Monday, April 16, 2012


Dylan Welch April 14, 2012
AUSTRALIA is five weeks away from signing a crucial strategic agreement with Afghanistan that could cost hundreds of millions of dollars and outline Australia's postwar role there, but the government has yet to inform the public of its existence.
The previously undisclosed pact - revealed this week by the office of Afghan President Hamid Karzai (pictured) - is a strategic agreement that will see Canberra provide hundreds of millions of dollars in aid in the post-2014 decade
The international community has set the end of 2014 as the deadline for all international combat operations in Afghanistan. After that time security will be the sole responsibility of the Afghan army and the Afghan National Police.
Yesterday the office of Defence Minister Stephen Smith - who visited Afghanistan this week and met Mr Karzai - said the document did not relate to his portfolio, and referred The Saturday Age to the Foreign Minister, Senator Bob Carr.
However, a statement released by Mr Karzai's office on Wednesday after a meeting with Mr Smith appeared to contradict the view.
It said: ''[The] Australian Defence Minister said Australia is interested in forging a strategic partnership with Afghanistan.''
The release went on to discuss a draft of the agreement - recently handed to the Afghan foreign ministry - and said it would be signed by both countries during a NATO summit in Chicago on May 20 and 21.
''Minister Smith … hoped that the draft be finalised as soon as possible by the governments of the two countries,'' the statement said.
Another statement on Wednesday, from Afghanistan's Canberra embassy, also referred to the plan, saying it covers long-term co-operation involving ''security, development, trade and investment, cultural and people-to-people links and migration and humanitarian affairs.''
A spokesman for Mr Smith said his visit to Kabul had nothing to do with the agreement, which was a matter for Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Senator Carr.
The agreement was mentioned ''in passing'' during a conversation with Mr Karzai, the spokesman said, but ''did not concern either the content or detail''.
Despite that, it does not appear that Ms Gillard, Mr Smith or Senator Carr have told the Australian public about it.
Yesterday Mr Smith's office pointed to a speech by Ms Gillard to Parliament on November 21 last year that they said referred to the agreement.
More than 20 minutes into a half-hour speech Ms Gillard touched on a discussion with Mr Karzai about a ''long-term framework agreement for the future of the Australia-Afghanistan partnership''.
''This kind of co-operative, country-to-country approach is an important framework for our long-term plans. We seek an enduring relationship with Afghanistan beyond 2014 as Afghanistan takes on responsibility for its own security and governance,'' she said.
That appears to be the only discussion of a bilateral plan with Afghanistan.
It comes in the middle of a furious debate in the international community about what support will be provided.
The US has said at least $US4.1 billion ($A13.5 billion) a year will be needed to support the Afghan military and police alone, but after years of heavy spending on Afghanistan, some European countries affected by war weariness and slow economic growth are keen to scale back support.
This story was found at: http://www.theage.com.au/national/plan-to-spend-millions-on-afghanistan-uncovered-20120413-1wyz9.html

Sunday, April 1, 2012


  • 'Listening' agency at GCHQ will be able to monitor whom you contact
  • Similar legislation was thrown out when Labour proposed it in 2006
By Gerri Peev

Being watched: Internet companies will have to install hardware to give the Government greater access to online communications data
Being watched: Internet companies will have to install hardware to give the Government greater access to online communications data
All conversations over the internet and emails could be recorded as the Government plans a massive expansion in surveillance.
The Coalition is reviving Labour's ill-fated scheme to snoop on all British citizens online – despite the fact that it was opposed by Liberal Democrats and Conservatives while in Opposition.
Internet service providers will be asked to keep records of all emails, messages on social networking sites and conversations over Skype.
The content of the calls or messages will be recorded, but the authorities will have to obtain a court order if they want to listen to or read the content.
However, the police and security services will be able to demand details of who the communication is between and what time it is taking place without a court order.
The plans, which have been confirmed by the Home Office, will allow GCHQ, the Government's eavesdropping centre, to monitor on demand every phone call, text, email and website accessed in real time.
The 'snoopers' charter' is set to be included in the Queen's Speech on May 9.
Ministers will argue that the sweeping powers are needed to catch terrorists and serious criminals. But civil liberties campaigners said the measures would see Britain adopt the same kind of surveillance that takes place in China and Iran.
Labour tried to introduce a central database to track all phone, text, email and internet use in 2009, but it was ditched after mobile phone operators and internet companies refused to foot the bill.

