn’t written by a person; it was auto-generated by an algorithm fed the words “Russia has declared war on the United States after Donald Trump accidentally …”

The program made the rest of the story up on its own. And it can make up realistic-seeming news reports on any topic you give it. The program was developed by a team at OpenAI, a research institute based in San Francisco.

The researchers set out to develop a general-purpose language algorithm, trained on a vast amount of text from the web, that would be capable of translating text, answering questions, and performing other useful tasks. But they soon grew concerned about the potential for abuse. “We started testing it, and quickly discovered it’s possible to generate malicious-esque content quite easily,” says Jack Clark, policy director at OpenAI.

Clark says the program hints at how AI might be used to automate the generation of convincing fake news, social-media posts, or other text content. Such a tool could spew out climate-denying news reports or scandalous exposés during an election. Fake news is already a problem, but if it were automated, it might be harder to tune out. Perhaps it could be optimized for particular demographics—or even individuals. 

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Clark says it may not be long before AI can reliably produce fake stories, bogus tweets, or duplicitous comments that are even more convincing. “It’s very clear that if this technology matures—and I’d give it one or two years—it could be used for disinformation or propaganda,” he says. “We’re trying to get ahead of this.”

Such technology could have beneficial uses, including summarizing text or improving the conversational skills of chatbots. Clark says he has even used the tool to generate passages in short science fiction stories with surprising success.

OpenAI does fundamental AI research but also plays an active role in highlighting the potential risks of artificial intelligence. The organization was involved with a 2018 report on the risks of AI, including opportunities for misinformation (see “These are the ‘Black Mirror’ Scenarios that are leading some experts to call for secrecy on AI”).

The OpenAI algorithm is not always convincing to the discerning reader. A lot of the time, when given a prompt, it produces superficially coherent gibberish or text that clearly seems to have been cribbed from online news sources.

It is, however, often remarkably good at producing realistic text, and it reflects recent advances in applying machine learning to language.

OpenAI made the text generation tool available for MIT Technology Review to test but, because of concerns about how the technology might be misused, will make only a simplified version publicly available. The institute is publishing a research paper outlining the work. 

Progress in artificial intelligence is gradually helping machines gain a better grasp of language. Recent work has made progress by feeding general-purpose machine-learning algorithms very large amounts of text. The OpenAI program takes this to a new level: the system was fed 45 million pages from the web, chosen via the website Reddit. And in contrast to most language algorithms, the OpenAI program does not require labeled or curated text. It simply learns to recognize patterns in the data it’s fed.

Richard Socher, an expert on natural-language processing and the chief scientist at Salesforce, says the OpenAI work is a good example of a more general-purpose language learning system. “I think these general learning systems are the future,” he wrote in an e-mail. 

On the other hand, Socher is less concerned about the potential for deception and misinformation. “You don’t need AI to create fake news,” he says. “People can easily do it :)”

Southern Thailand’s Fractured Peace Process at a Crossroads


SITUATION REPORTS - February 15, 2019

By Michael Hart

The shock return to power of political veteran Mahathir Mohamad in Kuala Lumpur last May signaled not only a new dawn for Malaysia, but also fresh hope of a peaceful resolution to a decades-old conflict raging across the border in southern Thailand. The 93-year-old Mahathir, returning for a second stint as Malaysia’s prime minister, has long held an interest in securing peace in Thailand’s troubled Deep South, where separatist Muslim insurgents have fought the military for independence since the 1950s.

After a high-level meeting in Bangkok last October between Mahathir and the head of Thailand’s ruling military junta, Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha, both sides appointed new peace envoys and initial talks began in January. The early signs were remarkably positive. Thailand, for the first time, voiced a willingness to consider making concessions on autonomy and political decentralization, while indicating a desire to bring the most powerful rebel group, Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), back to the negotiating table.

