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We need to build more networks of women in science

MD Staff

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photo: UN Environment

Why science?

I was born in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania with family roots in Usangi, near Mount Kilimanjaro. I was lucky. My parents were community organizers in our village, educated in finance and economics during pre-independent Tanzania. They were not scientists, but they had a clear vision for all their six children—that we would all study science. So it was a bit of a nudge followed by encouragement. They were firm believers that we needed a strong grounding in science so we could analyze the world and do anything we wanted to. They believed science provided strong analytical foundation and flexibility to pursue either science or non-science careers later in life. I am grateful for my parents’ vision of science for their girls and boys.

We were an unusual family compared to the norm in East Africa at that time. Some of my brothers are now doctors, engineers, accountants, and I have a sister who audits information technology systems for a living. A lot of people commented that it wasn’t the “right profession for women” but I was drawn to science because I was curious. And no matter what else I do in life now, I find I have that tendency to prod people and ideas a bit more than is typical.

How hard was it to grow up in East Africa with an interest in science?

In the ‘70s and ‘80s when I was growing up, there were a lot of good missionary schools which had a strong grounding in science. But it was not common for a girl to take physics, chemistry and biology. I had a wonderful headmistress and mentor, Mama Kamm, who believed that girls should do science, and cooking, and needlework! I then obtained a degree in immunology and biochemistry. But it became clear to me how male-dominated this field really was when I went to science competitions or events, and found myself one of the very few women participating. It seemed daunting at the time, but it helped me build the resilience I would later need to work in other male-dominated environments. That, and growing up with four brothers and a family that allowed me to compete with them.

What obstacles did you face when you left Tanzania?

I went to Glasgow, Scotland to pursue a science degree and found that if there were few women studying science at university, even fewer were from Africa. So there, I became a young African woman scientist. It was isolating, and I really had no one to look up to as a role model. This was one of the hardest parts of pursuing science. When I moved to Canada to study microbiology and immunology, it was clear that I had to work much harder than my male colleagues because expectations were so much lower for me as an African woman. I also learned that I needed to develop my own support networks for my science ambition. Because I was abroad, I had to be open to networking with non-Tanzanians: my interest in science became the glue of some of the relationships I developed then.

What perceptions need to change so more girls and women choose science as a career?

Family perception is everything. I was lucky, but not many are. Second, is the perception of your peer group. A lot of who you become in life is influenced by the people around you in your formative years. Third, societal pressure is a big hindrance. How are you perceived by your neighbours, or your friends or teachers? I think that as a girl in science you have to find a way to persevere despite those three levels of pressure. It is important to find how to build networks of women like yourself, and call on them for support and reassurance. Many of my classmates in the girls boarding school where I grew up run important scientific institutions in Tanzania, and even now, no matter where I am in the world, I reach out to this group of friends for support. Our headmistress Mama Kamm transformed the science and girls agenda in Tanzania—we still look up to her for inspiration and admiration. We have our own cohort of women who studied science. But you also have to remember that your network has to include men, because as women, we can learn from them and also count on them as our champions to change some of the misconceptions about girls and science. For example, in my case, I observed early on that my male peers tended to question authority and decisions much more than I did. When I first left Tanzania to study science, it never occurred to me to ask why my paper hadn’t been published, but a man will never shy away from asking that question. I decided to learn from these colleagues and adjusted my professional behavior accordingly.

How can more girls and women choose science as a career?

You have to address self-doubt because expectations from women are often very different and lower than from our male peers. We need to have many more role models. When I was growing up, there were not many women I could look up to and think “I want to be like her.” But technology has made finding these role models so much easier today. We need to use our personal stories to inspire girls. Science provided me with the fundamental DNA to do anything in my life. So while I started my career as a researcher, I later branched out to public health and policy, and today, to environment. It was my scientific foundation that made this possible. This is what I really enjoy about my new role at UN Environment: we inform the global environmental agenda through work that is grounded in science. And so the curiosity continues.

What opportunities do environmental science offer?

