Situational awareness: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted a year-in-review message today declaring he is "proud of the progress we've made."
- Zuckerberg started 2018 with a pledge to "fix" Facebook's myriad problems with data privacy, misinformation, content moderation and user trust.
1 big thing: The robot arms race
While the U.S. military builds out a robot support force and debates how much autonomy those robots should be given, China and Russia seem to be having no such reservations.
Driving the news: "At stake is a contract worth almost half a billion dollars for 3,000 backpack-sized robots that can defuse bombs and scout enemy positions," the AP's Matt O'Brien reports.
- "The Army’s immediate plans alone envision a new fleet of 5,000 ground robots of varying sizes and levels of autonomy. The Marines, Navy and Air Force are making similar investments."
- "'My personal estimate is that robots will play a significant role in combat inside of a decade or a decade and a half,' the chief of the Army, Gen. Mark Milley, said in May."
Between the lines: "The big fight over small robots opens a window into the intersection of technology and national defense and shows how fear that China could surpass the U.S. drives even small tech startups to play geopolitics to outmaneuver rivals."
- "It also raises questions about whether defense technology should be sourced solely to American companies to avoid the risk of tampering by foreign adversaries."
- "Concerns that popular commercial drones made by Chinese company DJI could be vulnerable to spying led the Army to ban their use by soldiers in 2017."
- "And in August, the Pentagon published a report that said China is conducting espionage to acquire foreign military technologies."
- "At a December defense expo in Egypt, some U.S. firms spotted what they viewed as Chinese knock-offs of their robots."
What's next: "It will be a while... before any of these robots become fully autonomous."
- But the "military could soon feel compelled to develop fully autonomous systems if rivals do the same. Or, as with drones, humans will still pull the trigger, but a far-away robot will lob the bombs."
Bonus: Pic du jour
Workers make a 20-meter-tall snowman beside the Songhua River in Harbin, Heilongjiang Province of China. More than 50 workers used over 2,400 tons of snow to build the snowman.
2. What you missed
- The death rate of children and teenagers from opioid poisoning almost tripled between 1999 and 2016, with nearly three quarters of them from prescription medicines. Go deeper.
- Nancy Pelosi says that the climate panel she's setting up as Democrats assume House control will be called the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. Go deeper.
- Larry Ellison has been brought on as a new Tesla board member. Go deeper.
- The Trump administration announced a plan that would weaken restrictions on coal-fired power plants, allowing them to release mercury and other pollutants linked to respiratory illnesses into the atmosphere, the New York Times reports.
- Teachers and public education employees in the U.S. quit at the fastest rate ever recorded in 2018, the Wall Street Journal reports.
- P.S. Here's Barack Obama's year-end list of his favorite movies, books and music.
3. 1 designer baby thing
It turns out that many Americans are partially on board with designer babies, a new AP/NORC poll revealed today.
- Driving the news: 2/3 of Americans also favor it to prevent non-fatal conditions that could also be developed later in life, such as blindness and cancers.
- Between the lines: 85% of Americans are concerned about risks such as altering the wrong DNA spot.
The bottom line: 70% of Americans don't want it used to alter physical appearance and intelligence.