Yet the fleeting peace process hit an unexpected snag earlier this month, when the head of the Thai negotiating team, retired army general Udomchai Thammasarorat, failed to turn up for a scheduled meeting in the Malaysian capital. The no-show left Malaysian mediator Abdul Rahim Noor ‘shocked,’ and drew an angry response from rebel groups. Mara Patani, an umbrella organization representing a series of rebel factions, responded by ruling-out further participation until after Thai national elections are held in late March, while the rogue BRN vowed to continue its armed struggle for independence.

With support from Malaysia assured, can southern Thailand’s fractured peace process overcome this early setback and – with elections looming – navigate the choppy political waters which may lie ahead?


The roots of southern Thailand’s separatist insurgency

For seven decades, ethnic Malay Muslim separatist rebels have battled Thai security forces to establish an independent homeland in the four southern provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat, and Songkhla. The conflict-stricken region borders Muslim-majority Malaysia to the south, and was formerly part of the Islamic Sultanate of Patani, which was formed in 1516 and bordered the ancient kingdom of Siam to the north, which would later become modern-day Thailand. The region was annexed in the Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909 and incorporated into the Buddhist-majority Thai state, governed by Bangkok.

The region retained its local traditions and largely failed to assimilate with the rest of Thailand, leading to disenfranchisement among many residents and tensions over territorial control of the four southern provinces. By the late 1950s, a political independence campaign had been superseded by an emerging armed insurgency. For decades the conflict remained at a low-level until its intensification in 2004. During the past 15 years more than 7,000 people have been killed amid insurgent bombings, shootings, and assassinations, while the military has launched repeated crackdowns on rebel activity.

Peace talks started in 2015, a year after the Prayut-commanded military junta – formally labelled the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) – seized power from the democratically-elected regime of Yingluck Shinawatra in a bloodless coup. Yet negotiations have failed to make meaningful progress. The junta has initiated dialogue with the Mara Patani umbrella grouping, which represents a network of shadowy rebel units operating in the Deep South. Talks have been restricted because the BRN – the most powerful and influential rebel group, which controls most fighters on the ground – has declined to participate in the peace process due to the government’s refusal to allow international mediation. The junta views the conflict as an internal and domestic matter which should not be internationalized.

Another more deeply-ingrained sticking point concerns the rebels’ demand for independence. While the junta and all previous Bangkok administrations have maintained a blunt, non-negotiable position opposed to allowing the south to break away, the junta has also until-recently refused to consider granting autonomy or any kind of political devolution to the south, reflecting the military’s long-term preoccupation with preserving the territorial integrity of the state.


Malaysia’s Mahathir reinvigorates the peace process

Talks remained stalled until the shock election victory of Mahathir in mid-2018. Thailand and Malaysia have long enjoyed strong bilateral ties, while Mahathir’s return – as a respected elder statesman in Southeast Asia with a strong personal interest in regional peace-making – lent fresh impetus to the peace process. Malaysia also has a long-standing interest in helping to resolve the conflict for several vital geo-strategic reasons. Kuala Lumpur feels a sense of duty to ensure an environment of peace and prosperity for ethnic Malay Muslims living in southern Thailand, while also wanting to avoid worsening instability and violence along its northern border, which could result in unmanageable refugee flows. Concerns over the suspected presence of ISIS sympathizers in Malaysia and the potential for weapons to be smuggled via rebels operating in Thailand’s volatile south have also incentivized Malaysia to act.

When Mahathir met Gen. Prayut in late-2018, both leaders were optimistic in tone, and spoke of their shared desire to resolve the conflict. Mahathir pledged to help ‘in whatever way possible to end this violence in the south,’ calling for better co-operation on the issue ‘between two friendly neighbors.’ Gen. Prayut said although the insurgency is considered a ‘domestic problem,’ dialogue would ‘resume immediately with Malaysia as the facilitator,’ without giving a specific timeline for fresh negotiations.

After the appointment of representatives for both countries, initial meetings were held at the start of January. Early indications were positive. Malaysian facilitator Abdul Rahim Noor said he was optimistic the conflict could end within two years, while Thai negotiator Udomchai Thammasarorat said Bangkok would consider devolving powers or allowing a ‘special administrative zone,’ having taken advice from Mahathir. However, it was stated that independence or separation would remain off the table. On 11 January, Udomchai confirmed ‘low-level’ talks had been held with ‘all groups’ involved in the process.

