Russia releases Ruthenium

Oct. 9, regional authorities in the Chelyabinsk region, home of the plant, issued a statement saying that the Russian state nuclear corporation, Rosatom, had regularly tested the air and that “the radiation background in the region is within norms.”

“From October 25 to October 1, excess beta activity was recorded in radioactive aerosol samples and precipitations in the southern Uralis. In radioactive aerosol samples from Argayash and Novogorny observation points, the radioisotope Ru-106 (368.2 days of decay time), “says the  Roshydromet Department’s report.

The highest concentration was registered at the station in Argayash, a village in the Chelyabinsk region in the southern Urals, which had ‘extremely high pollution’ of Ru-106, exceeding natural background pollution by 986 times, the service said.

While the source of the pollution remains unclear, the highest concentration was registered at the station in Argayash, a village in the Chelyabinsk region in the southern Urals, which had 'extremely high pollution' of Ru-106

Ruthenium 106, which is obtained from spent fuel, is used mostly in medicine. It is considered not particularly dangerous because of its short half-life, 373 days, and harmless at the low concentrations that have turned up in Europe.

Ruthenium-106 is a radioactive, naturally non-existent isotope of the element ruthenium. It is produced by the fission of uranium-235 in nuclear power plants, but also in the reprocessing of nuclear fuel rods. Because ruthenium-106 releases both beta and gamma radiation upon decay, it is considered toxic and carcinogenic when ingested at higher concentrations.

argayash

Argayash is about 20 miles from Mayak, a facility that reprocesses spent nuclear fuel. The plant facility issued a denial on Tuesday. “The contamination of the atmosphere with ruthenium-106 isotope registered by Rosgidromet is not linked to the activity of Mayak,” a statement said.

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Russian hit list

It wasn’t just Hillary Clinton’s emails they went after.

The hackers who disrupted the U.S. presidential election last year had ambitions that stretched across the globe, targeting the emails of Ukrainian officers, Russian opposition figures, U.S. defense contractors and thousands of others of interest to the Kremlin, according to a previously unpublished digital hit list obtained by The Associated Press.

The list provides the most detailed forensic evidence yet of the close alignment between the hackers and the Russian government, exposing an operation that went back years and tried to break into the inboxes of 4,700 Gmail users — from the pope’s representative in Kiev to the punk band Pussy Riot in Moscow. The targets were spread among 116 countries.

About 19,000 lines of data, recently shared by cybersecurity firm Secureworks, show that Fancy Bear — the hacking group blamed by U.S. intelligence agencies for disrupting last year’s presidential election — tried to break into more than 4,700 Gmail inboxes in at least 116 countries between March 2015 and May 2016.

It’s effectively a hit list — one that experts say points to the Kremlin.

“There is only one country whose interests this list would serve,” said Keir Giles, the director of the Conflict Studies Research Center in Cambridge, England, and one of five experts who reviewed the AP’s findings.

“Regardless of the inevitable denials from Moscow, it is the only explanation that makes sense,” he said.

Russian officials have described claims that they orchestrated the hacking as “ludicrous” and “verging on fantasy.” On Wednesday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said there was “not a single piece of evidence” to back the allegations.

But the Fancy Bear targets identified by the AP tell a different story. In more than 100 interviews, many blamed Moscow for the hacking.

“We have no doubts about who is behind these attacks,” said Artem Torchinskiy, a Navalny lieutenant who was targeted by Fancy Bear in 2015. “I am sure these are hackers controlled by Russian secret services.”

The largest groups of targets were in the United States, Ukraine, Russia, Georgia and Syria. The hackers tried to compromise employees of major U.S. defense contractors and attempted to steal the emails of then-Secretary of State John Kerry and former U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark. Also on the list were more than 130 Democrats and members of Clinton’s inner circle, including campaign chairman John Podesta, whose correspondence was leaked in the closing days of the presidential race.

Focus on Russia and former Soviet states

Most of the targeted accounts are linked to intelligence gathering or information control within Russia or former Soviet states. The majority of the activity appears to focus on Russia’s military involvement in eastern Ukraine; for example, the email address targeted by the most phishing attempts (nine) was linked to a spokesperson for the Ukrainian prime minister. Other targets included individuals in political, military, and diplomatic positions in former Soviet states, as well as journalists, human rights organizations, and regional advocacy groups in Russia.

Other targets worldwide

Analysis of targeted individuals outside of Russia and the former Soviet states revealed that they work in a wide range of industry verticals (see Figure 6). The groups can be divided into two broad categories:

  • Authors, journalists, NGOs, and political activists (36%)
  • Government personnel, military personnel, government supply chain, and aerospace researchers (64%)

 

TG-4127 likely targeted the groups in the first category because they criticized Russia. The groups in the second category may have information useful to the Russian government.

