4 May 2023

What the U.S.-China chip war means for India


In December 2021, as the world struggled with the Covid-19 pandemic, the tech sector faced an unanticipated challenge: an acute shortage of semiconductor chips. Taiwan is the world leader in semiconductor chip manufacturing, and the pandemic-triggered lockdowns increased delivery times for the chips. This walloped the production of everything, from cars to mobile phones.

Now, even as the pandemic-related bottlenecks have eased, conversations around semiconductor chips — tiny circuits that manage the flow of electric current in equipment and devices — refuse to go away. Semiconductors have, in fact, become a major geopolitical issue. They are at the heart of the ongoing trade war between Washington and Beijing, as the U.S. has banned the supply of advanced chip-making software to China.

Meanwhile, India has made an ambitious push to position itself as an alternative to China, announcing a $10-billion incentive plan to boost semiconductor manufacturing in the country. Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s goal of establishing India as a semiconductor manufacturing hub is still a work in progress. Over the past two decades, India has had two failed attempts to build semiconductor plants. The moment might pass in 2023, too, if the country doesn’t recognize its potential.

Rest of World met Pranay Kotasthane, chair of the High-Tech Geopolitics Programme at Takshashila Institution, a nonpartisan, nonprofit think tank based in Bengaluru, to talk about what the U.S.-China chip war means for India. His latest book Missing in Action looks at public policymaking in India and why the state functions the way it does. During the interview, Kotasthane talks about how chips became geopolitical flashpoints and the jumbled priorities of India’s semiconductor policy.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How did semiconductors become a geopolitical issue?

Population Control Is Back in India

Anchal Vohra

A minister in the northeast Indian state of Nagaland last year called on Indians to contribute to a sustainable future by refusing to have children and joining his self-declared “singles movement.” “Let us be sensible towards the issues of population growth,” Temjen Imna Along tweeted, “or #StaySingle like me.” Meanwhile, growing numbers of Indian millennials are deciding against having children for environmental reasons.

India-China Relations: Still Bogged Down

Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan

India and China had two meetings in the last week, but it does not appear to give much hope that the relations between the two countries are recovering. If anything, it illustrates that there is no progress whatsoever.

The first meeting was the India-China Corps Commander level talks that were held on April 23 to address the border standoff, the 18th such meeting since the confrontation began and four months since the previous meeting. The second meeting was between Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh and his Chinese counterpart, General Li Shangfu, who was in India for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) defense ministers meeting, held in India on April 27-28.

As for the meeting between military commanders at the border, going by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs press release and media reports that cite officials who spoke on background, India and China are miles apart in terms of disengaging their military forces. These forces have been concentrated at the border in unprecedented strength and on high alert for three years now. A Ministry of External Affairs press release on the military talks said that the two sides had “a frank and in-depth discussion” in order “to restore peace and tranquility in the border areas, which will enable progress in bilateral relations.”

According to media reports, two sides exchanged “proposals and counter-proposals” during the military talks, with the Indian side pushing for disengagement of forces “at the strategically-located Depsang Bulge area and the Charding Ninglung Nallah (CNN) track junction at Demchok as the first step” that can then lead to gradual de-escalation and disengagement of the 50,000 troops deployed in eastern Ladakh, a key area of confrontation.

According to another Indian media report, the meeting “failed to make headway on the contentious issue of the Depsang Plains and de-escalation along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh.” Sources in the Indian defense and security establishment also told the media that there was “no breakthrough” in the current round. The Indian side insisted on de-escalation along the LAC and “easing of tensions in the Depsang Plains.”

Pakistan: America’s Problem Partner

Zoraiz Zafar

When discussing the various inconvenient friendships of convenience in which the United States is entangled, Pakistan is a country that comes to mind almost immediately. Since gaining independence from Britain in 1947, the South Asian nation has had a difficult time maintaining pace with other economic juggernauts in the neighborhood—namely, China and India. Though Pakistan’s stagnating agrarian-based economy deserves its fair share of the blame for the country’s current state, the directionless and at times counterintuitive national-defense policies adopted by the ruling elite have also played their part in this downward spiral.

In its seventy-five years of existence, Pakistan has fought four wars with its archrival India, gone through a civil war that saw the liberation of its eastern wing (now known as Bangladesh), and has been facing waves of terrorism for the past two decades. As a result of such constant geopolitical turmoil, the country’s democratic institutions have continued to erode over time, paving the way for military dictators to rule the country for over half of its lifespan. Even in times when elected civilian governments have existed, the all-powerful military establishment has continued to exert its dominance over defense and foreign policy.

And to the detriment of both Pakistani and American long-term interests, the military establishment has consistently maintained its policies of appeasing and sponsoring terrorist groups. Outfits like al-Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, have been known to have institutional support from the Pakistani military through its premier intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

Among the multitude of reasons why the Pakistani military establishment has chosen this calamitous approach is an eternal quest for “strategic depth.” Pakistan is sandwiched between India in the east and Afghanistan and Iran in the west. Given the intense and bloodied rivalry with India, a country four times as big in land mass and almost seven times as big in population, the Pakistani military establishment determined that the best approach would be to install a puppet government in Afghanistan.

