Dec 28, 2018

Axios PM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

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

Nerekhta military robot at the Army 2018 International Military and Technical Forum in Russia. Photo: Sergei Bobylev\TASS via Getty Images

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
Photo: VCG via Getty Images

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
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Larry Ellison has been brought on as a new Tesla board member. Go deeper.
  4. 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.
  5. Teachers and public education employees in the U.S. quit at the fastest rate ever recorded in 2018, the Wall Street Journal reports.
  6. 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.

Mike Allen