Environmental science is a rapidly expanding field, and as our awareness of environmental issues grows, there are more career options within environmental science for girls and women. You can pursue a degree in public health and decide to focus on environmental pollution, for example. So there are many more opportunities and options. For women, life is never clear cut and dry, no matter how much we try—we are far more nuanced in our approach to just about anything, including science. This is why I feel environmental science can only become stronger if we have more women in research, because we often bring the human angle into the science. For us to make a difference in this field, we have to start with and think of people and humanity—the social aspects of environment are equally important. These are exciting opportunities for girls and women!

UN Environment

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5G: A Geostrategic sector for Algorithmic finance

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The last ones were days of increasing tensions between the two biggest economic superpowers, the USA and China. The geopolitical crescendo seems to become always more intense, and the two giants are trying to build up two strong alignments against one another in a competition that Bloomberg defines a “Cold War 2.0.” or a “Tech War”. The implementation of 5G technologies plays a fundamental role in this “rush to the infrastructures” also due to their linkages with the “High-Frequency Trading” world; the sector of contemporary finance based on always faster algorithms and huge Data Centres that require strong software and the analysis of tons and tons of information to predict stocks fluctuations hence “to do God’s work” as Lloyd Blankfein (the actual Senior Chairman of Goldman Sachs) said in 2009 [1].

In the article “Digital Cold War” Marc Champion describes his strongly polarized vision of the global scenario in which the conflict would take place like two technological ecospheres; with half of the world where people are carried around by driverless cars created by Baidu using Huawei 5G’s, chatting and paying with WeChat and buying on Alibaba with an internet connection strictly controlled and limited by the Great Firewall; while on the other part of the world people with a less controlled internet connection buy on Amazon and use other dominating companies e.g. Google, Tesla, Ericsson, and Facebook. The latter presented scenario is always more tangible, indeed it is enough to consider that the People’s Republic of China has equipped itself with an alternative system to the GPS (the instrument that following the theory of the PRC caused the downfall of two Chinese missiles sent during the conflict with Formosa), created by Baidu on the 23rd July 2020.

The presentation of scenarios in which the 5G plays a crucial role makes it necessary to give a closer look at what 5G technologies technically are. 5G (Fifth-generation) stands for the next major phase of mobile telecommunications standards beyond the 4G/IMT Advanced standards. Since the first generation, that was introduced in 1982, it is observable a remarkable growth of cellular communication of about 40% per year; these issues led mobile service providers to research new technologies and improved services, basing on the evidence that wireless communication networks have become much more pervasive. Therefore, aiming to fulfill the growing need of human being, 5G will be the network for millions of devices and not just for smartphones, hence it grants connectivity between sensors, vehicles, robots and drones; and it provides data speed up to 1 to 10 Gbps, and a faster connection for more people in a km2, thus the creation of smart cities.