Yet just weeks later, the peace process stands on the brink of collapse after Udomchai failed to attend an introductory meeting with Mara Patani representatives scheduled for 4 February in Kuala Lumpur. The move took the Malaysian facilitating team by surprise and drew an angry reaction from the rebel leadership. Udomchai claimed he would only meet Mara Patani chief Sukree Haree one-on-one, and had never agreed to the pre-arranged meeting with a larger rebel delegation. A Mara Patani statement condemned the Thai panel’s ‘unacceptable attitude’ and ‘hidden agenda,’ calling for Udomchai to be replaced by someone with ‘more credibility.’ Mara Patani has now suspended its participation in talks until after the Thai national election, set for 24 March. The BRN had already rejected involvement and released a video message in early-January, which vowed to ‘fight with all our might’ for independence.

Little over a month in, talks have ended and the revived peace process already stands at a crossroads.


Can the peace process outride upcoming hurdles?

The most immediate obstacle facing the peace process is the upcoming Thai election, set for March. The election has been pushed back repeatedly since the junta came to power in 2014, and may bring a return to democratic governance for the first time in five years. A return to democracy would leave things in the south uncertain: talks would likely be reset and the Thai negotiating team would change, while a new government in Bangkok would have more immediate priorities, such as securing its grip on power after half-a-decade of military rule. Malaysia is also due to undergo a leadership transition, with Mahathir having pledged to give way to successor Anwar Ibrahim within the next few years. This is likely to be a smooth change and would have only a minimal effect on the peace process. However, the charismatic Mahathir, who has invested much time and energy in the process, would be a big loss.

If the Thai junta does stay in power, it remains to be seen whether autonomy will remain on the table. The junta has recently, for the first time, demonstrated a willingness to make concessions and devolve power to some degree, but after the election may revert to its previous policy of initiating a low-key and slow-moving peace dialogue while at the same time hoping to see the insurgency fizzle out on the ground. In this sense, the junta sees the conflict as a low-level nuisance, isolated and confined to the remote southern provinces, rather than as a conflict representing a major threat to national security.

It would certainly suit the next Thai government – whether civilian-led or military-controlled – for the insurgency to die out without the need for talks. Evidence does suggest violence has declined in recent years, with monitoring group Deep South Watch reporting 218 deaths in 2018, down from 235 in 2017 and 892 at the conflict’s peak in 2007. Yet insurgent groups have been resilient enough to persist for decades, while a spate of attacks in early-2019 suggests the security situation may be deteriorating once again. Insurgent groups certainly retain the ability to inflict harm. On 21 January, rebels shot dead two monks at a Buddhist temple in Narathiwat, while other attacks have targeted school guards and policemen.

Some have even raised concerns over ISIS infiltration, as has been witnessed in other conflict zones in Southeast Asia. In 2017, ISIS-aligned militants laid siege to the southern Philippine city of Marawi for five months, and retain a presence in the country after joining-up with local Muslim insurgent groups. However, there has to-date been no documented evidence of ISIS fighters in southern Thailand, while throughout its history the conflict has remained purely separatist and ethno-nationalist in nature. It is unlikely the BRN or Mara Patani would risk accepting ISIS recruits into their ranks, as adopting a violent jihadist ideology would erode local support among moderate Muslims and encourage a firmer military crackdown in the region, supported by global actors. Aside from lingering fears of ISIS infiltration, the prospect of further civilian suffering and impoverishment due to the insurgency persisting in its existing separatist form may yet serve as a strong enough imperative for both sides to seek a political solution.


Future forecast: is autonomy a realistic solution?