The Taliban Aim to Divide and Conquer

Lynne O’Donnell

Afghanistan has become the world’s problem child, controlled by unruly and unpredictable religious fanatics and terrorists who throw their toys out of the stroller each time they’re chided for bad behavior yet keep getting their own way. As the United Nations prepares to host another meeting to discuss how to deal with the near-starvation of the Afghan population and the appalling toll of Taliban misogyny, the men in charge are again goading the world body: It’s our way or the highway.

Washington Must Focus on Asia When Targeting Tehran’s Drone Technology Procurement

Behnam Ben Taleblu

The U.S. Treasury Department recently sanctioned a multi-jurisdiction procurement ring supporting the Islamic Republic of Iran’s drone and military programs. Concurrent with Iran’s continued proliferation of drones to Russia for use in Ukraine, both the Biden administration and Congress have sought to stem the flow of American components found in downed Iranian unmanned aerial systems.

Yet while preventing transfers of such Western equipment to Iran is both necessary and understandable, Asia has long served as a critical hub for military and missile technology to the Islamic Republic. An increase in the pace and scope of penalties targeting Tehran’s networks and fronts in Asia will be essential to disrupting Iran’s drone program.

The latest U.S. penalties center around an Iranian electronics firm known by an English transliteration of its acronym, PASNA. First sanctioned in 2018 for seeking technology with military applications from China and for reportedly providing material support to the sanctioned Iran’s Electronics Components Industries—a subsidiary of the sanctioned Iran Electronics Industries, which is, in turn, a subsidiary of Iran’s sanctioned Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL)—PASNA continued its activities after exposure in 2018 through fronts, aliases, and affiliates, both in Iran and Malaysia.

Beyond exposing these fronts, the Treasury Department also sanctioned the managing director of PASNA, Mehdi Khoshghadam, as well as four suppliers of electronic goods and microelectromechanical systems to PASNA operating in both Hong Kong and the People’s Republic of China. These penalties build on recent efforts by the Treasury Department to disrupt other Iranian drone technology procurement rings in Asia. Last month, the department targeted five firms operating in China and Hong Kong that sold aerospace components and light-aircraft engines to Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industries, which is a subsidiary of the Iran Aviation Industries Organization, itself another MODAFL subsidiary.

Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu’s Visit to India: Impact on China-India Relations

Tien-sze Fang

Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh, seated third left, attends a meeting with his Chinese counterpart Li Shangfu, right, during the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Defense Minister’s Meeting in New Delhi, India, Apr. 27, 2023.Credit: Twitter/Rajnath Singh

China’s Minister of National Defense Li Shangfu traveled to New Delhi, India, on April 27-28 to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Defense Ministers’ Meeting hosted by India, which holds the rotating chairmanship of the organization. During his stay in India, Li also held bilateral talks with Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh and other counterparts from member states on the sidelines of the conference.

Li is the first Chinese defense minister to visit India since the bloody clash in the Galwan Valley in 2020. In fact, this visit is not only Li’s first visit to India since taking office but also the first time in five years that a Chinese defense minister has traveled to the country. Therefore, international attention has focused not only on the SCO meeting itself, but also on Li’s visit to India.

First of all, the focus is on the impact of Li’s visit on the China-India border negotiations. After the 2020 Galwan Valley clash, China and India have held 18 rounds of corps commander-level talks and have withdrawn troops from four confrontation points. However, both countries still deploy a large number of troops in disputed areas and are still locked in a standoff at Demchok and Depsang in Ladakh.

In fact, China and India deliberately held the 18th round of border talks on April 23 to create a better atmosphere for Li’s visit to India. However, the two sides were unable to issue a joint statement and instead released their own press releases. This marked the first time since the 13th round of corps commander-level talks on October 10, 2020, that the two sides have been unable to reach a consensus during the meeting, indicating irreconcilable differences over the content and wording.

One in 5 young people in Chinese cities are out of work. Beijing wants them to work in the fields

Laura He

Beijing's economy is rebounding after Covid but the city still has work to do

As the jobless rate among China’s youth soars, the country’s richest province has offered a highly controversial solution: Send 300,000 unemployed young people to the countryside for two to three years to find work.

Guangdong, the manufacturing powerhouse that abuts Hong Kong, said last month it will help college graduates and young entrepreneurs to find work in villages. It also encouraged rural youth to return to the countryside to look for jobs there.

The announcement followed President Xi Jinping’s call last December for urban youth to seek jobs in rural areas in an effort to “revitalize the rural economy,” in an echo of a previous campaign launched decades ago by former leader Mao Zedong in which tens of millions of urban youth were effectively exiled to remote areas of China.

Guangdong’s plan, which was widely panned on social media, coincided with the rate of urban unemployment among 16- to 24-year-olds surging to 19.6%, the second highest level on record.

That translates to about 11 million jobless youth in China’s cities and towns, according to CNN calculations based on the most recent available data from the National Bureau of Statistics. (China only releases urban employment figures.)

Why Did Xi Jinping Suddenly Call Zelensky?


Earlier this week, Chinese President Xi Jinping called up Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for the first time since Russia invaded last year. Is Xi’s peace overture to Ukraine for real? He has several reasons for sincerely hoping that the war between Ukraine and Russia ends soon. Is his overture likely to achieve the goal? That’s a different question. Unless the underlying geopolitics change, probably not.