It is now more evident that the implementation of the fifth-generation technologies offers strategic slides of power and control to the companies, and the linked geopolitical actors, that manage the infrastructures and the network band. Therefore, 5G technologies play a crucial geopolitical role, being inter alia fundamental for strategic sectors, such as the high-frequency trading (that we are going to discuss later), that sustain and orientate the world’s economy. This rush to the infrastructure, hence to the technological supremacy led to a crescendo of reprisals among the world’s most influential countries. If we give a closer look at the relations between the USA and China, the last years were characterized by increasing tensions, in the commercial relations, in military ones linked to the Indo-Pacific area and the Xinjiang, and lastly, tensions concerning the approach to face the COVID-19 threat. USA and China, as Kishore Mahbubani says seems no longer partners either in business; but to fully understand the actual situation in terms of 5G the concrete measures and imposed bans are going to be presented. The fact that Chinese companies, in particular Huawei and ZTE, began focusing on acquiring a lead in 5G intellectual property well before their global competitors (with an expense, indicated in their annual report, of about $600 million between 2009 and 2013; and a planned one of about $800 million in 2019), being now leading ones in the implementation of the technology, led the US to be more consternated about their national security and global influence. Therefore, in the geopolitical logic of 5G, the US keep acting to opt against China as a country that “exploit data”, indeed Mike Pompeo in an interview in 2019 said “We can’t forget these systems were designed by- with the express (desire to) work alongside the Chinese PLS, their military in China”; while on the other side China has responded with a campaign that blends propaganda, persuasion, and incentives with threats and economic coercion, offering massive investments plans, aiming to reach the now well known “Belt and Road Initiative”. The Trump administration effectively banned executive agencies from using or procuring Huawei and ZTE telecommunication equipment with the National Defense Authorization Act signed in 2018, a ban that was challenged by Huawei in the court and obtained a favourable verdict; a ban that was later re-proposed in May 2019 with an executive order; that was followed by the US Commerce Department placing Huawei and 68 affiliates on an Entity List, a document that conditions the sale or transfer of American technology to that entities unless they have a special license; however the latter restrictions were imposed just for 90 days after the failure of the 11th round of trade talks between China and the US. Canada is another country with deteriorated relations with Beijing, after the arrest of Meng, who was extradited from the US territory. Furthermore, in recent days, as revealed by The Wall Street Journal, the UK announced that is going to ban Huawei 5G technologies from 2027, following the US imposition, and Beijing responded considering a possible ban on Chinese elements for the Finnish Nokia and the Swedish Ericsson. While the European Union keeps struggling to face the situation as a Union, and political reprisals between these two States occur e.g. the closure of the Chinese consulates in Huston and San Francisco and the closure of the US’ one in Chengdu;  in a geopolitical context, the US are trying to build a strong anti-Chinese alignment in the Indo-Pacific area, with the support of countries like the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand; also following the logic that in a strategic scenario the geopolitical actors, between two competitors States tends to choose the side of the farthest one. Another actor that could tip the balance in this global scenario is India; that following a government study of August 2018 could hit the national income of about $1 trillion by 2035 with the implementation of 5G technologies, improving the governance capacity, and enabling healthcare delivery, energy grid management and urban planning. However, high levels of automation and dependence on a communication network, if it would follow the investment plan proposed by Huawei (but also an extreme inclination to the US), could bring security threats and lack of supremacy, hence “voice” in a global scenario.

After having analysed the geopolitical patterns of 5G implementation, it is time to analyse a strategic sector linked to the fifth-generation technologies, which is the “engine” of the World’s economy, the finance. There are some milestones that have made national markets global ones; within what is called the “rebellion of the machines” that led the financial world to be totally based on algorithms hence on speed. The first one was the introduction of the Telegraph, introduced in 1848, and that both with the new Galena and Chicago Railroad promoted the born of the Chicago Board of Trade. The telegraph carried anthropological changes hence it was fundamental for the division between the price and the goods; and it seems to have carried with itself big changes in the finance world, the same thing 5G will do in our scenario. Among all the events that led to the second phase of the “rebellion” there is what happened in 2000, when after merging with other European markets, thanks to SuperCAC, the Paris stock exchange took the name EURONEXT. Later in 2007, the second phase of the rebellion took place in an increasingly globalized scenario; where the tech was already part of the finance, and there were a lot of digitalized platforms to trade-in. Therefore, following the development of the digital world The Chicago Mercantile Exchange created his own platform Globex, which in 2007 merged with the CBOT’s one Aurora that was based on a weak band network of about 19,2 kb. The banks created black boxes so dark that it would not allow them to be in control anymore; a very different situation from the conditions established by the Buttonwood agreement of 1792, the act at the basis of the birth of the second world market after that of Philadelphia which provided for the sale of securities between traders without going through intermediaries. Subsequently, the steps that favoured the rise of trading platforms, the development of adaptive algorithms based on the laws of physics and, mathematics and biology, were multiple, which therefore led to the development of what is called phynanza. In the 2000s the most influential banking groups, Goldman Sachs, Crédit Suisse, BNP Paribas, Barclays, Deutsche Bank, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, through a strong deregulation and lobbying activities have directed the markets towards their deeper turning point; in an era in which the headquarters of the stock exchanges are not physical and the core bodies of the  exchange markets are in the suburbs where large spaces and the technological infrastructures of network and data transmissions allow the creation of huge data centers, where powerful software, cooling systems and adaptive algorithms give life to the daily oscillations of global finance. Algorithms like Iceberg, that splits a large volume of orders into small portions, so that the entirety of the initial volume escapes the “nose of the hounds”; or Shark that identifies orders shipped in small quantities to glimpse the big order that Is hiding behind; or Dagger, a Citibank algorithm launched in 2012 that like Stealth, Deutsche Bank’s algorithm, is looking for more liquid values, and also Sumo of Knight Capital, a high frequency trading company that alone trades an amount of about $ 20 billion a day; and there are many others, from Sonar, Aqua, Ninja and Guerrilla.

