Can Machines Think ?

In 1950, Alan Turing, theoretical mathematician responsible for breaking the Nazi Enigma code during World War II, who is considered the father of modern computer science and artificial intelligence (AI), posed a fundamental question: “Can machines think?”

Today we are on the verge of answering Turing’s question with the creation of AI systems that imitate human cognitive abilities, interact with humans naturally, and even appear capable of human-like thinking.  These developments have sparked a global discussion about the need for comprehensive and coordinated global AI regulation.

Implementation would be a tall order.  Even if regulations could keep up with the pace of technological change, passing a framework acceptable to countries that would view it through the lens of self-interest would be a daunting task.

Turning was just 41 when he died from poisoning in 1954, a death that was deemed a suicide. For decades, his status as a giant in mathematics was largely unknown, thanks to secrecy around his computer research and the social taboos about his homosexuality.  His story became more widely known after the release of the 2014 movie, “The Imitation Game.”

Alan Turing played a foundational role in the conceptual development of machine learning. For example, one of his key contributions is the Turing Test he proposed in his seminal 1950 paper, “Computing Machinery and Intelligence.”

The Turing Test is a deceptively simple method of determining whether a machine can demonstrate human intelligence.  If a machine can converse with a human without the human consistently being able to tell that they are conversing with a machine, the machine is said to have demonstrated human intelligence.

Critics of the Turing Test argue that a computer can have the ability to think, but not to have a mind of its own. While not everyone accepts the test’s validity, the concept remains foundational in artificial intelligence discussions and research.

AI is pretty much just what it sounds like—getting machines to perform tasks by mimicking human intelligence. AI is the simulation of human intelligence by machines. The personal interactions that individuals have with voice assistants such as Alexa or Siri on their smartphones are prime examples of how AI is being integrated into people’s lives.

Generative AI has made a loud entrance. It is a form of machine learning that allows computers to generate all sorts of content. Recently, examples such as ChatGPT and other content creating tools have garnered a whole lot of attention.

Given the rapid advances in AI technology and its potential impact on almost every aspect of society, the future of global AI governance has become a topic of debate and speculation.  Although there is a growing consensus around the need for proactive AI regulation, the optimal path forward remains unclear.

What is the right approach to regulating AI?  A market-driven approach based on self-regulation could drive innovation. However, the absence of a comprehensive AI governance framework might spark a race among commercial and national superpowers to build the most powerful AI system. This winner-take-all approach could lead to a concentration of power and to geopolitical unrest.

Nations will assess any international agreements to regulate AI based on their national interests. If, for instance, the Chinese Communist Party believed global AI regulation would undermine its economic and military competitive edge, it would not comply with any international agreements as it has done in the past.

For example, China ratified the Paris Global Climate Agreement in 2016 and pledged to peak its carbon dioxide emissions around 2030. Yet it remains the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Coal continues to play a dominant role in China’s energy mix and emissions have continued to grow.

It would be wise to be realistic about the development and implementation of global AI regulations.  Technology usually does not advance in a linear fashion. Disruptions will occur with little to no foresight. Even if a regulatory framework can keep pace with technological advancement, countries will be hesitant to adopt regulations that undermine their technological advancement, economic competitiveness, and national security.

Russian ruble rebounds as Russia and China work hard at de-dollarization

“Russia’s ruble is reduced to rubble. Their economy will be cut to half. The ruble is crumbling now,” President Biden said during a speech on March 26 while visiting Poland, a country that has been taking in refugees from neighboring Ukraine.

The value of the Russian ruble tumbled 30 percent after the U.S. and its allies, including most of the European Union, Canada, Japan, Australia and almost all other major Western economies imposed sanctions in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But the ruble has bounced back, almost doubling in value from its low point on March 7.

The recent gains mean the currency is now back to its level before broad based, hellish sanctions on the Russian government and its oligarchs were imposed, continuing its streak as the best performing currency in the world this year.  This strong performance once again demonstrates the body politic in the U.S. has become like the other woman, wanting to believe the promises all too many politicians make about the future.  They never change.