Two months ago, Xi issued a vague 12-point “peace plan,” and Zelensky found it intriguing enough to request a conversation. On Wednesday, Xi followed up, and they had an hourlong call that Zelensky later described as “long and meaningful.” China’s official readout emphasized the need for a “political settlement of the Ukrainian crisis.” Zelensky has since named an ambassador to Beijing, and Xi is sending his envoy for European affairs to Kyiv.

What’s going on, and why is it happening now? Xi hasn’t spelled out his reasoning publicly, but some plausible explanations can be inferred from recent events and context.

First is the basic backdrop: Xi must realize that the alliance he struck with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2022—less than a month before Putin’s invasion of Ukraine—was, on some level, a strategic error. The two leaders talked at the time of a “no-limits” partnership, but Xi has slapped on a lot of limits since. Notably, though he continues to give Russia lots of money and technical gear, he has not supplied any weapons for the war. He watched the Russian army’s recent offensive that failed to move the lines of battle. He has no doubt read reports that Ukraine’s upcoming offensive—likely to get underway next month, as planeloads of new Western weapons, including tanks and other armored vehicles arrive—could recapture substantial swaths of territory. If that happens, Putin’s position—military and political—could face rapid erosion, as could Xi’s by affiliation.

Paying the Defense Bill: Financing American and Chinese Geostrategic Competition

In the face of what could be a decades-long competition, the United States and China must consider how they will finance defense spending. Leaders in both states are constrained by an intertemporal dilemma: pay the high political cost of raising taxes today, thereby establishing a sustainable revenue source, or avoid political costs and borrow, risking the economic vitality of the state. A state’s status in the international system shapes its ability to navigate this dilemma. Rising challengers can frame fiscal sacrifice today via taxes as an investment in a bright future, while dominant powers face a public that is skeptical that the future will be better than the present, causing leaders to resort to taking on debt. Early evidence suggests that the Biden administration’s framing of a return to a great-power status quo will not result in increased taxes. For China, the narrative of “national rejuvenation” has supported the country’s rise and fiscal strength and may allow for increased taxation despite slowing growth, positioning Beijing to sustain military spending over the long term.

Geopolitical competition tends to last for decades, if not longer. Success in great-power competition therefore requires defense budgeting that not only delivers the necessary military power but can also be sustained — politically, economically, and fiscally — over the long term. As the United States and China set out on a potentially decades-long competition, sustainable defense spending is of critical importance to both countries.

The United States is faced with a daunting defense bill after decades of war associated with the Global War on Terror. Shifting focus to great-power competition — which will require modernizing conventional and nuclear forces, adjusting regional military postures, integrating next-generation warfighting technologies, and supporting key allies and partners — will be incredibly costly.1 Competition with China is just one part of America’s global foreign policy, which includes deterring aggression across Europe, commitments in the Middle East, and worldwide counterterrorism operations. Although the 2021 withdrawal from Afghanistan was intended, in part, to align U.S. commitments with stated priorities, without additional major alterations to America’s overseas commitments, current funding is expected to fall short. A 2021 comprehensive study of modernization requirements found that the Department of Defense’s baseline budget will need to “increase by 11 percent in real terms by 2033” to simply sustain current plans.2 And an external review of the 2018 National Defense Strategy by a committee of prominent former policymakers warned that without 3 to 5 percent annual real budget growth, the United States faces “strategic insolvency.”3

China is also spending heavily on its military. As a state with great-power ambitions, it aims to achieve a “world-class” military by 2049, a goal essential to the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” The Chinese Communist Party has accordingly poured resources into defense. Since 2012, China has increased its annual defense budget by an annual average of seven percent. In 2023, Beijing announced a defense budget of $230 billion, a 7.2 percent jump over the previous year.4 Yet, People’s Liberation Army officers and Chinese defense analysts complain that funding remains too low to meet the Chinese Communist Party’s grand ambitions.5 And, as China turns to more technology-intensive capabilities, the cost of future military modernization is likely to rise.6 Finally, our own analysis of China’s fiscal system suggests that current military and domestic spending is outpacing central government revenue as economic growth slows.

With Lessons from Ukraine, US Special Forces Reinvents Itself for a Fight with China


FORT BRAGG, North Carolina—The only sign the Switchblade suicide drone was overhead was its mosquito-like whine. Its slim gray body merged into the overcast sky over a U.S. Army training range.

But the presence of the drone, which has been delivered in large numbers to Ukraine, in an exercise explicitly targeting China spoke volumes about how the U.S. Army Special Forces is reinventing itself after decades of operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“Everyone is watching the lessons learned from Ukraine,” said Gen. Jonathan Braga, commander of U.S. Army Special Operations Command. “We're trans-regionally applying those lessons learned.”

Among those lessons: Russia can target a Ukrainian artillery battery within a minute of its first barrage. Battlefield decoys still work. Information is king.

“I think the overall macro lesson is the importance of information operations,” Braga said.

Many such lessons are being gleaned in Germany, where U.S. Special Forces are training their Ukrainian counterparts and helping them with information operations, said the U.S. Army special forces officer in charge of work with Ukraine. He spoke by video call to the audience observing the Army exercise here on Thursday. Like others interviewed for this article, the officer was granted anonymity for the sake of security.