It is clear that to support such an articulated financial apparatus it is necessary to connect and analyze data with microsecond accuracy. Therefore, another example of 5G geostrategy in finance is Coriolis 2, an oceanographic ship created in 2010 by Seaforth Geosurveys that offers maritime engineering solutions. Notably, among their clients there is Hibernia Atlantic; an underwater communication network, that connects North America to Europe, created in 2000 at a cost of 1 billion. The New Jersey office manufactures transatlantic cables that rent to telecommunications companies like Google and Facebook, obviously not to improve the circulation of stupid comments on social networks. The ship is preparing the construction of “dark fiber” cables, and the technical management and the end-use are by Hibernia who may not share the band with anyone. The peculiar thing is that who ordered the cable, Hibernia, was created specifically for financial market operators and it is part of the Global Financial Network (GFN), which manages 24.000Km of optical fiber that connects more than 120 markets. This new fiber at the cost of 300 million, will allow to gain 6 milliseconds, a time that a USA-UE investment fund can use to earn £100 million dollars more per year. The transmission networks are fundamental in guaranteeing trading and in high frequency and the motto has changed from “time is money” to “speed is money”.

Bibliography

[1] Laumonier A., 2018. 6/5, Not, Nero collection, Roma.
[2] Kewalramani M., Kanisetti A. 5G, Huawei & Geopolitics: An Indian Roadmap. 2019, Takshashila institution; Discussion document.

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AI Is Neither the Terminator Nor a Benevolent Super Being

Anastasia Tolstukhina

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Digitalization and the development of artificial intelligence (AI) bring up many philosophical and ethical questions about the role of man and robot in the nascent social and economic order. How real is the threat of an AI dictatorship? Why do we need to tackle AI ethics today? Does AI provide breakthrough solutions? We ask these and other questions in our interview with Maxim Fedorov, Vice-President for Artificial Intelligence and Mathematical Modelling at Skoltech.

On 1–3 July, Maxim Fedorov chaired the inaugural Trustworthy AI online conference on AI transparency, robustness and sustainability hosted by Skoltech.

Maxim, do you think humanity already needs to start working out a new philosophical model for existing in a digital world whose development is determined by artificial intelligence (AI) technologies?

The fundamental difference between today’s technologies and those of the past is that they hold up a “mirror” of sorts to society. Looking into this mirror, we need to answer a number of philosophical questions. In times of industrialization and production automation, the human being was a productive force. Today, people are no longer needed in the production of the technologies they use. For example, innovative Japanese automobile assembly plants barely have any people at the floors, with all the work done by robots. The manufacturing process looks something like this: a driverless robot train carrying component parts enters the assembly floor, and a finished car comes out. This is called discrete manufacturing – the assembly of a finite set of elements in a sequence, a task which robots manage quite efficiently. The human being is gradually being ousted from the traditional economic structure, as automated manufacturing facilities generally need only a limited number of human specialists. So why do we need people in manufacturing at all? In the past, we could justify our existence by the need to earn money or consume, or to create jobs for others, but now this is no longer necessary. Digitalization has made technologies a global force, and everyone faces philosophical questions about their personal significance and role in the modern world – questions we should be answering today, and not in ten years when it will be too late.

At the last World Economic Forum in Davos, there was a lot of discussion about the threat of the digital dictatorship of AI. How real is that threat in the foreseeable future?

There is no evil inherent in AI. Technologies themselves are ethically neutral. It is people who decide whether to use them for good or evil.

Speaking of an AI dictatorship is misleading. In reality, technologies have no subjectivity, no “I.” Artificial intelligence is basically a structured piece of code and hardware. Digital technologies are just a tool. There is nothing “mystical” about them either.

