In August, International Affairs has teamed up with the Future Strategy Forum for the ‘Pandemic Politics’ series on US politics and the COVID-19 pandemic. International Affairs’ 50:50 in 2020 initiative is partnering with the FSF to support its mission of amplifying the expertise of women and share the insights of PhD students on COVID-19 and grand strategy; the military; and democracy.
This week in Pandemic Politics, Julie George’s introduction, as well as Katrina Ponti’s, Dakota Foster’s, and John R. Emery’s blogposts discuss COVID-19, democracy and governance.
SKYNET was once best known as the artificial general superintelligence system that serves as the main antagonist in the 1984 film The Terminator, but the title has taken on a new relevance in the past decade. SKYNET refers to an actual machine-learning algorithm which was utilized in the covert CIA targeted-killing program in Pakistan, specifically determining ‘legitimate targets’ for drone strikes. This program was brought to light by The Intercept in 2015 after the publication received leaked documents including an NSA PowerPoint from 2012 which highlighted their role in a cloud-based behavior analytics program drawing on Pakistani mobile phone metadata. In a morbid example of techno-fetishization, the program is underpinned by a ‘ridiculously optimistic’ machine-learning algorithm that could, it was claimed, predict someones’s probability of ‘terroristness’. SKYNET pieces together daily routines (where you travel, who you travel with, whether you power down or swap SIM cards frequently) and then utilizes an algorithm to ‘predict’ whether your behaviour makes you statistically worthy of targeting in drone strikes, based solely on your ‘pattern of life’. These means of war are disturbing enough when used internationally, but when SKYNET comes home, it produces the prospect of near total surveillance of protests.
Communities of colour in the US have long been the testing ground for ‘predictive policing’ technologies that have failed spectacularly and contribute to the disproportionate targeting of the black community. This pattern has continued in the official response to the recent Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests…