Beyond the Noise | 9.4.2023

What to read this week! Problems with the Ukraine counteroffensive, conscious AI, and the Dalai Lama.

Beyond the Noise | 9.4.2023

At the Forefront:

Ukrainian Soil Welcomes Winter Marches and Kyiv Continues to Disobey Washington

John Paul Rathbone for the Financial Times: Military briefing: Kyiv ignores calls for reset of its ‘sneak and peek’ tactics.

( Paywall-free link here)

The highlight article for this week is shorter than usual, though gets at critical updates on the offensive. Rathbone’s framing also highlights the common faults this blog has pointed to, in both Ukraine’s handling of the war and the West’s coverage of it.

The Ukrainian counteroffensive has been dreadfully slow across all fronts. Major Western media have finally started more heavily question the lag. (This, following months of trying to excuse its speed, such as claiming that Ukraine was biding its time). Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba assuaged doubt in classic schoolyard tactics telling critics to, “shut up.” Fortunately, just two days later, Ukrainians broke through Russia’s first line of defense along the southern axis of Zaporizhzhia. Given that most of Russia’s defenses were in the first line of defense, progress should accelerate for Ukraine in Zaporizhzhia. What problems do we still face?

First, winter approaches. Ukraine must make quick and steady progress in Zaporizhzhia as the sandy terrain turns to sludge in wet and wintry conditions. It’s much easier to defend in mush than march through it, giving Russian defenses better fortification as the seasons progress. However, northern, hard-earth soil provides more leeway for trekking through snow and ice. So northern counteroffensives will likely be slow for the meantime.

Second, Ukrainian forces continue to ignore Washington’s advice on military strategy. When Biden finally conceded the M1 Abrams tank to Kyiv, it had a stipulation that Ukrainian soldiers would continue training in combined arms maneuvers—integrating infantry, artillery, longer ranged rockets, and drone/airpower as the environment dictates. As the New York Times reported at the start of August, Ukrainian soldiers abandoned the training for their traditional attrition efforts—both sides blasting each other to see who still stands. The Abrams are set to arrive in September, though Ukraine looks to be unprepared.

Rathbone gets a theoretical explanation from top brass for resorting back to tactics of a war of attrition—by wrongly defining it. He quotes former defense minister, Andriy Zagorodnyuk, as comparing Ukraine’s strategy to the US’s invasion of Iraq for bombing first, then invading.

“That wasn’t called a war of attrition. It was part of a process to deny Iraqis the possibility of defending their positions,” he said. “Our process of preparation is taking longer but then we don’t have air supremacy like the US-led forces did then.”

The Iraq War was not a war of attrition because the US had nearly infinite more power than Iraq, bombed Baghdad without resistance, and destroyed military and civilian infrastructure in an effort to “shock and awe.” The US was invading, not reclaiming its own land. The US did have air supremacy, which is a defining feature. Oh, and the US needed combined arms maneuvers when it finally took Baghdad. Ukraine and Russia are in a war of attrition.

For more writing on the Washington-Kyiv connection, see my short article here.

Counterpoint Commentary:

BRICS is dead; long live BRICS+

Xi Jinping and BRICS welcomed 6 additions to its multilateral, economic organization. BRICS historically has functioned to provide an alternative diplomatic channel and source of direct funding to traditional groups like the IMF or World Bank, whose investments come with numerous political clauses. The addition of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Argentina, Iran, Egypt, and Ethiopia led Sarang Shidore to write that, “American Power Just Took A Big Hit,” for the New York Times.

Not likely.

This thoughtful piece from the Le Monde editorial board clearly explains otherwise. BRICS+ has no clear goal. Its main leaders, China, Russia, and India all have oppositional relationships and territorial disputes (no matter how friendly they appear), which do not indicate long-term success. The dollar remains the world’s currency, as the major BRICS powers have their currencies supported by USD reserves.

No doubt, American power has taken many hits as we’ve entered a multipolar world again. BRICS+, however, will not land any blows.

Chronicles of the Cutting Edge:

Could we tell if AI is conscious?

In a pivotal new study, an interdisciplinary team of researchers developed a framework for evaluating the potential consciousness of AI systems. Rather than theorizing what consciousness in AI would look like, the research synthesizes existing knowledge on human and animal consciousness to identify possible indicators of consciousness in AI, anchored in theories like Recurrent Processing and Global Workspace, among others. This approach may illuminate pathways to developing conscious AI systems in the future, even though no current AI manifests consciousness.

The study rests on three assumptions: that computational functionality could facilitate consciousness even in artificial systems; it leverages existing neuroscientific theories potentially associated with consciousness; and emphasizes evaluating AI based on established scientific theories rather than seeking theory-neutral signs.

Sourced from Jack Clark’s newsletter, ImportAI

The Side Piece:

Tibet, China, and Buddhism prepare for the Dalai Lama’s passing—even if he lives for another 30 years…

A long profile from the Financial Times explores how His Holiness, the Dalai Lama is navigating late life—and how China is preparing to take advantage of his passing. For those who don’t know, when the Dalai Lama dies, another figure, known as the Panchen Lama looks for his reincarnation, and vice versa. However, in 1995, Chinese authorities kidnapped the 6-year old boy the Dalai Lama identified as the Panchen Lama and remains missing. Thus, Tibet has no one to find its next spiritual leader, and China is empowered to name a false successor.

The Financial Times delves much more deeply into the political ramifications that would also involve Indian and American interference.

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