My view as a specialist in the field is that AI is currently a branch of information and communications technology (ICT). Moreover, AI does not even “live” in an individual computer. For a person from the industry, AI is a whole stack of technologies that are combined to form what is called “weak” AI.

We inflate the bubble of AI’s importance and erroneously impart this technology stack with subjectivity. In large part, this is done by journalists, people without a technical education. They discuss an entity that does not actually exist, giving rise to the popular meme of an AI that is alternately the Terminator or a benevolent super-being. This is all fairy tales. In reality, we have a set of technological solutions for building effective systems that allow decisions to be made quickly based on big data.

Various high-level committees are discussing “strong” AI, which will not appear for another 50 to 100 years (if at all). The problem is that when we talk about threats that do not exist and will not exist in the near future, we are missing some real threats. We need to understand what AI is and develop a clear code of ethical norms and rules to secure value while avoiding harm.

Sensationalizing threats is a trend in modern society. We take a problem that feeds people’s imaginations and start blowing it up. For example, we are currently destroying the economy around the world under the pretext of fighting the coronavirus. What we are forgetting is that the economy has a direct influence on life expectancy, which means that we are robbing many people of years of life. Making decisions based on emotion leads to dangerous excesses.

As the philosopher Yuval Noah Harari has said, millions of people today trust the algorithms of Google, Netflix, Amazon and Alibaba to dictate to them what they should read, watch and buy. People are losing control over their lives, and that is scary.

Yes, there is the danger that human consciousness may be “robotized” and lose its creativity. Many of the things we do today are influenced by algorithms. For example, drivers listen to their sat navs rather than relying on their own judgment, even if the route suggested is not the best one. When we receive a message, we feel compelled to respond. We have become more algorithmic. But it is ultimately the creator of the algorithm, not the algorithm itself, that dictates our rules and desires.

There is still no global document to regulate behaviour in cyberspace. Should humanity perhaps agree on universal rules and norms for cyberspace first before taking on ethical issues in the field of AI?

I would say that the issue of ethical norms is primary. After we have these norms, we can translate them into appropriate behaviour in cyberspace. With the spread of the internet, digital technologies (of which AI is part) are entering every sphere of life, and that has led us to the need to create a global document regulating the ethics of AI.

But AI is a component part of information and communications technologies (ICT). Maybe we should not create a separate track for AI ethics but join it with the international information security (IIS) track? Especially since IIS issues are being actively discussed at the United Nations, where Russia is a key player.

There is some justification for making AI ethics a separate track, because, although information security and AI are overlapping concepts, they are not embedded in one another. However, I agree that we can have a separate track for information technology and then break it down into sub-tracks where AI would stand alongside other technologies. It is a largely ontological problem and, as with most problems of this kind, finding the optimal solution is no trivial matter.

You are a member of the international expert group under UNESCO that is drafting the first global recommendation on the ethics of AI. Are there any discrepancies in how AI ethics are understood internationally?

The group has its share of heated discussions, and members often promote opposing views. For example, one of the topics is the subjectivity and objectivity of AI. During the discussion, a group of states clearly emerged that promotes the idea of subjectivity and is trying to introduce the concept of AI as a “quasi-member of society.” In other words, attempts are being made to imbue robots with rights. This is a dangerous trend that may lead to a sort of technofascism, inhumanity of such a scale that all previous atrocities in the history of our civilization would pale in comparison.

Could it be that, by promoting the concept of robot subjectivity, the parties involved are trying to avoid responsibility?

Absolutely. A number of issues arise here. First, there is an obvious asymmetry of responsibility. “Let us give the computer with rights, and if its errors lead to damage, we will punish it by pulling the plug or formatting the hard drive.” In other words, the responsibility is placed on the machine and not its creator. The creator gets the profit, and any damage caused is someone else’s problem. Second, as soon as we give AI rights, the issues we are facing today with regard to minorities will seem trivial. It will lead to the thought that we should not hurt AI but rather educate it (I am not joking: such statements are already being made at high-level conferences). We will see a sort of juvenile justice for AI. Only it will be far more terrifying. Robots will defend robot rights. For example, a drone may come and burn your apartment down to protect another drone. We will have a techno-racist regime, but one that is controlled by a group of people. This way, humanity will drive itself into a losing position without having the smallest idea of how to escape it.

Thankfully, we have managed to remove any inserts relating to “quasi-members of society” from the group’s agenda.

We chose the right time to create the Committee for Artificial Intelligence under the Commission of the Russian Federation for UNESCO, as it helped to define the main focus areas for our working group. We are happy that not all countries support the notion of the subjectivity of AI – in fact, most oppose it.

What other controversial issues have arisen in the working group’s discussions?

We have discussed the blurred border between AI and people. I think this border should be defined very clearly. Then we came to the topic of human-AI relationships, a term which implies the whole range of relationships possible between people. We suggested that “relationships” be changed to “interactions,” which met opposition from some of our foreign colleagues, but in the end, we managed to sort it out.

Seeing how advanced sex dolls have become, the next step for some countries would be to legalize marriage with them, and then it would not be long before people starting asking for church weddings. If we do not prohibit all of this at an early stage, these ideas may spread uncontrollably. This approach is backed by big money, the interests of corporations and a different system of values and culture. The proponents of such ideas include a number of Asian countries with a tradition of humanizing inanimate objects. Japan, for example, has a tradition of worshipping mountain, tree and home spirits. On the one hand, this instills respect for the environment, and I agree that, being a part of the planet, part of nature, humans need to live in harmony with it. But still, a person is a person, and a tree is a tree, and they have different rights.

Is the Russian approach to AI ethics special in any way?

We were the only country to state clearly that decisions on AI ethics should be based on a scientific approach. Unfortunately, most representatives of other countries rely not on research, but on their own (often subjective) opinion, so discussions in the working group often devolve to the lay level, despite the fact that the members are highly qualified individuals.

I think these issues need to be thoroughly researched. Decisions on this level should be based on strict logic, models and experiments. We have tremendous computing power, an abundance of software for scenario modelling, and we can model millions of scenarios at a low cost. Only after that should we draw conclusions and make decisions.

How realistic is the fight against the subjectification of AI if big money is at stake? Does Russia have any allies?

Everyone is responsible for their own part. Our task right now is to engage in discussions systematically. Russia has allies with matching views on different aspects of the problem. And common sense still prevails. The egocentric approach we see in a number of countries that is currently being promoted, this kind of self-absorption, actually plays into our hands here. Most states are afraid that humans will cease to be the centre of the universe, ceding our crown to a robot or a computer. This has allowed the human-centred approach to prevail so far.

If the expert group succeeds at drafting recommendations, should we expect some sort of international regulation on AI in the near future?

If we are talking about technical standards, they are already being actively developed at the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), where we have been involved with Technical Committee 164 “Artificial Intelligence” (TC 164) in the development of a number of standards on various aspects of AI. So, in terms of technical regulation, we have the ISO and a whole range of documents. We should also mention the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and its report on Ethically Aligned Design. I believe this document is the first full-fledged technical guide on the ethics of autonomous and intelligent systems, which includes AI. The corresponding technical standards are currently being developed.

As for the United Nations, I should note the Beijing Consensus on Artificial Intelligence and Education that was adopted by UNESCO last year. I believe that work on developing the relevant standards will start next year.

So the recommendations will become the basis for regulatory standards?

Exactly. This is the correct way to do it. I should also say that it is important to get involved at an early stage. This way, for instance, we can refer to the Beijing agreements in the future. It is important to make sure that AI subjectivity does not appear in the UNESCO document, so that it does not become a reference point for this approach.

Let us move from ethics to technological achievements. What recent developments in the field can be called breakthroughs?

We haven’t seen any qualitative breakthroughs in the field yet. Image recognition, orientation, navigation, transport, better sensors (which are essentially the sensory organs for robots) – these are the achievements that we have so far. In order to make a qualitative leap, we need a different approach.

Take the “chemical universe,” for example. We have researched approximately 100 million chemical compounds. Perhaps tens of thousands of these have been studied in great depth. And the total number of possible compounds is 1060, which is more than the number of atoms in the Universe. This “chemical universe” could hold cures for every disease known to humankind or some radically new, super-strong or super-light materials. There is a multitude of organisms on our planet (such as the sea urchin) with substances in their bodies that could, in theory, cure many human diseases or boost immunity. But we do not have the technology to synthesize many of them. And, of course, we cannot harvest all the sea urchins in the sea, dry them and make an extract for our pills. But big data and modelling can bring about a breakthrough in this field. Artificial intelligence can be our navigator in this “chemical universe.” Any reasonable breakthrough in this area will multiply our income exponentially. Imagine an AIDS or cancer medicine without any side effects, or new materials for the energy industry, new types of solar panels, etc. These are the kind of things that can change our world.

How is Russia positioned on the AI technology market? Is there any chance of competing with the United States or China?

We see people from Russia working in the developer teams of most big Asian, American and European companies. A famous example is Sergey Brin, co-founder and developer of Google. Russia continues to be a “donor” of human resources in this respect. It is both reassuring and disappointing because we want our talented guys to develop technology at home. Given the right circumstances, Yandex could have dominated Google.

As regards domestic achievements, the situation is somewhat controversial. Moscow today is comparable to San Francisco in terms of the number, quality and density of AI development projects. This is why many specialists choose to stay in Moscow. You can find a rewarding job, interesting challenges and a well-developed expert community.

In the regions, however, there is a concerning lack of funds, education and infrastructure for technological and scientific development. All three of our largest supercomputers are in Moscow. Our leaders in this area are the Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow State University and Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology – organizations with a long history in the sciences, rich traditions, a sizeable staff and ample funding. There are also some pioneers who have got off the ground quickly, such as Skoltech, and surpassed their global competitors in many respects. We recently compared Skoltech with a leading AI research centre in the United Kingdom and discovered that our institution actually leads in terms of publications and grants. This means that we can and should do world-class science in Russia, but we need to overcome regional development disparities.

Russia has the opportunity to take its rightful place in the world of high technology, but our strategy should be to “overtake without catching up.” If you look at our history, you will see that whenever we have tried to catch up with the West or the East, we have lost. Our imitations turned out wrong, were laughable and led to all sorts of mishaps. On the other hand, whenever we have taken a step back and synthesized different approaches, Asian or Western, without blindly copying them, we have achieved tremendous success.

We need to make a sober assessment of what is happening in the East and in the West and what corresponds to our needs. Russia has many unique challenges of its own: managing its territory, developing the resource industries and continuous production. If we are able to solve these tasks, then later we can scale up our technological solutions to the rest of the world, and Russian technology will be bought at a good price. We need to go down our own track, not one that is laid down according to someone else’s standards, and go on our way while being aware of what is going on around us. Not pushing back, not isolating, but synthesizing.

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India and outer space ambition: First crewed mission in 2021 and geopolitics involvements

Cristina Semeraro

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The Indian outer space programme has achieved an extraordinary progress in the last decade.

The country is already known as the “bright spot” of the global economy, relying on a vast internal market, a highly young population and as one of the most sustained growth rates among the BRICS: all characteristics which shape it one of the top ten economies in the world.

Additionally, India displays successful space missions in its portfolio along with its proficiency in operating low-cost space projects which have made it a tremendously esteemed role-player in the international environment.

The agenda for the 2020-2030 decade is busy and crammed with challenging missions planned to land on the Moon and found the first Indian solar observatory in 2020, orbit around Venus and Mars in the two-year period 2023-2024, engage the country’s first crewed orbital spaceflight mission in 2021 and install the first modular space station in 2030. Thus, this ambitious calendar is the square one to drive India to the top position among space-faring nations by the end of the decade.

The emerging advanced Industry 4.0 – made up of Artificial Intelligence (AI), autonomous robots, big data synthesis, hyper-automation and digital manufacturing – represents the core of the current decade: hardware and software technologies supplementing real and cyber rooms into cyber-physical systems are overcoming the past Industry 3.0 technologies which have been the fuel of space operations until now.