Russian energy exports drive ruble rebound

Why has the Russian ruble made large gains in spite of the sanctions?  Reasons for that rebound include, surging energy prices, support from the Russian government putting huge capital controls in place to stabilize the ruble and the Russian Central Bank raised interest rates by as much as 20 percent.

Additionally, Russia required the European Union and other nations guzzling Russian oil and gas, to pay for the energy commodities in rubles since the U.S. and Europe weaponized the dollar denominated financial system.  In effect, Russia has weaponized its energy in response to Western sanctions.  Given super high energy prices, Bloomberg Economics estimates that Russia’s energy exports will increase this year by one-third to $321 billion.

Still further it is hard to ignore the lifeline other nations such as China, India, Brazil, South Africa, NATO member Turkey and others have tossed Russia by purchasing its oil and gas in rubles. Also, Riyadh is in discussions with Beijing to sell its oil to China for yuan in lieu of dollars.   These purchases have given Russia a current account surplus—exporting more than it imports, stabilizing the ruble.

The decision to link oil and gas and other raw materials to the ruble threatens the hegemonic order of the U.S. dollar.  In effect, Russia, the eleventh largest economy in the world by nominal Gross Domestic Product, has accelerated its de-dollarization.  For the last several years, China and Russia have sought to reduce their use of the dollar in an effort to shield their economy from existing and potential future U.S. and other Western nations sanctions and assert global economic leadership.

Dollar dominates global economy, for now

The U.S. government has acknowledged that it can’t stop these purchases because there are no secondary sanctions on countries doing business with Russia.

The U.S. can use sanctions as a weapon and compel allies to go along with it or else because the U.S. dollar is the world’s reserve currency.  For nearly 80 years the dollar has dominated the global economy because it is needed to conduct global trade.  The U.S. dollar controls about four-fifths of all currency operations in the world. It is hard to imagine things being done in a different way.

The U.S. accumulated about two-thirds of the world’s gold reserves at the end of World War II. This was the basis for the Bretton Woods system of monetary management that ensured the U.S. dollar hegemony in the western world for many years.

China and Russia have tried for some time to de-dollarize in trade and investment with limited success but if their de-dollarization efforts gain traction there could be major implications for the U.S. economy, U.S. sanctions, and U.S. global economic leadership.

Why the U.S. should be concerned China is making moves in ‘America’s backyard’

The United States is losing ground to China in the battle for influence in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is strengthening its relationships in the region often called “America’s backyard”.

China’s growing footprint in the region has raised concerns in Washington that the PRC is leveraging its economic might to further its strategic goals and displace American dominance in the region.

As General Laura J. Richardson, commander of the United States Southern Command, testified before Congress in March, “The PRC continues its relentless march to expand its economic, diplomatic, technological, informational, and military influence in LAC and challenge U.S. influence in all these areas”.

The region is increasingly important to China in both economic and political terms.  It possesses an abundance of natural resources and raw materials, and a productive environment for trade and investment.

In addition to securing strategic resources, expansion in the region helps China increase its sphere of influence and achieve certain political goals in the global geopolitical chess game by challenging the U.S. in its own neighborhood; one the U.S. overlooked for years as it focused on the Middle East and elsewhere.

The PRC is now South America’s top trading partner and a major source of foreign direct investment and lending in energy and infrastructure.  It is also forging cultural, educational and political ties.

For instance, in 2000, less than 2 percent of LAC exports went to China. By 2021, that number had risen to $450 billion.  China is currently the second largest trading partner for LAC after the U.S., and LAC-China trade is expected to more than double by 2035.

Another Chinese objective is to use economic agreements to isolate Taiwan by persuading LAC countries to abandon diplomatic recognition of Taiwan’s sovereignty.  Currently, 25 of the 33 Latin American countries recognize the PRC rather than Taiwan.

