Driving Collective Intelligence

Charlie Mueller & Kathy Goodson

Democratic societies are founded upon the principle that an educated, intelligent society will create a way of life that truly embraces the human potential; collective intelligence is the path to societal wisdom. Thomas Jefferson expressed this basic idea in a June 1789 letter to Richard Price Paris where he said, “Whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government.” The idea our founding fathers had in establishing a democratic society freed us from a dominating government structure that embraced individual authority over collective intelligence. We were encouraged to think for ourselves and cooperatively with each other. We no longer had to be told what to do; our imaginations and our potential were finally set free.

There are several historic American examples demonstrating our push for collective intelligence. The one that comes readily to our minds is public education. Between 1852 and 1918, all of the states and territories mandated that all children should be educated, providing the intellectual seeds for Jefferson’s 1789 statement. Public education includes the availability of libraries, schools, and museums. The purpose of public education is sometimes boiled down to several one-sentence ideas: “give people skills for life” or “teach people to be productive”. However, I would argue that the main goal of public education is to raise our societal collective intelligence. In order to build a nation of thinkers that contributes to the success of our country, we have to raise the bar of collective intelligence. One way to accomplish this is through public education. The question is: how do we continue to raise this bar?

First, it is not just about access to information and it is not just about providing a public education system. That is just the foundation. It is about spreading and generating knowledge. The Internet revolution has created unprecedented access to information and changed the educational system in ways that our ancestors could not imagine. The average fool today knows more about the complexities of the universe than some of the greatest minds centuries ago. We are generating new information at a rate that we have never done before, which means we should be generating a more knowledgeable society, but recent trends suggest we are not doing so relative to the rest of the world.

A major problem is that with so much access to information, we are forgetting to teach our children and ourselves how to transform this information into knowledge. Programs like “No Child Left Behind” have only helped weaken our ability to derive knowledge from all the information we have available today, a failure even acknowledged by the White House. This is not just a problem regarding how we teach our children. This problem exists for the average adult and even among our nation’s top thinkers and our scientists. For years, scientists have been trained to specialize in their area of expertise and refrain from thinking about their problems from the perspective of a different scientific discipline. We need new, innovative ways to share information and the knowledge that we gain from it. Shared knowledge drives collective intelligence.

Aside from the obvious reformations in our educational system to get our children focused on learning, what steps do we need to take to put the U.S. back on track to being an intelligent nation? Collaboration in the sciences is key. A cited example demonstrating this point can be seen in a recent interdisciplinary study where a joining of physics and biology led to a nano-system that could be used in the early detection of cancer. Collaboration on the national level, like that being promoted in the President’s BRAIN Initiative, is one step in the right direction. The BRAIN Initiative aims to raise the bar of our collective intelligence in neuroscience by not only encouraging collaboration amongst scientists of different fields, but also by inducing active participation of government, academia, and industry. We need more of these types of collective movements.

In an age where Americans cannot afford to be behind the curve in anything, we must seed the changes that we want to see.  At the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies we are asking these questions and actively searching for answers. Through our Center for Neurotechnology Studies (CNS), we actively create forums to get some of the best minds in government, academia and industry together to discuss important neuroscience issues. Our Center for Revolutionary and Scientific Thought (CReST) works hard every week trying to develop real solutions to difficult S&T questions. We understand that greatness is not achieved alone; it is achieved by cooperation of many. The U.S. is the greatest nation the world has known and all of our triumphs have come when we unite, pool our knowledge and intelligence together, and focus it towards the challenges we face.


On Military Robots

Patrick Cheetham

The Department of Defense is shrinking funding to military robots while robots are becoming more capable and ubiquitous every day. The US needs to invest in developing these technologies and we should look towards the future in ways that keep us superior and counter potential uses against our own systems.

Robots afford considerable advantages in warfare by extending military reach and power projection. They also change the risk-benefit calculation for successful operations. Generally, a robot can be defined as a machine that has some degree of autonomy and the ability to sense, perceive, and act in or on its environment. Yet, this definition and basic understanding of robots does not adequately describe the revolution occurring in robotic technologies that are truly transforming industries and national security as we know it.

DoD funding in recent years has been sluggish, while the utility of military robots has increased. From a high in 2011 of $6.6 billion, the proposed 2014 budget for unmanned systems was just about $4.1 billion. This significant decrease is counterintuitive to the increasing capabilities that robotics provide for DoD. The most newsworthy robots are unmanned aerial vehicles, which grab headlines for their ability to loiter, surveil, and kill targets (for example, they are being used in the current campaign against ISIL). Robots are not just doing dull, dangerous, or dirty tasks; they are dominating the air and quickly becoming a force multiplier. On the ground or in the maritime environment, they inspect and disarm IEDs, carry supplies, enable communications, and use EW to jam and spoof other machines. Robots with stronger artificial intelligence, medical and surgical capabilities, and the ability to incapacitate high value targets could provide even more function for the warfighter in the future.