Information gleaned from this work with Ukrainian forces is sent on to the training programs run by Army Special Operations Command.

For example, Army special forces have observed Ukrainian forces “detect, fix, and jam” Russian drones, said Lt. Col. Mike Burns, the command’s communications director. That has shaped the command’s new course on robotics and unmanned systems, which teaches students how to build their own drones and counter those of the enemy.

The Sudanese Crisis: Yesterday’s Friends, Today’s Foes

Khaled Mahmoud

Sudan‘s latest crisis compounds the already complex challenges facing its people, reflecting the regional and international failure to prevent conflict over power between al-Burhan and Hemedti that has been looming for weeks.

While the world watches, Sudan has quietly slipped into a new civil war revolving around the Sudanese army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). This tragic development further deepens the political and economic turmoil already plaguing Sudan.

The evacuation of foreign nationals from Sudan hints that another escalation of violence is imminent while the international community abandons the Sudanese people to face their plight alone.

Satellite images revealed the extent of damage caused by the ongoing fighting between rival factions vying for power.

A Sudanese journalist, who spoke anonymously, told Fanack, “The current situation is miserable and not easy at all. For ten days, we have been living without water or electricity. The sounds of artillery surround us, and the smell of blood clogs our noses. People are exhausted from what they are living through.”

The journalist, residing in the Khartoum Bahri area, warned that “the country’s current situation is fragile. It cannot withstand these turbulent conditions.”

The recent clashes between Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the Sudanese army’s commander and leader of the Transitional Military Council, and Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo (also known as Hemedti), the vice president of the Sovereign Council, were not entirely unexpected. Preceding events had indicated the inevitability of a power struggle between the two.

How Macron Can Save His Presidency

Andrew Sorota

On the evening of March 23, protesters set ablaze the historic town hall of Bordeaux, France. Months of mostly peaceful demonstrations against the French government’s pension reform bill had hit a violent inflection point. That same day, more than one million people took to the streets nationwide. In Paris, which saw a turnout of some 119,000, street battles erupted between police forces and masked demonstrators. Officers were pelted with Molotov cocktails as they sprayed tear gas at the rioters, creating a haze of fumes that blanketed the city.

Sudan’s War Might Not Stay in Sudan

Folahanmi Aina

Sudan, which borders the Red Sea, the Sahel, and the Horn of Africa, is in the news again: The recent outbreak of war has so far claimed the lives of over 400 people. And events in Sudan might have stirred the greater region’s hornet nest. Indeed, there is a strong likelihood that the war could have a domino effect across the already troubled Chad Basin and the Sahel.

The Case for a G20-Led Climate Change Relocation Insurance System

Shrikrishna Upadhyaya, Pranay Kotasthane

Task Force 3: LiFE, Resilience, and Values for Well-Being


Climate change-induced catastrophes in the coming years will result in widespread and large-scale population displacement, including across national borders. Uncontrolled international migration or refugee crises caused by climate change are a matter of humanitarian, economic, and security concern for the global community. This Policy Brief proposes that G20 set the agenda for the protection, rehabilitation, and relocation of climate refugees through the mechanism of a Global Climate Change Relocation Insurance (GCCRI). The Takshashila Institution first proffered the idea of a GCCRI in a 2015 policy brief. The GCCRI framework will allow at-risk individuals and families to purchase insurance to protect themselves from loss of land, property, and livelihood due to climate catastrophes. The G20 will benefit from a GCCRI system for multiple reasons: remediation towards historical contributions to climate change by developed countries; as a preventive measure against unmitigated climate refugee crises which pose economic and security risks; and pre-planning effective relocation of refugees based on social and cultural considerations.

The Challenge

One of the most pressing consequences of climate change is the displacement of people who are forced to leave their homes due to the impacts of rising sea levels, extreme weather events, and other climate-related disasters. These events disproportionately affect low-lying and vulnerable regions such as small island states and coastal communities, leading to displacement and relocation of populations. Such large-scale displacement of people will continue to have profound social, economic, and environmental implications, both for the affected individuals and for the countries that receive them.[1] It is also a security concern for states.

While international efforts to address climate change have largely focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, there is growing recognition of the need to develop and implement adaptation strategies to address the impacts of climate change that are already being felt. However, many vulnerable countries and communities lack the resources and capacities to implement effective adaptation measures, leaving them increasingly vulnerable.

Why Biden is running again – and could beat Trump in 2024

Linda Feldmann 

The opening montage of President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign video says it all: wordless footage from the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol, tear gas spewing, Trump flags flying.

The message of the video, released early Tuesday, is hardly subtle. Reelect the previous president, and the whole MAGA ethos – Make America Great Again – will consume the nation, in spirit if not literally, President Biden is suggesting.

This campaign is about “freedom,” he says – women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights, a secure retirement, and “no” to book banning.


Voters are exhausted by the idea of a rematch between Donald Trump and President Joe Biden, who announced his reelection campaign in a video release Tuesday. But polls show Mr. Biden beating Mr. Trump, which helps buttress Mr. Biden’s bid.

But the nascent 2024 contest is about so much more. He’s not running in a vacuum. Major polls suggest that, as of now, a rematch of Mr. Biden and former President Donald Trump is the likeliest scenario. If that plays out, they would again be the oldest pairing ever in an American presidential campaign, and for the octogenarian Mr. Biden, in particular, the age issue looms large.