The COVID-19 pandemic further elevated China’s status in the region. Beijing supported Latin America early on with large shipments of masks, personal protective equipment, medical supplies such as ventilators, diagnostic test kits and vaccines to curry favor with the various countries.

In September 2013, Beijing officially launched the trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), using a name that harkens back to the famed Silk Road.  It is at the center of Chinese foreign policy and includes a web of investment programs that seek to develop infrastructure and promote economic integration with partner countries. It represents a direct threat to the US because China is seeking to use it as a connective link with the whole world on its path to becoming the global superpower.

Since 2017, 21 LA countries have signed on to the Belt and Road Initiative and more are expected to join.  In the face of China’s footprint in LAC, the Monroe Doctrine seems to have been forgotten.

In response to China’s impressive trajectory in LAC, President Biden, who took the lead on LAC policy during the Obama administration, and the G-7 leaders agreed in June 2021 to launch a global infrastructure initiative, Build Back Better World (B3W).  This initiative is consistent with the view that China is a strategic competitor to the U.S. in the global superpower game that some call a new Cold War.

B3W seeks to offer an alternative to China’s BRI. Its goal is to advance infrastructure development in low -and middle- income countries, including LAC. It is an international extension of the White House’s domestic Build Back Better proposal.  The LAC is the first region on the B3W’s radar.

How the initiative will be implemented to compete successfully with China in LAC is an open question.  What is clear, however, is that the superpower rivalry is good news for LAC countries.

History may show Latin America to be among the winners of the new Cold War. The U.S. will now pay the requisite amount of attention to the region and provide welcome resources.


Putin’s tactics in Ukraine rival Stalin’s engineered famine in the 1930s

Vladimir Putin’s brazen and barbarous invasion of Ukraine is reminiscent of the artificially engineered famine Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin used in 1932-1933 in an attempt to extinguish Ukraine.

Stalin unleashed a famine referred to by Ukrainians as the Holodomor (“killing by hunger”) to break Ukrainian resistance when they refused to cooperate with the Russian system of collective agriculture.  Like Putin’s actions today, it was an act of genocide.

Just as energy is Putin’s gold, grain was Stalin’s. He strove to gain control over Ukraine’s fabled breadbasket to finance his ambitious industrialization and militarization plans by forcing millions of peasants onto collective farms.

When the people resisted, Stalin deployed the secret police and military to ruthlessly crush what he considered to be Ukrainian nationalism, while continuing to requisition grain for export in exchange for hard currency and engaging in the widespread persecution, deportation to the Gulag, and execution of the non-compliant.

During 1932-33, Ukraine suffered mass starvation.  Nearly four million people, about 13 percent of the Ukrainian population at the time, are estimated to have died of famine in a land of unrivalled fertility.  Many in the international human rights community consider the famine genocide.

Today, Russian tactics in Ukraine, such as indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas, is fueling a death toll not witnessed in Europe since the days of Stalin and Hitler.

Put bluntly, after the Russian invaders were forced to withdraw from Bucha, a small town in the Kyiv region, the graphic images of mass graves, tortured and mutilated bodies, executed civilians with their hands bound behind their backs suggesting they had been first been taken captive and then killed, of streets covered with corpses, provided photographic evidence of Russia’s open and horrific war crimes.  The available evidence makes it unlikely that these people died as a result of collateral damage resulting from a military exercise.

While many Ukrainian allies expressed shock and grief, the Russian president dismissed the accusation that his army committed war crimes in Bucha, accusing Ukraine of staging the atrocities.  Another example of the numerous official fictions Putin monotonously propagates.


President Biden, who previously called Mr. Putin a war criminal, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky have accused Russian forces of committing genocide in Ukraine.  Zelensky said Putin was trying to “wipe out the idea” of a Ukrainian identity.

Moscow has categorically disputed the genocide claims and accused the U.S. of hypocrisy over its own crimes. The International Criminal Court in the Hague has opened an investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Bucha and elsewhere in Ukraine.

Genocide is regarded as the gravest crime against humanity and has a strict legal connotation.  The 1948 United Nations Genocide Convention defines it as crimes committed “with intent to destroy in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group”.   It is exemplified by Nazi efforts to eradicate the Jewish population, during which more than six million Jews were killed.

Genocide is harder to prove than other violations of international law because it requires evidence of specific intent.  While proving intent beyond reasonable doubt is difficult, genocide is recognizable.  Russia has targeted and killed civilians; is reported to have forcibly deported hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians, including children, to Russia and bombed a maternity hospital.  Given the scale of Russian violence genocide warnings need to be taken seriously.

As evidence of Russian atrocities are revealed, one after another, use of the term genocide echoes the holodomor, the genocidal tactics favored by Stalin in the 1930s to starve the Ukrainian people.

The blame lies with Putin.  He is trying to re-absorb Ukraine into Russia, push back against NATO expansion into Eastern Europe, and regain Russia’s position on the world stage.

Many Russians have long been suckers for greatness.

In the process, Putin has turned Russia into an international pariah.  Given what he has done, the thought of anyone in the West negotiating with him is difficult to stomach.

Whatever Putin’s motives, nothing justifies Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Vladimir Putin is not crazy. He has not lost touch with reality. He is evil, a KGB thug, murderer and war criminal, and he knows what he is doing. Many believe that he will stop at nothing to recreate the Russian Empire. Others believe that Putin is vehemently opposed to NATO expansion.

Whatever his motives, nothing justifies Russia’s horrific invasion of Ukraine. It is a flagrant violation of international law that has resulted in a humanitarian disaster. It seems strange now that anyone ever imagined that Putin might not invade Ukraine.

The West is told that Putin has made a strategic mistake in thinking his military could overwhelm Ukraine, capture Kiev within 72 hours, decapitate the Ukrainian government, install a pro-Moscow puppet regime and face little popular resistance. But he knows he can achieve his objectives by behaving badly.

On Aug. 8, 2008 Russian forces began the invasion of Georgia, marking the start of Europe’s first war of the 21st century. The conflict itself was over within a matter of days, but the repercussions of the Russo-Georgian War continue to reverberate.

The international reaction to Russia’s military campaign in Georgia was remarkably muted. It minimized Russia’s bad behavior, with Moscow suffering few negative consequences. The invasion of Georgia should have been a wake-up call to the international community.

Understandably, Putin interpreted this accommodating approach as an invitation for further acts of aggression in what he perceived as Russia’s traditional sphere of influence. The 2008 invasion of Georgia was a Beta test for future aggression against Russia’s neighbors and a dry run for the tactics and strategies that would later be deployed in the 2014 invasion of Ukraine: launch a cyberattack, a disinformation campaign, and an all-out effort to meddle in a country’s domestic politics. Six years after the Russo-Georgian War, Russia embarked on a far more comprehensive military campaign against Ukraine which again went unchecked.

Even after the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the launch of Moscow’s war in eastern Ukraine, the U.S. and Europe still failed to acknowledge that Russia had become a revisionist power seeking to establish its dominion over the eastern half of Europe.

One can only speculate whether firmer Western responses in 2008 and 2014 could have prevented the tragic events of 2022. Now Ukrainians are paying the ultimate price. Based on the West’s behavior, Putin could only have concluded that the benefits of invading Ukraine would exceed the costs.

Europe and the U.S. keep learning the wrong lessons; their weakness begets weakness. Showing restraint and searching for a diplomatic solution encourages Putin, who has no retirement plans, to exploit the West’s vulnerability and double down.

Putin is holding the world to ransom. Few thought he would actually invade Ukraine, but he did just that. Why would you put anything past him, including widening the war leading to a nuclear Armageddon? An economically cornered Russia coupled with continued Ukrainian resistance could cause Putin to escalate.

