In a fascinating account of the private space programs of Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, Christian Davenport explains how the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) has its origins in the geopolitics of the Cold War. From pg 59:

Eisenhower entered the room at 10: 31 a.m., and decided to get right to it, asking, “Do you have any questions for me?” The very first question he faced, from United Press International, was blunter than he was used to: “Mr. President, Russia has launched an Earth satellite. They also claim to have had a successful firing of an intercontinental ballistic missile, none of which this country has done. I ask you, sir, what are we going to do about it?” In the midst of the Cold War, the Soviets’ launches were seen as acts of aggression, expressions of military superiority. In a memo to the White House, C. D. Jackson, a former special assistant to the president who had served in the Office of Strategic Services, wrote that it was “an overwhelming important event—against our side.… This will be the first time they have achieved a big scientific jump on us, ostensibly for peaceful scientific purposes, yet with tremendous military overtones. Up to now, it has generally been the other way around.” If the Soviet Union could put a satellite into orbit, it’s hold the ultimate high ground and could, many feared, rain down missiles on American cities from space. Life magazine compared Sputnik to the shots fired at Lexington and Concord and urged the country to “respond as the Minutemen had done then.” Then Texas senator Lyndon Johnson fretted that “soon they will be dropping bombs on us from space like kids dropping rocks onto cars from freeway overpasses.”

This emerged from what the new agency called “traumatic experience of technological surprise” and constituted “a sort of elite special force within the Pentagon made of its best and brightest scientists and engineers” which cut across the entrenched barriers of the established services within the military. I would like to better understand the significance of DARPA in this context, as well as what it might tell us about how techno-nationalism might in future lead to the condensation of funding priorities into new agencies. As Davenport describes it on pg 128:

DARPA was tasked with looking into the future to envision what sorts of technologies the United States would need for the future of war: “To cast a javelin into the infinite spaces of the future” was its motto, a quote from Hungarian composer Franz Liszt. Walled off from the rest of the giant Pentagon bureaucracy so that it could innovate freely, the agency strove for nothing short of revolutionary advancement and “engineering alchemy” that would pierce the realm of science fiction. It had been given the authority to hire as it needed, as it sought “extraordinary individuals who are at the top of their fields and are hungry for the opportunity to push the limits of their disciplines.”

It has contributed to the development of a remarkable range of technologies, as detailed by Davenport on pg 128:

During Gise’s time, DARPA, then known as ARPA, was focused on preventing nuclear war and winning the space race. It even helped develop NASA’s Saturn V rocket, which took the Apollo astronauts to the moon. Since then, its reach and influence had broadened. In the late 1960s it started work on what would become ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network), a network of computers in different geographic locations that became a precursor to the Internet.

Over the years, it helped develop all sorts of technological advancements that have transformed war, and, in some cases, everyday life. DARPA helped give birth to the Global Positioning System (GPS), stealth technology, cloud computing, early versions of artificial intelligence, and autonomous aerial vehicles. As early as the late 1970s, it was working on a “surrogate travel system” that created something like a Google Street View map of Aspen, Colorado. More recently, its work was focused on underwater drones, geckolike gloves designed to enable soldiers to climb walls, humanoid robots, bullets that can change direction, and a blood-cleansing “artificial spleen” to help treat sepsis.

What does this tell us about the future? Probably not very much in itself, though it is interesting to note that the DARPA budget is growing, from $2.97 billion in 2015 to a budget request of $3.44 billion for 2019. If anyone has suggestions of good places to read about developing trends in government funding of technology research, particularly in relation to national security, I’d like to read them. My point in writing this post here is not to lionise ARPA or call for the ‘disruption’ of the military but simply to observe the relationship between geopolitical concerns and technological innovation. If developments such as artificial intelligence, crypto-currency and platformization have increasingly vast geopolitical ramifications then what will this mean for the climate of state investment in emerging technologies? In many ways, the point is an obvious one but making it leaves us squarely within a terrain so mired in ideology (concerning free-markets and technology on the one hand, national security interests on the others) that the full significance of the observation will often be lost.

Japan in the Digital Age
Call for Papers for a one-day Symposium
Saturday 28th October, 2017
The Shed, Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester

Keynote Speakers

Prof. Ian Condry, Professor of Japanese Cultural Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Mr. Kazuhito Gen-I (?? ??), award-winning media practitioner, working on 2.5 Dimension project (theatre adaptation of anime, manga and videogame)

Japan has been a place of fascination throughout the years, particularly to those interested in media and popular culture, business, science and technology, and other related areas such as transport and tourism. Yet surprisingly, there is little sustained discussion on how contemporary Japan is situated within the rapidly changing landscape of digital technologies in the New Millennium. How has digitisation changed Japanese aesthetics and values? Have mobile phone technologies altered the way Japanese business language is used? How does ‘tradition’ shape Japanese digital cultures? Such questions need urgent attention as currently, there are a number of significant and innovative digital initiatives in Japan which have impacted on Japanese culture and arts, technology, business and society, but are little known outside of Japan.

We invite academics, PG students, industry researchers and practitioners for contributions which examine the transformation of Japan in the Digital Age, and the transformation of the Digital Age through Japanese culture, practice, politics, technologies, industries and beyond. The overall aim of the Symposium is to provide a supportive and inspiring environment to encourage cross-disciplinary and cross-sector dialogues, to learn about innovative digital projects in Japan, and to build a network of those engaged with Japan through their work and lives.

Suggested topics include:

·        Digital technologies and Japanese popular culture (e.g. anime/manga, games, fashion)

·        Japanese digital identity, politics and society

·        Digital communications, Japanese language and business

·        Innovative Japanese digital design and technologies

Please submit a 250-word abstract to e.miyake@mmu.ac.uk by 4th August 2017, using the following format: title + abstract; name of author(s); affiliation; email; key words. For any enquiries, please get in touch with Dr. Esperanza Miyake (e.miyake@mmu.ac.uk)?

From And The Weak Suffer What They Must? By Yanis Varoufakis, loc 353-368:

What this means is that a closed, autarkic (meaning self-sufficient) economy, like that of Robinson Crusoe in literature or perhaps North Korea today, may be poor, solitary and undemocratic, but at least it is free of problems caused by other economies, by external deficits or surpluses. 

In contrast, all modern economies have relations with others and can expect that these relations will almost all be asymmetrical. Think Greece in relation to Germany, Arizona in relation to neighbouring California, northern England and Wales in relation to the Greater London area or indeed the United States in relation to China – all imbalances with impressive staying power. Imbalances, in short, are the norm, never the exception.

As he goes on to explain, trade imbalances have particular significance for international relations because they have important second order effects for both financial systems. From Loc 368-382:

Just as one person’s debt is another’s asset, one nation’s deficit is another’s surplus. In an asymmetrical world the money that surplus economies amass from selling more stuff to deficit economies than they buy from them accumulates in their banks, but these banks are then tempted to lend much of it back to the deficit countries or regions, where interest rates are always higher because money is so much scarcer. In this way, banks help maintain some semblance of balance during the good times. If an exchange rate seems likely to remain stable or even the same, banks will tend to lend more to the deficit country in question, unworried by the prospect of a devaluation further down the line that might make it hard for debtors in the deficit country to repay them.

Bankers, in this sense, are fair-weather surplus recyclers. They profit from taking a chunk of the surplus money from the surplus nations and recycling it in the deficit nations. But if the exchange rate is fixed, the banks go berserk, transferring mountains of money to the deficit regions as long as the storm clouds are absent, the skies are blue and the financial waters calm. Their credit line allows those in deficit to keep buying more and more stuff from the surplus economies, which thrive on a spree of exports. Import-export businesses grow fatter everywhere, incomes boom in surplus and deficit countries alike, confidence in the financial system swells, the surpluses get larger and the deficits deeper.

Fixed exchange rates preclude this imbalance being wholly or partially corrected by a fluctuation in the relative value of the currency that would make the debtor nation’s goods more attractive on the international market and reduce the size of the debts denominated in this currency. In their absence, incomes shrink while debts remain unchanged, prompting a precipitous decline into economic ruin. 

From No Such Thing as a Free Gift, by Linsey McGoey, loc 2771:

The tendency for political objectives to drive economic decisions –which are then propagated as purely technical policies geared at improving economic growth –is a well-known operating principle within the IMF. The late economist Jacques Polak, a former IMF director of research and one of the longest serving staffers –the IMF honoured him after his death by naming its annual research conference after him –once put it bluntly. ‘The proprieties of the Fund’, he said, ‘contain an unwritten rule that, if at all possible, political arguments be dressed up in economic garb’.