The “soft launch” of his 2024 campaign – with a highly produced video, not an in-person rally – foretells a reelection effort that will work hard to minimize Mr. Biden’s liabilities while emphasizing his perceived strengths.

911? We Have an Emergency: Cyberattacks On Emergency Response Systems

Mark Grzegorzewski, William Holden 

Cyber problems are people problems. When thinking about “cyber,” many people automatically default to thinking about interconnected hardware or software. This is not entirely incorrect. Interconnected computer systems are part of “cyber,” but people (or “wetware”) are too. People design software and construct hardware. People convert the data that flows through cyberspace into information. People connect networks.

For interconnected information systems to work properly, people must be able to trust the information and instructions transferred between them. The same concept of trust is what allows societies to function. Members of society must trust in the systems they depend on. When people do bad things, they are often deemed corrupt. The same is true of bad information. For example, both can be corrupted through transmitting compromised data (data integrity issues) or transmitting bad instructions (a virus). If a computer system or society is corrupted, it eventually ceases to function toward its intended purpose.

Some malicious actors seek to undermine the trust citizens have in each other and their government. One way in which a malicious actor can further undermine trust in society is by targeting a critical sector, such as emergency services. According to publicly available materials, the tactics targeting U.S. 911 emergency services have been employed only by individual hackers who lack nation-state resources and access to emergency services information systems. Yet, despite these limitations, hostile actors have targeted emergency services through multiple vectors, including hardware, software, and wetware. Given the scale of the problem at the local level across the U.S., the insufficient attention paid to the problem compared to other governance issues, and the dependence of everyday citizens on emergency services when they find themselves in a crisis, malign nation-states could easily employ these same tactics on a larger scale—not only to compromise emergency services during a crisis but also in a much more strategic sense to further undermine the trust many Americans have in their government system and taxpayer-funded services. This hard-earned, yet already tenuous trust—which accumulates over many years—can vanish rapidly and without warning.

To Restrict, or Not to Restrict, That Is the Quantum Question

Sam Howell 

Innovation power—the ability to invent, scale, and adapt emerging technologies—will determine which country prevails in the great power competition of the 21st century. Export controls accordingly assume a central position in the U.S. foreign policy toolkit, carrying the ability to significantly impact an adversary’s innovation potential. In October 2022, the Biden administration introduced semiconductor, artificial intelligence, and supercomputing-related export controls on China and has since hinted that similar restrictions on other technologies, including quantum information science, may soon follow.

U.S. policymakers are right to identify quantum information science as a critical technology area ripe for restriction, but introducing export controls now is likely to cause more harm than good.

Establishing U.S. leadership in quantum information science, which includes the subfields of quantum computing, quantum sensing, and quantum communications, ranks among the Biden administration’s highest national security priorities. Quantum technologies promise to dramatically increase computing power and speed, enabling machines to solve problems beyond the capacity of current-generation computers. They are also inherently dual use, meaning they can be applied to both military and civilian contexts.

The potential strategic advantages of quantum technologies are numerous and significant. Quantum-enabled countries could crack an adversary’s encryption methods, build unbreakable communications networks, and develop the world’s most precise sensors. The first country to operationalize quantum technologies will gain the ability to threaten adversaries’ corporate, military, and government infrastructure more quickly than an adversary can establish effective defenses. Beyond the direct military applications, quantum technologies could further deliver significant economic advantages in a range of industries, from aerospace and defense to pharmaceuticals and automotive.

How GPT Mania Could Harm AI Innovation

Bhaskar Chakravorti

Since OpenAI released its artificial intelligence chatbot ChatGPT in November, GPT mania has reached dizzying heights. It has accelerated public awareness about AI in ways that few would have thought possible even a year ago. Its adeptness at cracking the LSAT exam or writing legal briefs in sonnet form may not impress poets, but it has caught tech experts by surprise. It has led to a chatbot dogfight between digital tortoises, such as Microsoft and Google, not given to dogfights. It has made unlikely bedfellows out of the likes of Elon Musk, Yuval Noah Harari, and Steve Wozniak, who issued a call for a six-month timeout on the training of larger, even more advanced GPT models.

Social Media Is Now a Financial WMD

Caroline de Gruyter

The collapse of the Swiss bank Credit Suisse in March had many underlying causes, but its trigger was a tweet. The bank’s failure was the clearest evidence yet that social media, in combination with digital banking, have become a major risk in the banking sector.

International Agreements Guard Against Illegal Cyber Weapons


The Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross, CICR by its French acronym, provides humanitarian assistance around the world. One of its missions is to document human rights and humanitarian law violations. Credit: Martin Good, Shutterstock

International humanitarian law (IHL) aims to protect civilians, prisoners of war and others not actively participating in hostilities. Legal and moral ramifications exist for every act of war violating this set of rules, including cyber warfare.

According to most mainstream interpretations of international agreements, a cyber attack against adversarial infrastructure creating disproportionate collateral damage could lead to criminal liability, reputational damage, civil liability and reciprocal retaliation.

“[Cyber] operations are regulated by international humanitarian law, just like any other means or methods of warfare is regulated by international humanitarian law,” said Jonathan Horowitz, legal advisor at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

The Tallinn Manual is a cyber-IHL-specific body of work in which experts discuss various technical aspects of how this growing body of regulations should be interpreted and applied (see sidebar). This manual is nonbinding, and its aim is to inform the ongoing discussions toward comprehensive international agreements.

For now, what stands is IHL, also known as the law of war. Its aim is to mitigate the suffering caused through armed conflicts by guaranteeing that fundamental human rights are respected.

The rules of IHL are set out in treaties, including the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 and their two Additional Protocols of 1977. In addition to these treaties, customary international law also plays a role. Customary international law refers to unwritten rules and practices recognized by states as binding legal norms.

Assessing the New Space Policy 2023

The New Space Policy of 2023 was approved by the Union government Cabinet on April 7. After much anticipation, the document was made public on April 19 on ISRO’s website. The 11-page document details the activities that the commercial space sector can undertake and delineates the roles of three key government agencies: Indian National Space Promotion & Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe), Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), and the Department of Space (DOS).

This document does not provide a holistic overview of India’s space policy and its priorities. Rather, its goal is to elucidate the Union government's policy towards the growing commercial space sector in India and abroad. Indeed, as the ‘Vision’ section of the new space policy suggests, India hopes to augment its space capabilities by tapping into the potential of the private sector which has historically played a minor role in India’s space programme.
The problem

Private sector participation in -India’s space sector has historically been sparse. This was because space activities were the monopoly of the state for several decades and ISRO had achieved several feats, such as the development of indigenous launch vehicles, with limited resources. Indeed, since space was a high-risk and relatively low-reward sector, private entities stayed away from undertaking entire space projects and instead played the role of contractors and subcontractors for manufacturing satellite and launch vehicle components.

Given ISRO’s monopoly over space activities, a regulatory mechanism to oversee national space activities was seen as unnecessary, even after commercial space activities became a viable undertaking for the private sector. ISRO became the de-facto regulator for the private sector as it was the only route through which the private sector could participate in space activities.The absence of a set regulatory framework, therefore, disincentivised major private sector participation.

Positive features of the New Space Policy

We have a historic opportunity to shape tomorrow’s world order

Nitin Pai

It is easy to feel disoriented amid the increasingly intense debates over artificial intelligence, semiconductors, energy transition, autonomous vehicles, platforms, genomics, quantum computing and other technological marvels of our times. Over the past six months, technology policy has overtaken China and the Indo-Pacific as the primary topics that foreign visitors to Takshashila want to discuss. Over a decade ago, I escaped from the tech policy world into what I thought was the more exciting world of geopolitics and international relations. Today, I find it hard to distinguish the boundaries between those disciplines.

So I thought I should take a step back and distil the really big picture issues to help us think more clearly about what is going on in the world and what we should do about it.

First, we are in the Information Age. By this I mean that we are in an era where society is structured around the production, consumption and effects of information. Information is the predominant driver of economics, politics and culture. In earlier eras, it was land, livestock, population, iron and industries that occupied this central position. But information is unlike anything that we have experienced before, because it is a non-zero-sum good. In olden days, a king who grabbed land, cattle or factories from another got it at the expense of the one who lost them. Information can be hidden, controlled or protected, but it is physically possible for both kings to own the same piece of it. The non-zero-sumness has profound implications that we’re yet to fully discover, not least because our instincts are to treat it as if were zero-sum. No, data is not the new oil.

Second, because information is mostly manipulated by technology, the latter has become the source of power. This is why technology permeates every dimension of domestic and international politics. To the extent technology is a form of knowledge, it too is a non-zero sum. But because it requires physical things—like routers, lithium or lasers—to work, and these are zero-sum goods, those who have it can be more powerful than those who don’t. This is why countries are pursuing self-reliance and supply-chain assurance in critical technologies. This is also why the US is raising a technology denial regime aimed at containing China’s advances. Technology policy is hard because of this blend of zero-sumness and non-zerosumness; and self-reliance, nearshoring and technology blockades are both good and bad ideas.

AI-Generated Voice Deepfakes Aren’t Scary Good—Yet

AMID THE GENERATIVE-ARTIFICIAL-INTELLIGENCE frenzy of the last few months, security researchers have been revisiting the concern that AI-generated voices, or voice deepfakes, have gotten convincing enough and easy enough to produce that scammers will start using them en masse.

There have been a couple of high-profile incidents in recent years in which cybercriminals have reportedly used voice deepfakes of company CEOs in attempts to steal large amounts of money—not to mention that documentarians posthumously created voice deepfakes of Anthony Bourdain. But are criminals at the turning point where any given spam call could contain your sibling's cloned voice desperately seeking “bail money?" No, researchers say—at least not yet.

The technology to create convincing, robust voice deepfakes is powerful and increasingly prevalent in controlled settings or situations where extensive recordings of a person's voice are available. At the end of February, Motherboard reporter Joseph Cox published findings that he had recorded five minutes of himself talking and then used a publicly available generative AI service, ElevenLabs, to create voice deepfakes that defeated a bank's voice-authentication system. But like generative AI's shortcomings in other mediums, including limitations of text-generation chatbots, voice deepfake services still can't consistently produce perfect results.

“Depending on the attack scenario, real-time capabilities and the quality of the stolen voice sample must be considered,” says Lea Schönherr, a security and adversarial machine learning researcher at the CISPA Helmholtz Center for Information Security in Germany. “Although it is often said that only a few seconds of the stolen voice are needed, the quality and the length have a big impact on the result of the audio deepfake.”

Arms Control for Artificial Intelligence

As AI continues to advance, some have voiced concerns about the dangers of AI-enabled weapons systems. This raises the question of how feasible it will be to control military use of AI. Megan Lamberth and Paul Scharre look at a number of characteristics that make AI difficult to control and lay out some concrete steps that could be taken today to increase the likelihood that future AI arms control regimes will be successful.

Militaries worldwide are working on how best to develop, integrate, and use AI in their weapons systems. While many of these systems are yet to be realized, breakthroughs in AI could have a significant impact on how militaries operate over time. Concern over military AI systems have led some activists to call for prohibitions or regulations on some AI-enabled weapons systems.1

Yet, AI has several characteristics that make it difficult to control. As a general-purpose enabling technology, AI is like electricity or the internal combustion engine and has countless nonmilitary or defense applications.2 It differs from some military technologies because it is predominantly developed in the civilian sector by engineers in private industry or in research organizations. While the widespread availability of AI makes a complete ban on all military applications of AI unlikely, there may be an opportunity for the international community to work together to regulate or prohibit certain uses of military AI.

Throughout history, countries have sought restrictions or prohibitions for certain weapons or uses of weapons. The motivations for arms control can vary, as can its success. Evaluating historical cases of arms control shows that concrete steps taken today could increase the chances of successful AI arms control in the future. Policymakers can work to shape how AI technology is employed by militaries. Nations can also establish regular dialogue with allies and competitors on how AI might be used in warfare and what measures might be taken to reduce mutual risks.

Apple, Google, and Microsoft Just Fixed Zero-Day Security Flaws

TECH GIANTS APPLE, Microsoft, and Google each fixed major security flaws in April, many of which were already being used in real-life attacks. Other firms to issue patches include privacy-focused browser Firefox and enterprise software providers SolarWinds and Oracle.

Here’s everything you need to know about the patches released in April.

Hot on the heels of iOS 16.4, Apple has released the iOS 16.4.1 update to fix two vulnerabilities already being used in attacks. CVE-2023-28206 is an issue in the IOSurfaceAccelerator that could see an app able to execute code with kernel privileges, Apple said on its support page.

CVE-2023-28205 is an issue in WebKit, the engine that powers the Safari browser, that could lead to arbitrary code execution. In both cases, the iPhone maker says, “Apple is aware of a report that this issue may have been actively exploited.”

The bug means visiting a booby-trapped website could give cybercriminals control over your browser—or any app that uses WebKit to render and display HTML content, says Paul Ducklin, a security researcher at cybersecurity firm Sophos.

The two flaws fixed in iOS 16.4.1 were reported by Google’s Threat Analysis Group and Amnesty International’s Security Lab. Taking this into account, Ducklin thinks the security holes could have been used for implanting spyware.

Apple also released iOS 15.7.5 for users of older iPhones to fix the same already exploited flaws. Meanwhile, the iPhone maker issued macOS Ventura 13.3.1, Safari 16.4.1, macOS Monterey 12.6.5, and macOS Big Sur 11.7.6.

Apple wasn’t the only big tech firm issuing emergency patches in April. Microsoft also released an urgent fix as part of this month’s Patch Tuesday update. CVE-2023-28252 is an elevation-of-privilege bug in the Windows Common Log File System Driver. An attacker who successfully exploited the flaw could gain system privileges, Microsoft said in an advisory.

Another notable flaw, CVE-2023-21554, is a remote code execution vulnerability in Microsoft Message Queuing labeled as having a critical impact. To exploit the vulnerability, an attacker would need to send a malicious MSMQ packet to an MSMQ server, Microsoft said, which could result in remote code execution on the server side.

How ChatGPT and Other LLMs Work—and Where They Could Go Next

AI-POWERED CHATBOTS SUCH as ChatGPT and Google Bard are certainly having a moment—the next generation of conversational software tools promise to do everything from taking over our web searches to producing an endless supply of creative literature to remembering all the world's knowledge so we don't have to.

ChatGPT, Google Bard, and other bots like them, are examples of large language models, or LLMs, and it's worth digging into how they work. It means you'll be able to better make use of them, and have a better appreciation of what they're good at (and what they really shouldn't be trusted with).

Like a lot of artificial intelligence systems—like the ones designed to recognize your voice or generate cat pictures—LLMs are trained on huge amounts of data. The companies behind them have been rather circumspect when it comes to revealing where exactly that data comes from, but there are certain clues we can look at.

For example, the research paper introducing the LaMDA (Language Model for Dialogue Applications) model, which Bard is built on, mentions Wikipedia, “public forums,” and “code documents from sites related to programming like Q&A sites, tutorials, etc.” Meanwhile, Reddit wants to start charging for access to its 18 years of text conversations, and StackOverflow just announced plans to start charging as well. The implication here is that LLMs have been making extensive use of both sites up until this point as sources, entirely for free and on the backs of the people who built and used those resources. It's clear that a lot of what's publicly available on the web has been scraped and analyzed by LLMs.