In 2008, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg attacked the then Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown over the plans. He said: 'It is this government that has turned the British public into the most spied upon the planet – 1,000 surveillance requests every day, one million innocent people on the DNA database and 5,000 schools now fingerprinting our children.'
Last year Mr Clegg also unveiled the Protection of Freedoms Bill, which pledged to put 'traditional British freedoms at the heart of the Whitehall agenda'.
'Listening' agency: GCHQ, in Cheltenham, where Government surveillance workers will be able to trace who you contact, how often and for how long
'Listening' agency: GCHQ, in Cheltenham, where Government surveillance workers will be able to trace who you contact, how often and for how long
In Opposition, the Conservatives also pledged to cut down on intrusion into private lives. The party's manifesto said that 'wherever possible, personal data should be controlled by individual citizens'.
Nick Pickles, director of the Big Brother Watch campaign group, said: 'This is an unprecedented step that will see Britain adopt the same kind of surveillance seen in China and Iran.
'This is an absolute attack on privacy online and it is far from clear this will actually improve public safety, while adding significant costs to internet businesses.' Isabella Sankey, director of policy at pressure group Liberty, said: 'Whoever is in government the grand snooping ambitions of security agencies don't change.
'Intrusive': Internet users in Beijing, where strict measures allow the government to monitor and control online communications. Privacy campaigners have compared Britain's new laws to such tactics
'Intrusive': Internet users in Beijing, where strict measures allow the government to monitor and control online communications. Privacy campaigners have compared Britain's new laws to such tactics
'The Coalition agreement explicitly promised to “end unnecessary data retention” and restore our civil liberties.'
David Davis, the former shadow home secretary, said it was 'an unnecessary extension of the ability of the state to snoop on ordinary people'. He told the BBC: 'It is not focusing on terrorists or on criminals, it is absolutely everybody.
'Historically governments have been kept out of our private lives. Our freedom and privacy has been protected by using the courts by saying, “If you want to intercept, if you want to look at something, fine, if it is a terrorist or a criminal go and ask a magistrate and you'll get your approval.” You shouldn't go beyond that in a decent, civilised society.'
The move is likely to prove explosive within the Coalition, with many libertarian Tories and Liberal Democrat backbenchers poised to oppose the move.
A source close to Mr Clegg said no actual database was planned.
A Home Office spokesman last night insisted the plans would go ahead as soon as Parliamentary time allowed.
'It is vital that police and security services are able to obtain communications data in certain circumstances to investigate serious crime and terrorism and to protect the public,' he said. 'We need to take action to maintain the continued availability of communications data as technology changes.'


By Ian Morris, Professor Of Classics And History At Stanford University

Of all the tall tales in the science-fiction TV series Star Trek, what impressed me most when I was a  little boy was the Vulcan mind meld.
Laying his hands on the head of a human (or, in one of the films, a humpback whale), Mr Spock could, for a moment, dissolve the distance between two living things.
Each experienced everything the other felt, thought, knew and saw.
Now it seems scientists are about to make the Vulcan mind meld a reality – and go far beyond it.
Ten years ago, the US National Science Foundation predicted ‘network-enhanced telepathy’ – sending thoughts over the internet – would be practical by the 2020s.
Man and machine: Computers could soon be hardwired into the human brain and unlock amazing powe
And thanks to neuroscientists at the University of California, we seem to be on schedule.
Last September, they asked volunteers to watch Hollywood film trailers and then reconstructed the clips by scanning their subjects’ brain activity.
‘We’re opening a window into the movies in our minds,’ Professor Jack Gallant announced.
Last week, the scientists boldly went further still. They charted the electrical activity in the brains of volunteers who were listening to human speech and then they fed the results into computers which translated the signals back into language.
The technique remains crude, and has so far made out only five distinct words, but humanity has crossed a threshold.
We can now read people’s minds. On Star Trek, the Vulcan mind meld had medical benefits, curing a nasty imaginary infection called Pa’nar syndrome.
Science fact soon?: The Vulcan mind meld
Science fact?: Harnessing the power of the mind was a favourite of science fiction, including Star Trek's Vulcan mind meld
But the new breakthroughs promise to deliver much greater – and real – benefits.
No longer need strokes and neurodegenerative diseases rob people of speech because we can turn their brainwaves directly into words.
But this is only the beginning. Neuroscientists are going to make the mind meld look like child’s play. Mankind is merging with its machines.
The process began centuries ago with simple devices such as eyeglasses and ear trumpets that could dramatically improve human lives.
Then came better machines, such as hearing aids; and then machines that could save lives, including pacemakers and dialysis machines.
By the second decade of the 21st Century, we have become used to organs grown in laboratories, genetic surgery and designer babies.
In 2002, medical researchers used enzymes and DNA to build the first molecular computers, and in 2004 improved versions were being injected into people’s veins to fight cancer.
By 2020 we may be able to put even cleverer nanocomputers into our brains to speed up  synaptic links, give ourselves perfect memory and perhaps cure dementia.
But inserting technology into human brains is not the only thing going on. Some scientists also want to insert human brains into technology.
Since the Sixties, computer chips have been doubling their speed and halving their cost every 18 months or so.
If the trend continues, the inventor and predictor Ray Kurzweil has pointed out that by 2029 we will have computers powerful enough to run programs  reproducing the 10,000 trillion electrical signals that flash around your skull every second.
They will also have enough memory to store the ten trillion recollections that make you  who you are.
Adolf Hitler
Dangerous technology: The huge potential unlocked by the technology raises frightening prospects if it were to be used by evil dictators like Adolf Hitler
And they will also be powerful enough to scan, neuron by neuron, every contour and wrinkle of your brain.
What this means is that if the trends of the past 50 years continue, in 17 years’ time we will be able to upload an electronic replica of your mind on to a machine.
There will be two  of you – one a flesh-and-blood animal, the other inside a computer’s circuits.
And if the trends hold fast beyond that, Kurzweil adds, by 2045 we will have a computer that is powerful enough to host every one of the eight billion minds on Earth.
Carbon and  silicon-based intelligence will merge to form a single global consciousness.
Kurzweil calls this ‘The Singularity’, a moment when ‘the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep . . . that technology appears to be expanding at infinite speed’.
At that point, we will have  left the Vulcan mind meld far behind. But even this may not be the end of the story.
Much of the research behind last week’s breakthrough in brain science was funded not by universities but by DARPA, the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency.
It was DARPA that brought us the internet (then called the Arpanet) in the Seventies, and DARPA’s Brain Interface Project was a pioneer in molecular computing.
More recently, DARPA’s Silent Talk programme has been exploring mind-reading technology with devices that can pick up the electrical signals inside soldiers’ brains and send them over the internet.
With these implants, entire armies will be able to talk without radios. Orders will leap instantly into soldiers’ heads and commanders’ wishes will become the wishes of their men. Hitler would have loved it.
Thing of the past: Advances in technology could revolutionise the way armies communicate
Thing of the past: Advances in technology could revolutionise the way armies communicate

U.S. Special Forces soldier
Cyborg-soldier: The defence industry could soon try implanting computer technology into the brain of soldiers
Some of the clearest thinking about the new technologies has been done in the world’s departments of defence, and the conclusions the soldiers draw are alarming.
For example, US Army Colonel Thomas Adams thinks that military technology is already moving beyond what he calls ‘human space’, as robotic weapons become ‘too fast, too small, too numerous, and . . . create an environment too complex for humans to direct’.
Technology, Col Adams suspects, is ‘rapidly taking us to a place where we may not want to go, but probably are unable to avoid’.
As goes war, so,  perhaps, goes everything else. The merging of mankind and its machines that Kurzweil predicts for the mid-21st Century may, in fact, turn out just to be a lay-by on the way to a very different destination.
Later in the century, what we condescendingly call ‘artificial’ intelligence might replace us humans just as thoroughly as we humans once replaced all our evolutionary ancestors.
All this will come to pass . . .  unless, of course, it doesn’t. Maybe the trends Kurzweil and Col Adams identify will slow down, or even stall altogether.
And maybe the critics who mockingly call the Singularity ‘the Rapture for Nerds’ will be proved right.
But on the other hand, maybe the Nobel Prize-winning chemist Richard Smalley is closer to the truth when he points out: ‘When a scientist says something is possible, they’re probably underestimating how long it will take.
But if they say it’s impossible, they’re probably wrong.’
The University of California’s neuroscientists have taken us one more step towards a final frontier far beyond anything dreamed of in Star Trek.
l Ian Morris is the author of Why The West Rules – For Now, published by Profile Books.