The ubiquity of robotic technologies in commercial, civil, and national security sectors challenges the US held monopoly on military specific robots. It is estimated that at least 75 to 87 countries are investing in military unmanned systems. Military investment in the Asian region alone will grow by 67% to 2018, totaling almost $2.4 billion per year. A low barrier to entry for makers, nation states, and terrorists is possible because of decreasing costs of enabling technologies. Robert Work and Shawn Brimley point out that advanced computing, big data, autonomy, artificial intelligence, miniaturization, and small high-density power systems in the consumer and service industries advance the development of military robots. A common robotic operating system, cheaper hardware, and 3D printing also contribute to accessibility. Widespread knowledge and availability have given nefarious actors the ability to use machines. For example, the terrorist group Hezbollah has successfully fielded drones and plots using UAVs strapped with bombs. Most strikingly, China has “developed” UAVs with uncanny resemblance to the US-made MQ-9 Reaper.

Technology superiority is a cornerstone of US national security strategy but is being challenged in the field of robotics by decreased budgets and technological diffusion. DoD has decreased investments in robots even though the costs and limits of manned systems make unmanned systems a wise acquisition decision. Robots can replace tasks and enhance our own superiority with an optimum balance between humans and machines. Smartly investing in military robot systems of the future will help the US maintain the technical edge it needs.

Digital Victimization

The Impact of Sexual Violence in the Digital Age

Jennifer McArdle

In early September a group called hackappcom posted a proof of concept script on the popular code repository Github, which allowed users to breach iCloud and access user accounts, including the accounts of various Hollywood starlets, such as Jennifer Lawrence. What followed was perhaps the largest celebrity nude photo leak in history, amounting to over 21,000 images targeting over 100 female celebrities. While the leak has garnered mass media attention and elicited an FBI response, Internet “sex crimes” against females continue to go unanswered. Sexual harassment and violence laws must be expanded to reflect the digital age.

There is no dearth of recent instances where females were unable to control the malicious manipulation of their image in the virtual domain. Indeed a quick scan of news sites relay countless incidences of digital harassment, bullying, and sexual and emotional violence. What follows below is a short glimpse into some of the devastation that have been wreaked in cyberspace:

In December 2012, an Icelandic woman named Thorlaug Agustsdottir discovered a page titled “Men are better than woman,” depicting mutilated and nude photos of woman. After publishing an outraged post about the page on her wall, Agustsdottir soon found a manipulated image of herself on the page, complete with slogans such as, “Women are like grass, they just need to be beaten/ cut regularly” and “You just need to be raped.” After reporting these disturbing images to Facebook, Facebook responded that the images did not violate Facebook’s standards on hate speech, and the images were filed under ‘Controversial Humor.’ It was only after Agustsdottir contacted the local press, and the story proliferated, that the image was removed.

In 2010, 12 year old Amanda Todd showed her chest to what she thought was a boy, but was in fact a pedophile. Amanda’s image and doctored images circulated around the Internet and was repeatedly posted on sexually explicit pages. One such post encouraged Amanda and similar girls to, “drink bleach and die.” In October 2012, Amanda committed suicide, posting a YouTube video, explaining her struggle with harassment and the subsequent decision. Amanda and her mother were unable to control the spread of her image.

Furthermore, shortly after Google’s announcement that it was removing celebrity images, revenge porn victim Holly Jacobs, tweeted this response:


Jacobs has suffered years of Internet harassment after her ex allegedly posted intimate photos of her on the Internet without her consent. Jacob’s attempts at enlisting FBI assistance, an Internet specialist, and an attorney were all “dead ends.”

The thread that links all three stories—apart from these females being rendered digital victims—is that there was little to no legal mechanism to control the propagation of their image. As Kathy Sierra, one of the more outspoken victims of Internet harassment, noted in Wired last week, “You’re probably more likely to win the lottery than to get any law enforcement agency in the United States to take action when you are harassed online, no matter how viscously and explicitly.’’

While the leak of celebrity photos is shedding new light on Internet harassment and violence against women, more must be done to ensure that these problems are addressed equitably. Social media and Internet sites need to review their free speech protections in light of ongoing events in order to ensure that their platforms are not inadvertently promoting hate speech. Moreover, government, both national and state, have an important role to play. California recently expanded its state ban on revenge porn; other states (and perhaps the federal government) should follow suit.

It is time for companies and government to take a proactive rather than reactive response to online harassment and sexual and emotional violence. Current harassment and sexual violence laws must be expanded from the physical to the virtual domain.