From Zizek’s Trouble in Paradise, pg 46. A mechanism which operates at every level, from the individual to the international:

A decade or so ago, Argentina decided to repay its debt to the IMF ahead of time (with financial help from Venezuela). The IMF’s reaction was on the face of it surprising: instead of being glad that it was getting its money back, the IMF (or, rather, its top representatives) expressed their concern that Argentina would use this new freedom and financial independence from international institutions to abandon tight financial politics and engage in careless spending. This uneasiness made palpable the true stakes of the debtor/creditor relationship: debt is an instrument with which to control and regulate the debtor, and, as such, it strives for its own expanded reproduction.

A powerful polemic by Paul Mason in the Guardian arguing that the post-democratic character of the EU is intimately connection to the reemergence of fascism across Europe:

All this suggests that those of us who want Brexit in order to reimpose democracy, promote social justice and subordinate companies to the rule of law should bide our time. But here’s the price we will pay. Hungary is one electoral accident away from going fascist; the French conservative elite is one false move away from handing the presidency to the Front National; in Austria the far-right FPÖ swept the first round of the presidential polls. Geert Wilders’s virulently Islamophobic PVV is leading the Dutch opinion polls.

The EU’s economic failure is fuelling racism and the ultra right. Boris Johnson’s comparison of the EU with the Third Reich was facile. The more accurate comparison is with the Weimar Republic: a flawed democracy whose failures fuelled the rise of fascism. And this swing to the far right prompts the more basic dilemma: do I even want to be part of the same electorate as millions of closet Nazis in mainland Europe?

The EU, politically, begins to look more and more like a gerrymandered state, where the politically immature electorates of eastern Europe can be used – as Louis Napoleon used the French peasantry – as a permanent obstacle to liberalism and social justice. If so – even though the political conditions for a left Brexit are absent today – I will want out soon.

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/may/16/brexit-eu-referendum-boris-johnson-greece-tory

From Spam, by Finn Brunton, pg 67-68:

The business of phone sex is structured around arbitraging the different settlement rates—how much it costs to call a given country from the United States. A company in the United States leases lines in another country to route the calls and takes a per-minute cut of the settlement rate, with most phone sex calls routed through places like São Tomé, Moldova, and the Republic of Armenia. These millions of minutes of pay-per-minute activity were a significant source of income for the leasing countries: foreign pay-per-call operations were an enormous part of the traffic on Guyana Telephone and Telegraph (GT& T) circuits, for instance, making up $ 91 million of GT& T’s $ 131 million of revenues in 1995, and São Tomé kept approximately $ 500,000 of the $ 5.2 million worth of phone sex calls Americans made via their country in 1993, using the money to start a new telecom system. It is one of those strange macro/ micro moments that will recur on the fringes of spam’s history as lonely, sexually frustrated Americans unintentionally built telephone infrastructure for an island they’d never heard of off the coast of central Africa. 10

From Islamic State: The Digital Caliphate, by Abdel Bari Atwan, pg 137:

Islamic State battalions and units are extremely adaptable to changing situations and new developments on the ground, and field commanders are given total autonomy in implementing the operations they are charged with. This flexibility, and confident delegation, makes IS’s war effort extremely effective and frees up the Military Council to concentrate on the overall strategy, rather than the detail of individual battles. Its opportunistic ‘liquid’ structure makes it difficult for global intelligence networks to get solid information and tangible details in order to counter and preempt Islamic State operations. Thus Islamic State always has the advantage of surprise and is able to seize opportunities as and when they arise. Rather than ‘fight to the death’, its brigades will slip away from a battle they are clearly not going to win, regrouping in a more advantageous location – a tactic successfully employed for many years by the al- Qa‘ida network. In January 2015, for example, with the US- led alliance bombarding Islamic State targets in Iraq, the Military Council decided to redeploy its efforts to Syria. Fighters inside Iraq were ordered to lie low (mostly in cities where it is harder for war planes to strike without significant ‘collateral damage’) while battalions and sleeper cells in Syria were reactivated. As a result, the group doubled the territory under its control in Syria between August 2014 and January 2015.33