AI Isn't Going to Reinvent the Alphabet Anytime Soon

LOOKING AT TYPOGRAPHY developed by artificial intelligence is like looking at lettering submerged in deep water, warped and fuzzy. It looks like a copy of a copy of a copy. The words are recognizable, barely, but the original form has been lost. AI typography is, charitably, bad.

A recent example of this phenomenon is Word-As-Image for Semantic Typography, a paper in which anonymous authors propose a tool that morphs text into an image of what that text represents. Type in “yoga,” for example, and the word will appear garlanded with wobbly vectors of stretching women. The resulting jagged, blurry text is emblematic of the shortcomings of AI type. This experiment sacrifices readability and accessibility, two of the pillars of good type design, in a misguided attempt to innovate. We could hardly expect much more from AI, however, when it has only a surface-level understanding of how humans read.

As a designer and typographer of more than 10 years, I’ve watched the progress of AI-powered design with a mixture of amused curiosity and subtle dread. Where typography is concerned, it’s becoming clear that AI innovations are focusing on the wrong ideas. Right now, some are playing with using this technology to try to redefine visual language—in the case of our Latin letterset, one that’s existed for over 2,000 years—but ultimately this is an unworkable course. The key to setting AI typography on a better, more accessible path is to think of it as assistive rather than generative.

Word-As-Image isn’t novel. After the Industrial Revolution brought machines to the forefront of manufacturing, designers in post-war Europe started exploring how technology could influence the future of art and type design. In his 1920 book Sprache and Schrift, engineer Walter Porstmann proposed that language could be amplified by introducing one character for every sound, ordered by tone, sound length, strength, and voice. László Moholy-Nagy at the Bauhaus later adopted and refined Porstmann’s concept, anticipating in 1925 that typography would be supplanted by advancements in film and, especially, sound. In response, he suggested, typography needed to evolve to express these new technologies.

Army, Industry Launch Additive Manufacturing Center

Sean Carberry

Army photoARLINGTON, Virginia — The Army has partnered with SAE Government Technologies to open the Additive Manufacturing Commercialization Center, or AMCC, in Sterling Heights, Michigan, to advance 3D printing capabilities.

The centerpiece of the AMCC is the Ingersoll-made Jointless Hull subsection tool — a hybrid 3D printer and metal miller that can fabricate aluminum parts and tools, said Brandon Pender, associate director for the Ground Vehicle Systems Center’s Materials Division under Army Combat Capabilities Development Command.

“Right now, our plan is to put four different 3D printing technologies … in the center,” he said. But the hope is that other companies or entities will bring technologies into the SAE-owned facility for experimentation, he added.

The goal is “to commercialize advanced manufacturing technologies, so that they spin out of the government and into industry,” he continued. “The reason we want that is so that it comes back to us in new designs and new manufacturing methods of making things for the Army.”

The massive Jointless Hull tool uses a printer head designed by MELD Manufacturing, a woman-owned small business from Christiansburg, Virginia, he said. The friction-stirred deposition technology allows metal to be printed without heating.

The printer can manufacture items up to a cubic meter in size, he said. A second machine at the Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois, can produce items 20-feet wide by 30-feet long by 15-feet high, he said.

The center will initially produce molds for auto parts trays and parts for General Dynamics and auto manufacturers, he said. For now, the facility will focus on non-critical parts, but the goal is to expand the inventory of certified parts that soldiers could someday print in the field.

Countries Caught in the Crossfire Wage War From Afar


As the physical war in Ukraine rages on, some cyber warriors are fighting the battle from a distance. Sweden, no stranger to cyber bullying from the Kremlin, has become home to many of these fighters.

While Ukraine’s forces barely kept Russians out of Kharkiv in the first days of the war, residents lived their darkest hours. “We stayed for some time after the invasion, and then we decided that it’s going to be safe, safer, out of the city,” said Oleksandr Adamov, 38, professor and cybersecurity researcher.

Adamov started teaching malware analysis courses in 2009, and a year later, he joined the Kharkiv National University of Radio Electronics where he still instructs cyber skills virtually. Two weeks after hostilities started, Adamov was scheduled to be in Sweden for a teaching job. As an educator, he is exempted from military mobilization. “I took the permission from the military office to leave the country,” Adamov said. Thus, he, his wife and their 11-year-old son traveled to Sweden, where he has been researching and teaching future cyber defenders at Sweden’s Blekinge Institute of Technology since 2012.

Adamov is specialized in reading Russian malicious code and understanding how it works, among other attributes. “I’ve been working in this area for, I believe, more than 15 years; so mostly, it’s called malware analysis and reverse engineering,” Adamov told SIGNAL Media in an interview.

“[Adamov] has executed the reverse engineering and deep analysis of the tools being used during several attacks,” said Oleksii Baranovskyi, senior lecturer also at the Blekinge Institute of Technology and associate professor at the National Technical University of Ukraine.

Baranovskyi is another Ukrainian cyber defense expert currently based in Sweden.

“Cyber has become a really important matter for states, for all European states. They realized that we need to build capability,” said Marcus Murray, founder of Truesec, a Swedish cybersecurity company.