Threat Group-4127 Targets Google Accounts Threat Analysis
Figure 6. TG-4127 targeting outside of Russia and former Soviet states. (Source: SecureWorks)

Authors and journalists

More than half (53%) of the targeted authors and journalists are Russia or Ukraine subject matter experts (see Figure 7). It is likely that the Russian state has an interest in how it is portrayed in the media. U.S.-based military spouses who wrote online content about the military and military families were also targeted. The threat actors may have been attempting to learn about broader military issues in the U.S., or gain operational insight into the military activity of the target’s spouse.

Threat Group-4127 Targets Google Accounts Threat Analysis
Figure 7. Subject matter expertise of authors and journalists targeted by TG-4127. (Source: SecureWorks)

Government supply chain

CTU researchers identified individuals who were likely targeted due to their position within the supply chain of organizations of interest to TG-4127 (e.g., defense and government networks). Figure 8 shows the distribution by category. The targets included a systems engineer working on a military simulation tool, a consultant specializing in unmanned aerial systems, an IT security consultant working for NATO, and a director of federal sales for the security arm of a multinational technology company. The threat actors likely aimed to exploit the individuals’ access to and knowledge of government clients’ information.

Threat Group-4127 Targets Google Accounts Threat Analysis
Figure 8. Categories of supply chain targets. (Source: SecureWorks)

Government / military personnel

TG-4127 likely targeted current and former military and government personnel for potential operational insight gained from access to their personal communications. Most of the activity focused on individuals based in the U.S. or working in NATO-linked roles (see Figure 9).

Threat Group-4127 Targets Google Accounts Threat Analysis
Figure 9. Nation or organization of government/military targets. (Source: SecureWorks)

TG-4127 targeted high-profile Syrian rebel leaders, including a leader of the Syrian National Coalition. Russian forces have supported Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime since September 2015, so it is likely the threat actors are seeking to gain intelligence on rebel forces to assist Russian and Assad regime military operations.

Success of the phishing campaign

CTU researchers analyzed 4,396 phishing URLs sent to 1,881 Google Accounts between March and September, 2015. More than half (59%) of the URLs were accessed, suggesting that the recipients at least opened the phishing page. From the available data, it is not possible to determine how many of those Google Accounts were compromised. Most of the targeted accounts received multiple phishing attempts, which may indicate that previous attempts had been unsuccessful. However, 35% of accounts that accessed the malicious link were not subject to additional attempts, possibly indicating that the compromise was successful.
Of the accounts targeted once, CTU researchers determined that 60% of the recipients clicked the malicious Bitly. Of the accounts that were targeted more than once, 57% of the recipients clicked the malicious link in the repeated attempts. These results likely encourage threat actors to make additional attempts if the initial phishing email is unsuccessful.

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The 1998 Russian Ruble Collapse

Image result for the collapse of the russian ruble 1998

 

In 1998, the ruble lost 27 percent on August 17. Reaching a 16-year low, the ruble fell to 80 against the USD. By the time of publication, it had recovered to 62.7, compared to 32.9 at the beginning of 2014.

After the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, the ruble lost one third of its value, and in the following years while the country was gripped by civil war, the ruble dropped from 31 against the dollar to nearly 1,400. The ruble hit its historic low of 2.4 million per USD after the civil war and the year the revolution’s leader Vladimir Lenin died. It was re-denominated to 2.22.

Throughout the Soviet Union, the ruble was little used outside state borders, so the government kept the official rate close to the dollar, a massive overvaluation.

In the last years of the Soviet Union, the economic crisis caused panic among the population who were ‘stuck’ with their increasingly worthless rubles. A black market naturally developed, and while the official rate for the ruble was 0.56 per dollar, a single greenback actually sold for 30-33 rubles on the street.

On October 11, 1994, an event known as ‘Black Tuesday’ hit the Russian financial market, and the ruble collapsed 27 percent in one day, which on top of a decline in GDP and massive inflation, catapulted Russia into an economic recession.

By the end of 1995, chronic inflation had reached 200 percent.

In 1996 the currency closed at 5,560 rubles per US dollar. 1997 was the first year of relative stability, but the ruble still fell to 5960 rubles per dollar. An era of stability prompted the government to devalue the currency and slash 3 decimal places, and on January 1, 1998, the ruble was set to 5.96 against the US dollar.

From 1995 to 1998, Russian borrowers – both government and non-governmental – had borrowed large amounts in international capital markets.  This external debt, which denominated in U.S. dollars and was estimated at $160 billion by 1998, required U.S. dollars for interest and principal repayments.  Unfortunately, the U.S. dollars that Russia was earning on its trade and current account surpluses were leaving the country in the form of capital flight and thus were not available to service this growing external debt.  In addition, a global fall in commodity prices, adversely affected Russia’s dollar earnings on exports of oil, timber, and gold. Sensing that Russia was running out of hard currency, speculative attacks against the currency ensued.

The 1998 ruble crisis was driven by falling oil prices, which went as low as $18 in August 1998.

The bottom was ready to fall out of the economy. On August 17, 1998, Russia announced a technical default on its $40 billion in domestic debt and ceased to support the ruble on the same day. At the time, the bank only had $24 billion in reserves. The stock market and ruble both lost more than 70 percent, and nearly a third of the country’s population fell below the poverty line.

Along with the default came another mass devaluation of the ruble. In six months the value of the ruble fell from 6 to the dollar to 21 to the dollar.

“There was a desire to escape from the ruble from any direction,” Sergey Aleksashenko, deputy finance minister under Boris Yeltsin, has observed. Aleksashenko says today’s ruble crisis reminds him of 1998.

On May 27, 1998, the Central Bank increased the main lending rate to 150 percent, which brought loans to a near halt. By the end of 1998, inflation was 84 percent and the Russia GDP lost 4.9 percent.

Both currency crises in the 90s forced the governors of the Central Bank to resign.

September 2nd, 1998
The Russian Central Bank’s decides to remove the currency corridor and makes the ruble a freely floating currency. The ruble soon starts to depreciate sharply; in 3 weeks the currency loses two thirds of its value. The strong depreciation results in sharp price increases. Inflation rises to 27.6% in 1998 and 85.7% in 1999. As a result of food price increases, social unrest grows and citizens start to demonstrate in various cities.

The Russian economy contracts by 5.3% in 1998. GDP per capita even reaches its lowest level since the formation of the Russian Federation in 1991 (see Figure 2). Sovereign debt restructurings take place in 1999 and 2000. An IMF agreement of USD 4.5bn, concluded in July 1999, is meant to help Russia to regain access to the international financial markets access. However, allegations of irregularities in the banking sector again have a negative impact on the country’s financial market access and government bond yields remain high during the course of 1999. Nevertheless, thanks to both the sharp depreciation of the ruble, which continues in 1999, and an increase of international oil prices, the Russian economy recovers rather quickly and grows by 6.4% in 1999, 10% in 2000 and 5.3% in 2001. Meanwhile, inflation falls from 85.7% in 1999 to 20.8% in 2001 and 21.5% in 2001. The unemployment rate, which was 13% in 1998 and 1999, decreases to 9% in 2001.

In the case of Russia, we actually had many of the same elements leading to hyperinflation and then default. In this particular case, we have loss of a war, regime change, collapse of the tax system, political corruption, foreign denominated debts and collapse of productivity. In other words, this country was ripe for self destruction as they met almost all of the criteria that precede a hyperinflation and/or crisis resulting from ceding of monetary sovereignty.

 

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The Equifax hack

The company announced on September 7 that hackers gained access to servers storing sensitive information on over 143 million consumers. The data breach included names, addresses, Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers and more—everything an identity thief would need to ply their nefarious trade.

Hackers exploited a known Apache Struts vulnerability to breach the systems of Equifax. They had access between mid-May and late July and they may have stolen the details of over 145 million consumers in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. The compromised information included names, social security numbers (SSNs), dates of birth, addresses and, in some cases, driver’s license numbers, credit card numbers and dispute documents.

Apache Foundation recently confirmed that last month’s massive data breach stemmed from the consumer credit reporting agency’s failure to install patches to Apache Struts CVE-2017-5638, an open source framework used to build Java web applications. The patch had been released in March.

“They should have patched it as soon as possible, not to exceed a week. A typical bank would have patched this critical vulnerability within a few days,” said Pravin Kothari, CEO of CipherCloud, a cloud security company.

Equifax released additional details on Sept 13th 2017 confirming that the vulnerability involved was CVE-2017-5638. The CVE-2017-5638 vulnerability dates back to March 2017, which is why people in the security industry are now questioning how they could be so far behind in patching this well-known exploit.

The two vulnerabilities, CVE-2017-5638 and the recently revealed CVE-2017-9805 are very similar in nature and are both considered Remote Code Execution (RCE) vulnerabilities .

How does a RCE vulnerability work and how can they be prevented?

A RCE vulnerability is exploited when an attacker crafts a packet or request containing arbitrary code or commands. The attacker uses a method to bypass security that causes a vulnerable server to execute the code with either user or elevated privileges.

Such vulnerabilities can be prevented with a two-fold approach to web application security:

1) New vulnerabilities will continually be discovered in any web application framework, and it is the duty of IT teams to keep the software patched. This requires regular audits and patches to vulnerable software. Even the most proactive IT teams will not be able to prevent a so-called zero-day attack by patching alone so more must be done to protect the web server from zero-day vulnerabilities.

2) Since there is always a delay between the time a vulnerability is discovered and when a patch is developed by the maintainer of that product, a means to protect your website from undiscovered zero-day vulnerabilities is needed. Web Application Firewall’s (WAF) that typically rely on signatures are unfortunately at a disadvantage because signatures for existing vulnerabilities in most cases do not match newer zero-day vulnerabilities.

Equifax said it hired an outside computer security forensic firm to investigate as soon as it discovered unauthorized access to its Web site. The outside firm was Alexandria, Va.-based Mandiant — a security firm bought by FireEye in 2014.

 

 

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Invasion of Georgia 2008

August 8, as world leaders gathered in Beijing to watch the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, Russian tanks rolled across the border into Georgia. The night before, Georgian forces had responded to attacks by secessionists in South Ossetia, an ethnic enclave in northern Georgia, by pummeling civilian areas in the region’s capital, Tskhinvali, and seeking to retake the territory by force. Moscow, which had supported the province’s secessionist government for more than a decade, retaliated with a full-scale invasion, sending aircraft and armored columns into South Ossetia and targeting key military and transport centers inside Georgia proper. Russia also beefed up its military presence in Abkhazia, another secessionist province, in the northwestern corner of the country. Russian troops had been present in both enclaves as peacekeepers, deployed with Georgia’s consent 15 years earlier. When the Georgian attack on South Ossetia killed Russian soldiers and threatened the fragile status quo, Moscow intervened with lightning speed.
The conflict centered on South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two “breakaway provinces” in Georgia. They are officially part of Georgia, but have separate, unrecognized governments.
Abkhazia and South Ossetia are supported by Russia.
Russia has peacekeeping operations in both South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
During the five-day conflict, 170 servicemen, 14 policemen, and 228 civilians from Georgia were killed and 1,747 wounded. Sixty-seven Russian servicemen were killed, and 283 were wounded, and 365 South Ossetian servicemen and civilians (combined) were killed.
Timeline:
1918-1921- Georgia is briefly an independent state after separating from the Russian Empire.
1921 – After the Red Army invasion, Georgia is declared a Soviet Socialist republic.
April 9, 1991 – Georgia declares independence.
1991 – South Ossetia declares its independence from Georgia. Heavy fighting breaks out, forcing thousands of people to flee their homes.
1991-1992 – Civil war breaks out in Georgia. Zviad Gamsakhurdia is deposed as president.
1992 – Abkhazia declares its independence from Georgia, leading to armed conflict.
October 1992 – Eduard Shevardnadze is elected to lead Georgia. He is re-elected in 1995 and 2000.
September 1993 – Abkhazian separatist forces defeat the Georgian military.
October 1993 – Georgia joins the Commonwealth of Independent States.
May 1994 – A ceasefire is agreed upon and signed between the Georgian government and Abkhaz separatists. Russian peacekeeping forces are deployed to the area.
October 2001 – Fighting resumes between Abkhaz troops and Georgian paramilitaries. Russia states that it believes Georgia is harboring Chechen rebels, a claim denied by Georgia.
September 2002 – Russian President Vladimir Putin sends a letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, UN Security Council members, and members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe stating that Georgia must respond to accusations they are harboring Chechen militants or face military action from Russia.
October 2002 – Tensions with Russia are defused after Eduard Shevardnadze, Georgia’s president, promises to work with Russia to fight Chechen rebels.
November 2003 – Shevardnadze is forced to leave office in the “Rose Revolution.”
July 2005 – Under terms of a deal reached in May, Russia starts to withdraw its troops from two Soviet-era military bases.
May-June 2006 – Tensions between Georgia and Russia rise again when Georgia demands that Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia have visas.
November 12, 2006 – A referendum is voted upon in which South Ossetians overwhelmingly demand independence. In a simultaneous referendum, South Ossetia’s ethnic Georgians, a minority, vote to stay a part of Georgia. The referendum is not recognized by the Georgian government.
November 2007 – Russia announces that it has withdrawn its troops that had been based in Georgia since 1991. It retains a peacekeeping presence in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
April 3, 2008 – NATO members at a summit in Bucharest, Romania, defer the decision on Georgia and Ukraine’s admittance until December 2008.
April 21, 2008 – Georgia accuses Russia of shooting down an unmanned drone over Abkhazia on April 20. Russia denies the claim.
April 29, 2008 – Russia sends more troops to Abkhazia to counter what it says are Georgia’s plans for an attack.
May 26, 2008 – A UN investigation concludes that the drone shot down on April 21 was struck by a missile from a Russian fighter jet.
May 30-31, 2008 – Russia sends several hundred unarmed troops to Abkhazia, saying they are needed for railway repairs. Georgia accuses Russia of planning a military intervention.
August 1 – The explosion on the road near Tskhinvali, which had been probably engineered by South Ossetian separatists, injured five Georgian policemen. That night, intense fighting erupted between Georgians and the South Ossetian separatists. The casualties were six Ossetian militiamen killed.
August 7, 2008 – At 19:00, President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili announced on television a unilateral ceasefire. He asked the South Ossetians to cease fire.[3][4] After this, attacks became intense against the Georgian villages.South Ossetian separatists begin attacking Georgian peacekeepers, ending a ceasefire. Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili sends troops into South Ossetia. Russia responds by moving its troops to the border, flying aircraft over Georgia, and beginning air strikes in South Ossetia.
August 8, 2008 – After returning fire, Georgian troops advanced towards the capital of the self-proclaimed Republic of South Ossetia, Tskhinvali, during the night.[3] President Saakashvili later stated that Russia had already sent tanks to South Ossetia before he gave the order for Georgian forces to launch a military operation. Several hours after Georgian troops had assaulted Tskhinvali, Russia attacked Georgia, claiming to be conducting “peace enforcement” operation to defend peacekeepers and civilians. Russian military captured Tskhinvali in five days and expelled Georgian forces. Russia also launched airstrikes against military infrastructure in Georgia. Russia justified its actions by Georgia’s “aggression” and perpetration of “genocide” in South Ossetia. The United States, Great Britain and NATO call for a cease fire of military hostilities by both Russia and Georgia.
August 9, 2008 – A second front was opened by the military of the separatist Republic of Abkhazia in the Kodori Valley, the only region of Abkhazia effectively controlled by Georgia.
August 10 – The withdrawal of most Georgian troops from South Ossetia was announced by Georgia.[12] According to the Russian Ministry of Defence, a naval confrontation between the Russian warships and several Georgian ships took place A delegation of EU and US diplomats head to Georgia to resolve escalating tensions.
August 10, 2008 – Russia moves tanks and soldiers through South Ossetia and into Georgia proper, advancing towards the city of Gori.
August 12, 2008 – Russian President Medvedev said that he had ordered an end to military operations in Georgia. However, Russian air raids did not stop in Georgia. Russian troops drove through Poti and took up positions around it. After an end to hostilities was announced, Gori was shelled by artillery for the first time. A fragmentation shell exploded at a press center, which killed a Dutch journalist and also damaged the neighbouring buildings and lone open shop. Abkhaz forces captured the Kodori Valley, from which Georgian military and civilians had fled. French President Nicolas Sarkozy mediated a ceasefire plan between Russia and Georgia, which included provision to withdraw all troops to the lines they held before the war broke out.
August 13 – Parts of Gori, a strategic central Georgian city, was occupied by a Russian tank battalion several hours after the ceasefire agreement.
August 15 – Reuters reported that Russian forces had pushed to 34 miles (55 km) from Tbilisi, the closest during the war, and stopped in Igoeti. That day, United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice traveled to Tbilisi, where Saakashvili signed the peace plan in her presence. Russia calls a halt to its military incursion into Georgia and agrees to a six-point diplomatic push for peace. The plan is announced by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
August 13, 2008 – President George W. Bush announces humanitarian aid is to be sent to Georgia. It is also announced that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will be sent to France and Georgia for a diplomatic mission.
August 15, 2008 – Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili signs a cease fire agreement with Russia. The deal is brokered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
August 16, 2008 – Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signs the cease fire agreement.
August 22, 2008 – Russia completes its troop withdrawal from Georgia, as part of the cease fire agreement.
August 26, 2008 – Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signs an order recognizing the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. In response, US President George W. Bush releases a statement saying, “The United States condemns the decision by the Russian president to recognize as independent states the Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The territorial integrity and borders of Georgia must be respected, just as those of Russia or any other country.”
July 2009 – UN observers leave Georgia after 16 years. The mission was not extended due to a Russia veto.
September 2009 – A report from an EU fact-finding mission determines that the 2008 conflict was caused by Georgia’s illegal attack on the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali on August 7-8.
January 27, 2016 – The Hague-based International Criminal Court authorizes a probe into possible war crimes committed by Russian, Georgian and South Ossetian forces during the conflict.
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IBM and the Future

Good inteview

The IBM chief dares to imagine what Watson will be when it grows up, and reaffirms her pledge to hire 25,000 people over the next four years.
By Megan Murphy
‎September‎ ‎20‎, ‎2017‎ ‎5‎:‎00‎ ‎AM‎ ‎CDT
IBM Chief Executive Officer Ginni Rometty was interviewed on Sept. 13 in New York City by Bloomberg Businessweek Editor Megan Murphy. Following are excerpts from their discussion, which appear in the Sept. 25, 2017, edition of Bloomberg Businessweek.

Megan Murphy: Artificial intelligence. People may not know that IBM doesn’t call it AI. They call it “cognitive computing.” Tell us why that is.

Ginni Rometty: I have actually had to explain this to my husband as well, because he said to me, “Ginni, of all words, why cognitive?” It was really a very thoughtful decision. The world calls it AI. There’s so much fearmongering about AI. When we started over a decade ago, the idea was to help you and I make better decisions amid cognitive overload. That’s what has always led us to cognitive. If I considered the initials AI, I would have preferred augmented intelligence. It’s the idea that each of us are going to need help on all important decisions. I’m always reminded of an interesting statistic: When you’re asked what percentage of your decisions are right, what percentage would you get?

What would it be?

A study said on average that a third of your decisions are really great decisions, a third are not optimal, and a third are just wrong. We’ve estimated the market is $2 billion for tools to make better decisions. That’s what led us all to really calling it cognitive and getting through to people that, “Look, we really think this is about man and machine, not man vs. machine. This is an era—really, an era that will play out for decades in front of us.”

The world discovered IBM’s Watson after the computer system beat human competitors and won $1 million on Jeopardy! It’s named after your company’s first CEO. What does Watson mean for the future of AI—and for your business?
Everything you know until today is programmable—an entire era for decades has been programmable. Watson would be the beginning of a new era where you didn’t program. Machines would look at data, understand, reason over it, and they continue to learn: understand, reason and learn, not program, in my simple definition. That to us is a very big difference between what you might experience in what I call consumer AI—that is, general purpose—vs. business. We set out to build an AI platform for business.
There would be two big differences between business and consumer AI. For example, if you were on your phone and searched for the best song in 1950, you don’t think, Well, who voted on that? Why did they pick that song? But if you asked for the right diagnosis of a type of cancer, you’d want to know who trained the computer, what data and what was the evidence behind it. It would be the same for business: AI would be vertical. You would train it to know medicine. You would train it to know underwriting of insurance. You would train it to know financial crimes. Train it to know oncology. Train it to know weather. And it isn’t just about billions of data points. In the regulatory world, there aren’t billions of data points. You need to train and interpret something with small amounts of data. Guess what percentage of the world’s data is searchable? What would be your guess?
Four?
The answer is 20 percent. The other 80 percent lives with all of us who’ve established businesses—and my view is that data has got a lot of gold in it. It leads me to the second big difference between consumer and business AI. If that’s my data, and it’s my IT and my competitive advantage, I’m training algorithms, and I want to be sure those algorithms become mine. I want a platform that’s my AI even if it operates in a cloud. Business AI knows the domain and the profession, and it can protect your insight. Not just your data, your insight.
Now, some of you may or may not know this, we also own the Weather Channel. Any of you on your phones, that’s IBM you’re hitting when you do your weather. Now introduce Watson into that. Over the weekend of Hurricane Irma—a new weather forecast every 15 minutes recalculated across all 3 billion points of the earth—we helped a million conversations. It was interactive conversation, natural language on how to prepare for the hurricane. We also had half a trillion interactions with Watson to help 140 airlines reroute.

 

 

IBM’s Rometty on Real-World Accomplishments of Watson
You touched on some of the criticism of Watson that’s been out there: that it’s still too dependent on humans, it can’t learn fast enough, and it hasn’t been transformational enough to live up to some of the expectations both of IBM and how it’s being marketed. How do you respond to those critics?
IBM is an $80 billion company. So when people say, “My goodness, why hasn’t this thing grown IBM by two?” I think that’s a very unrealistic expectation. You teach these systems. Those of you that work with them, you and they have to learn and teach. Watson is exactly where we thought it would be. When we did our very first oncology teaching with Watson—the very first was lung, breast, and colon cancer—it took the doctors a year to train Watson.
This is really another key point about professional AI. Doctors don’t want black-and-white answers, nor does any profession. If you’re a professional, my guess is when you interact with AI, you don’t want it to say, “Here is an answer.” What a doctor wants is, “OK, give me the possible answers. Tell my why you believe it. Can I see the research, the evidence, the ‘percent confident’? What more would you like to know?” The first cancer Watson took almost a year. We are down to less than 30 days now. By the end of this year, Watson will have been trained on what causes 80 percent of the world’s cancers. And so I find that kind of criticism completely out of line.
I remember when my mother got cancer. My first reaction was, How do I know that this is the treatment? How do I know that this is the best thing? A 70-year-old truck driver in Florida going to get a new job had a recurrence of cancer. He was absolutely devastated. This is what I saw Watson do for him. The doctor showed him, “There are people like you with this cancer. Here are the kinds of treatments they get.” The difference in mindset is night and day. And then, on my trip to India, I met a woman whose doctor had never seen her kind of cancer. Without Watson, he would never have had the idea of what the treatments are.
Memorial Sloan Kettering [Cancer Center] was one of the first that taught Watson. It’s the gold standard, and it illustrates beautifully one of the principles of AI in the future. You must know who taught it and what data is in it—and you must be transparent about it because that matters in these decisions. That gives you a long, long, long answer, but this is why I’m so positive this world will have more really tough problems solved with AI.