Putin understands that the U.S. and Europe will not resort to measures such as a no-fly zone that could lead to direct conflict with Russia and risk nuclear war over Ukraine, which is not a NATO member. He knows full well that nuclear brinkmanship has prevented the West from bombing his army into the ground. The result would be World War III. After all, Russia has nearly 6,000 nuclear weapons, with an estimated 1,600 active and deployed.

Will all this end with a diplomatic solution in which Russia withdraws its forces in exchange for Ukraine’s neutrality? Who knows? It is too early to start considering the shape of things to come. As Yogi Berra famously put it: “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” This is especially true when your calculations depend on the actions of an evil man.

What will the Taliban do with U.S. Military weapons left behind?

With the war in Afghanistan having officially ended on Aug. 31, the world’s thoughts have turned to how the Taliban will govern the country and what equipment left behind by coalition forces they now have at their disposal.

The calamity in Afghanistan raises questions not just about what the American mission was but about how much of the U.S. military budget seems to provide little in the way of benefits. The U.S. dumped over $2 trillion into nation building in Afghanistan over a 20-year period, including $85 billion in technically advanced equipment and training for Afghan security forces.

Say what you will about the decision to withdraw, it should be obvious by now that the boneheaded, hasty, and chaotic U.S. exit from Afghanistan cost the lives of 13 brave servicemen and women, and left behind hundreds of Americans and thousands of Afghan allies the U.S. repeatedly promised to get out.

If that sounds like one of the less significant charges one might level against the American government, consider how, after a war that lasted 20 years, the U.S. has nothing to show for it but a fully equipped Taliban parading around in U.S. Army fatigues, cradling American M16 rifles and other weapons. The Taliban staged victory parades showing off the U.S. military hardware they have seized, replacing sandals with American military boots they could never have imagined.

A rough estimate of the total amount of equipment sent to Afghanistan during the 20-year occupation includes up to 22,000 Humvee vehicles, nearly 1,000 armored vehicles, 64,000 machine guns, and 42,000 pick-up trucks and SUVs. Other weapons included up to 358,000 assault rifles, 126,000 pistols, and 200 artillery units.

Oh, and the Taliban will likely inherit state-of-the-art military helicopters, warplanes, late-model drones and other air aircraft from the U.S. as well. Thanks to the largesse of the American taxpayer, the Taliban now has more Black Hawk helicopters than 85 percent of the countries in the world, according to Congressman Jim Banks, who is also a veteran.

While it is always frustrating to read about the many ways the federal government wastes taxpayer money, it pales in comparison to the appalling reality that the U.S. left an estimated $85 billion in taxpayer purchased military equipment in the hands of the Taliban. This was just part of the American taxpayer money that evaporated as the Taliban marched toward Kabul. There was also the opportunity cost of what these funds could have done to improve the quality of life in the U.S.

Even if the equipment is not used by the Taliban, it may end up going to the highest bidder, or to hostile states that can reverse engineer the technology.

But there are other dangers as well. For example, the Taliban has seized biometric devices from the U.S. military that might allow them to identify and capture Afghans who worked with the U.S. and the NATO allies that were part of the Afghan enterprise. These devices have the fingerprints, eye scans, and biological information of all the Afghans who were with the coalition forces over the last 20 years.

There is no sugar coating the American defeat in Afghanistan. But trying to get the straight skinny from the Pentagon and the White House on why all the U.S. weaponry was abandoned is like trying to put out a bush fire.

Having closed the chapter on Afghanistan, Americans who pride themselves on having notoriously short memories will move on to other issues, such as the still-raging COVID-19 pandemic and things that affect them and their families more directly. Politicians have made careers betting on the public’s historical amnesia and short memory.

And unlike the 1979 kidnapping of 53 Americans at the U.S. Embassy in Teheran, the media will not report on the fiasco in Afghanistan for 444 days and nights, as they did throughout the Iranian hostage crisis.