According to the India’s space history, in 1984, Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot Rakesh Sharma was the first and only Indian citizen to hazard the space aboard a Soviet rocket for a week-long stay on the Salyut 7 space station. By December 2021, the country is hell-bent on running its own crewed spaceflight programme, called Gaganyaan, consisting in the launch of three astronauts into low Earth orbit for one week. In order to heighten its odds at success, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is going to carry out two un-crewed test flights, respectively in December 2020 and July 2021. What really stands out from the past missions is the unveiled intention of launching a humanoid robot named Vyommitra into low Earth orbit, which will perform as a dummy astronaut for the first two test flights. Vyommitra is half-length but equipped with communication systems which enable it to perceive and transmit with astronauts. It is set up to react to its environment, develop life-support operations and simulate crew activities: all procedures which would – and will – assist in facing issues and ensure the safety of the crew’s life on board before its 2021-planned flight.

As laid out in the ISRO Report 2020, the human spaceflight represents a giant stepping stone in the long run towards technological breakthroughs and India cannot miss this golden opportunity.

However, although ISRO’s ambitions involve human spaceflight programme, the organisation does not have any know-how about astronaut training.

In light of this, it has followed a wake-up call for an international cooperation with Russia’s space agency Roscosmos and France. Specifically, since January 2020, four Indian Air Force (IAF) pilots have been attending a twelve-month-long programme at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center, near Moscow. The pilots-turned-astronauts are addressing an intensive physical and biomedical training, including a first focus on preparation for extra-ordinary flight circumstances and a second one on monitoring the health conditions of astronauts from take-off to landing.

Well, it may be that ISRO is not yet at the helm of crewed spaceflights, but it certainly cannot be said that India does not tend to exceed its limits and thrive in challenging environments.

The Mars Orbiter Missions (Chandrayaan-1 and -2) and 104 satellites launched at once time are excellent patterns proving how outer space has increasingly become a resource for escalating a national prestige whose both Indian citizens and the international community can benefit.

Likewise, the space has also turned into an expedient of foreign policy and diplomacy, as well as a stratagem for its military renovation. About this latter, in 2019, India has abandoned its traditional opposition to the space militarisation to embrace a new, more resolute approach with a view to its national space policy. Then, the country has established a Defence Space Agency (DSA) in 2019 which was already at that time forecasted to be a milestone towards shaking the ground of the space revolution. The DSA must team up with its civilian space agency partner, ISRO, to boost India’s technological capabilities in space affairs. In particular, both the agencies are expected to break the long-standing competition and distrust between civilian and military sectors by developing Industry 4.0 innovation ecosystems and enhancing Industry 4.0 automations and components in all their future projects and missions.

Moreover, on 24 June 2020, the Union Cabinet decided to institute a new body – Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe) – that will pursue a greater involvement of private industry, academy and research institutions in India’s space sector. IN-SPACe, which is predicted to reach its final operational capability within six months, will act as a junction point between ISRO and every like-minded private organisation which is determined to participate in research and development (R&D) of new technologies, exploration missions and human spaceflight programme.

The call for the private sector finds its origins in what the ISRO’s chairperson – Kailasavadivoo Sivan – stated during a recent interview. He declared that Indian industry had a barely three per cent share in a rapidly growing global space economy which was already worth at least $360 billion. Only two per cent of this market was for rocket and satellite launch services, which require fairly large infrastructure and heavy investment.

Despite profit-making and strategic reasons are crucial for the private involvement in the space sector, the Indian industry seems to be still unable to cater to the technological demands on its own.

Off to a rocky step, New Delhi should provide a strategic national space vision in the long term, evolve military dogmas, brainstorm new policies and change the geopolitics of the Region and the world at large.

If the above-mentioned Gaganyaan mission – meant to depart in 2021 – is successful, India will join the ranks of Russia, the U.S. and China in launching their own crews into space.

The geopolitical context that would follow up will meet the India’s growing role on the world stage and these diplomatic key results could be very convenient in turning tables for the United States: strengthening relations with India and making the country join the “table of the greatest ones” along with Europe and Russia, would isolate China, which is also on the hunt for extra-planetary successes.

From our partner International Affairs

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