If the peace process survives the expected turbulence of the next few months, the process is likely to re-start with only informal talks and trust-building mechanisms, with Malaysia retaining its traditional role as impartial mediator. Both the Thai government and the rebel leadership must demonstrate a genuine willingness to compromise before formal dialogue can begin. The junta – or a newly-elected civilian administration – will need to show openness to an autonomous political settlement based on some form of decentralized governance. The rebels – including the BRN and all factions represented by Mara Patani – will need to resolve their differences and negotiate on an alternative outcome to full independence. Independence remains unattainable, no matter the type of government in Bangkok.

Two precedents for such a compromise settlement already exist in Southeast Asia. Separatist rebels in Indonesia’s Aceh province signed a peace accord with Jakarta in 2005, while a 30,000-strong Muslim insurgent organization based on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao signed an autonomy settlement with Manila just last year, which it is hoped will eventually bring an end to decades of war. Both conflicts started out as violent struggles for independence by heavily-armed Muslim insurgents. In both instances, violence has significantly de-escalated after compromise settlements were reached.

The history of peace processes in these regions shows that negotiations in southern Thailand are likely to be fraught and littered with setbacks. Securing an elusive peace in Thailand’s Deep South will require a sustained, long-term effort marked by patience, resolve, and compromise on both sides.

Huawei: UK say "there are ways to limit risks"

The Trump administration has been pressuring U.S. allies around the globe to follow its lead in banning Chinese telecom giant Huawei from sensitive 5G networks at the very least. In the second half of 2018, Australia, New Zealand, and then Japan all did so.

Germany appeared to be leaning against the idea of banning Huawei outright earlier this month — Bloomberg reported, “Cabinet members from Merkel’s administration…concluded that singling out Huawei from a list of suppliers was not legally viable.”

The U.K. is now also leaning toward “mitigating” safety risk from Huawei, rather than banning its equipment outright, the Financial Times reports (paywall). The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), a wing of the British intelligence agency GCHQ, has “determined that there are ways to limit the risks,” two sources told the paper.

Barkha Dutt stoops to new low, attempts to shift focus from Pulwama attacks


 by rightlog.in News Desk 

In utter nonsense and disgusting way, the liberal media has launched a sustained campaign to shift focus from the Pulwama attack by inventing imaginary attacks on Kashmiris all over India. However, when their brazen attempt has been debunked thoroughly, the flag bearer of liberal media, Barkha Dutt does something that is a fresh low even for her standard.

In order to divert the attention from the heinous attack, these propaganda peddlers pushed a narrative that Kashmiris are being targeted across India. On Saturday, almost simultaneously and in a coordinated manner, multiple mouthpieces of the liberal cabal including Shehla Rashid, Barkha Dutt, and others tweeted about imaginary attacks on Kashmiris. One such tentative incident is the report of ‘gherao’ of a Kashmiri girl’s hostel in Uttarakhand. However, Uttarakhand Police debunked these reports stating that no such incident took place.

In the meantime, Barkha Dutt and other liberal establishment’s mouthpieces carried on with the pretense and shared their numbers to help the ‘Kashmiris under attack’ on social media. No one knows what happened in the backend of the incident; but today, Barkha took to Twitter and uploaded a highly objectionable image which she claimed she had received from a ‘nationalist’ and then without offering any evidence she went on to blame nationalism for the image.


The incident shows utter shamelessness and negligence of Barkha Dutt. This is a matter of sexual harassment and Barkha should have turned to police and lodged an FIR against it. However, that would be a simple approach and Barkha won’t be getting that much attention. The incident clearly ponders the fact that Barkha can do anything to be in limelight. Moreover, this is a nauseating attempt of the ‘epitome of hypocrisy’ to distract the nation from the real issue.

The ‘saviour of democracy’ can go to any extent to damage the thread of national integrity of India. People like Barkha Dutt, Sagarika Ghose and Sanjukta Basu even had the gall of labeling the attacks as a ‘conspiracy hatched by BJP for 2019 elections’. To make matters worse, news agencies like India Today and Scroll even pulled out all stops to whitewash the suicide bomber, Adil Ahmed Dar. This reveals the extent to which the liberal cabal is going to shift the focus from attacks even if it means spreading fake news.