And the dystopic view of AI?
When I went to Davos in January, we published something called Transparency and Trust in the Cognitive Era. It’s our responsibility if we build this stuff to guide it safely into the world. First, be clear on the purpose, work with man. We aren’t out here to destroy man. The second is to be transparent about who trained the computers, who are the experts, where did the data come from. And when consumers are using AI, you inform them that they are and inform the company as well that owns the intellectual property. And the third thing is to be committed to skill.
“It’s about what you do to communicate to people why these things are important. It’s not about a tweet”
Do you feel we’re going to get to a point where AI will displace more jobs than it creates and we’re not doing enough to push forward with the jobs of the future?
I do believe that when it comes to complete job replacement, it will be a very small percentage. When it comes to changing a job and what you do, it will be 100 percent. “Whoa, different skills. Everybody is going to have to have a different skill because it’s going to be a threat in all our jobs.” Let me just park that thought. I want to come back to something I think that’s far more important and is related. The issue of skills is front and center in this country and many countries in the world right now without AI. We already have a world that’s bifurcating between haves and have-nots, and a lot of that is based on education and skills. This country has 5 million to 6 million jobs open. That’s about skill. This is not being caused by AI. We’ve got to revamp education for this era of man and machine. And that means you cannot insist that every person needs to be a university or a Ph.D. graduate to be productive in society. You cannot. It’s not true by the way. We’ve proven that.
You started a six-year high school program. This is a program where they take people through four years of high school, two years of a college equivalent, and then hopefully give them preference in getting into the workforce, again to work with IBM.
In the U.S., in 2015, half of our young people didn’t have an associate’s degree or a college degree. That’s the problem today: the number of people that need to be retrained. I’m far more optimistic that public-private partnerships can solve this dilemma. There will be a hundred pathways to technology becoming viral, driven by governors and states. I always remember when President Obama came to the first one, he goes, “Where are all the computers?” We’re like, “That’s not what we teach these kids.” We’re teaching them a skill about math and problem-solving that’s going to transcend any technology they deal with. The first part is a very simple formula: a curriculum of math, science. The second, give the kids a mentor and then you give them a chance at a job. We will be up to 50,000 kids, and 300 other companies have volunteered. I have a whole bunch of these kids over in Silicon Alley where we have our Watson headquarters.

You were a part of President Trump’s decisions advisory council which disbanded in the wake of Charlottesville. You said in a letter to IBM employees that it was no longer fit for the purpose for which it was created. What did you mean by that?
It’s about policies, not politics. I’m passionate about skills and education, about being competitive in trade for a digital era, and of course, diversity and inclusion. We’re blessed to be able to have an influence, and it’s our job to do that. So this strategy and policy forum is what I asked to be a part of. It wasn’t a council. It was asked to give input, and I felt we’ve made a very, very positive impact on this issue about education and things that can be done. I expect the administration to continue to do more things aligned with that. We had some very good input on many other issues.
That is what the purpose was. If people began to believe that by becoming and being in any of these vehicles it meant you condone Charlottesville, no, we did not. There was nothing to condone about Charlottesville. But we would continue to engage, because it’s incumbent upon us. It transcends any kind of electoral cycle everywhere in the world. I have 380,000 employees. So it helps to always explain why we believe these things. We’re the only tech company that makes no political contributions, no PACs. Never have, never will. We’re the only one that can say that.
You come from a background that’s a bit different from most people’s. Your father left home when you were young, leaving your mother. You talked about food stamps, entitlement programs, getting back on your feet, and those lessons that your mother taught you. When you look at the country and some of the anger and, frankly, that a section of the people feel for this establishment, are we headed in the right direction?
For this country itself, I would never count America out, never. And I think you need to look no further than the weekend of Hurricane Irma. When things don’t go right, people help each other. I didn’t hear a single person say, “Well, what did my government do this weekend for me?” IBM pledged $4 million, and we’re not even counting all the volunteer work that we’re doing. Everyone looked out for each other. We had people buying boats going in and helping people. It’s a country that when there’s a problem, people look to each other before they look somewhere else. This is the culture of America.
But you have to pay attention that people have to believe they have a better future. That’s what people ground themselves in. We pledge to hire 25,000 people over the next four years. It’s important to me to go to the middle of America where companies are not necessarily always putting high-tech jobs. We will do it. Like others, I’m very bullish on this country.
“Don’t ever let anyone define who you are. Only you define who you are”
One of the things IBM has recently been engaged on which people may not realize is the transgender bathroom bill. How are those decisions made about what issues to engage on?
Our history of diversity goes back to 1943, when IBM had its first woman vice president, so I’ve been surrounded by a culture of diversity and inclusion my whole professional life there. This is a matter of where what you need to be a thriving business, to be competitive, intersects with your values. You can’t speak out on everything. By the way, I don’t think speaking is the most important part—it’s doing.
But we spoke out. Why? We had large parts of our company’s LGBT population, which we’ve embraced very, very strongly, afraid about North Carolina and Texas. In Texas we actually did 150 meetings with the state House of Representatives. It’s about what you do to communicate to people why these things are important. It’s not about a tweet. It’s about getting in there, rolling your sleeves up, communicating why it’s an issue, undertaking grass-roots efforts. That’s what we’ve done on the select issues that we think really do drive home what our values are. We can’t have a workforce afraid of coming to work.
You’ve talked about your journey as a female leader and about being a role model. There are a lot of women who sympathize with not wanting to be known always as a female CEO. How has that become more important to you during your career?
Early in my career, I would have always said, “Please, don’t ever reference me being a woman.” This is not about being a woman. I’m on my own merits here for many, many years. Then at some point, I realized wait a second, people do need role models, and whether I like that or not, you do have to take that onboard. I watched my mom. Yes, she struggled, and I’m a proponent for programs in the world that are a safety net for people. When we had no money and she had to go on food stamps, I had also watched the pain in her face. She could not wait to get off of those. She went back to school to get her degree, get a job so that we would be OK. The world would not define her as a woman whose husband left her, as unsuccessful, never educated. She wasn’t going to let the world do that. What she taught us transcended what a woman leader, as well as just a leader, is. Don’t ever let someone else define who you are. Only you define who you are.
We have come full circle, me and IBM. I say to people, “Look, we’re the only 106-year-old tech out there.” So this isn’t one generation, two generations, three generations, it’s four or five. And we’re the team reinventing it for another generation. The part that’s never changed about IBM is to innovate technology and apply it to business and society. That’s our core, even when those technologies change.

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The Second Korean War

On September 2, 2017, North Korea conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test. Experts say this was an advanced hydrogen bomb. It has has already launched eighteen missile tests this year, The last ballistic missile test flew over Japan. The war scenario will occur similar to this.

The USA sees another missile launch now or in the future. The USA shoots the missile down early in flight. North Korea retaliates, and escalates tensions into open warfare.

The DMZ has been weakened considerably over the last 50 years. The initial invasion of South Korea with conventional weapons will favor North Korea. The USA has troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. The USA would not be able to counter attack in a week. It would take a month. The South Korean army would be routed initially. The push would prohibit USA use of nukes since the nukes would be in North Korean on smaller mobile platforms.

Steve Bannon, formerly the president’s chief strategist, stated that the US cannot attack North Korea because of the risk of retaliation against South Korea that will kill millions.

So the war stays conventional.

North Korea has 1.2 million troops in its various military branches. South Korea has about 600,000. The surprise attack favors a sharp penetration during the first week. Again the US aircraft can inflict damage but there is not enough in the DMZ to stall the North Korea advance. There are 25 million people in South Korea within artillery range of North Korea. North Korea also has chemical and biological weapons.

History repeats.

South Korea was invaded on June 25 1950. North Koreans advanced through the country rapidly, even after American troops were drafted in from bases in Japan, and the war seemed all but over. Then in September General MacArthur landed two divisions in the enemy’s rear and North Korea was forced to flee amid heavy aerial bombardment. The USA lost more than thirty thousand troops in battle. South Korea lost almost a quarter million troops and a million civilians.

What if the South Korea government surrenders in the first month? What then?  It begins a tough war into Korea for the USA. The will is not there.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters: “We are never out of diplomatic solutions.”

Would the USA have attacked Saddam Hussein of Iraq and Muammer Gaddafi of Libya if they had nukes? History would say no.

The North occupying South Korea could use nukes on the invading USA army.  That threat alone would give the USA pause.

The prevention of this Second war requires basic steps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trump has repeatedly tried and failed to persuade Beijing to exert more economic pressure on North Korea, threatening that the US will take unilateral military action if China fails to force Mr Kim into line. China has sought to placate Mr Trump by toughening sanctions on Pyongyang. But the Chinese also have to consider how Mr Kim might react if he is forced into a corner. The risk that the North Korean leader will use nuclear weapons first will surely rise if he is faced with the prospect of the collapse of his own regime — and his own certain death.

 

 

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