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Nuclear weapons in space are bad news for the entire planet

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Nuclear weapons in space are bad news for the entire planet

Last month, several news outlets reported that Russia could be planning to deploy a space-based nuclear weapon, alarming, well, pretty much everyone.

US policy hawks, space environmentalists, and anyone with a lingering memory of Cold War-era fears over nuclear annihilation were all sounding the alarm about the threat posed by a Russian nuke in space. 

As scary as the prospects sound, the US government has assured people that the weapon doesn’t necessarily pose a threat to people on the ground. Instead, it would target other objects in space, like the satellites used by the US military for communications and other operations.

But that struck some as cold comfort, especially given Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unpredictability. And Putin has indicated that putting a nuclear power unit in space is a priority for the country.

In the long term, defense experts warn that having a nuclear weapon positioned in space could pose a threat to life on Earth by eroding international relations and space law. From clouds of space debris that could cut off access to space to the development of weapons that could launch from space to hit targets on the ground, space-based nukes have the potential to impact everything — and everyone. 

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Anti-satellite weapons already exist — but not nuclear ones

No country has ever used an anti-satellite weapon against another country, but several countries have destroyed their own satellites in demonstrations of their military capabilities — including the US, Russia, China, and India. 

These tests are not without controversy: a 2021 Russian test of an anti-satellite weapon, for example, drew condemnation from NASA for creating debris that threatened astronauts on the International Space Station (including Russian cosmonauts). Since then, a UN panel has called for a ban on the testing of such weapons and several European Union nations and the US have pledged not to perform destructive tests. 

A nuclear weapon in space would cause much more destruction than previous anti-satellite weapons tests, explained Andrew Reddie of the Berkeley Risk and Security Lab, as existing space-based weapons typically destroy just one satellite at a time. In the age of huge satellite constellations such as Starlink, knocking out a single satellite is more of an annoyance than a major threat.

To destroy satellites at scale, you need a different weapon, such as a directed energy weapon based on the ground. Or, you could use a nuclear weapon in space, which creates not only shock effects but also heat, radiation, and an electromagnetic pulse — giving it the ability to take out or impair entire networks. 

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A nuclear weapon in space would cause much more destruction than previous anti-satellite weapons tests

International laws protecting space

The best response the international community has had to date in restricting the stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons is international law. When it comes to space, the key piece of legislation is the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, of which Article IV prohibits placing nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in orbit.

Detonating a weapon in space would be unprecedented and could run afoul of international rules barring the use of indiscriminate weapons on civilians or civilian objects.

“It seems to be that any kind of destruction of something in space is an indiscriminate weapon, and indiscriminate weapons are prohibited, and the use of indiscriminate weapons are a war crime,” said Christopher Johnson, professor of law at Georgetown University.

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However, this assumes that satellites are being destroyed by a kinetic impact. It might be possible to disable or jam satellites in another way, such as using an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP. Some reports have suggested that Russia is developing an EMP anti-satellite weapon rather than a nuclear one. If that could be done in a way that doesn’t create a debris field, that may not contravene the international law because it would no longer be a weapon of mass destruction or indiscriminate in its effects.

With the current situation, “We don’t know what is being threatened,” Johnson said and pointed out that the details matter a lot here and that Russia is capable of a very close reading of the relevant laws to stay within them. 

Detonating a weapon in space would be unprecedented and could run afoul of international rules

The cascading debris problem

The reason that the use of weapons in space could be considered indiscriminate is because of the debris field they create. Destruction of objects in space creates large pieces of debris, which are hazardous but relatively easy to track. Where it gets dangerous is the increasing number of medium and small pieces of debris, which are too small to be trackable but are still traveling at high enough speeds to do tremendous damage to other objects or even people in space.

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“A fleck of paint the size of your thumbnail can go through most spacecraft. Traveling at a very high velocity — 18,000 mph — it’ll go right through it,” said space debris expert Vishnu Reddy of the University of Arizona. 

A serious collision in orbit could create a field of small debris pieces that would quickly collide with other satellites, creating a cascade. At a critical mass, each collision creates more debris, which creates more collisions, which creates more debris, until an entire orbit becomes difficult or impossible to access. 

This scenario, known as the Kessler syndrome, could cut off access to space for generations: from making rocket launches more difficult, dangerous, and expensive to, at worst, making any kind of space travel completely impossible for decades and shutting humanity off from the stars.

This concept of the syndrome was first proposed in the late 1970s, when there were optimistic predictions that the Space Shuttle might fly as often as once per week. That never came to fruition, so in the intervening decades, there was less concern about the possibility of a cascading debris event.

But now, with the pace of both government and private launches ramping up to the highest levels ever, space debris is once again on everyone’s radar, Reddy said: “The old fear has come back.”

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“A fleck of paint the size of your thumbnail can go through most spacecraft.”

Vulnerable orbits

The most useful orbits around the planet are getting increasingly crowded, and even if humanity stopped launching things into space tomorrow, the debris already in orbit would continue to collide and make the problem worse. 

Over the long term, if this problem isn’t addressed, it could spiral into a Kessler syndrome, as the situation can go from bad to catastrophic quickly. “The timeline for the cascading collisional scenario is very short,” Reddy said. “We’re talking anywhere from hours to days to weeks, not months to years to decades.”

The use of a nuclear weapon in orbit, depending on its size and in which orbit it is detonated, could kick off such a cascading scenario. But this isn’t exclusive to nuclear weapons. It’s possible that a bad actor destroying a single, carefully chosen satellite could create a cascade, Reddy said, if they picked a vulnerable target. 

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In geostationary orbit, for example, there are only so many slots available for satellites in the ring around the Earth’s equator. That makes the slots in high demand, as they are a limited resource. And this scarcity is compounded by the fact that it’s very difficult to remove debris from an orbit so distant, at over 20,000 miles from the Earth’s surface. If these slots are blocked by debris, it could cut off functionality for systems like communications satellites, weather satellites, and navigation satellites. 

“That would be really, really bad,” Reddy said. “One satellite explosion big enough would be enough to destroy a lot of assets in geostationary orbit.”

Fears for the future

Although it’s unlikely that any actor would launch a nuclear weapon in space with the specific intention of kicking off a cascading debris effect, it might happen as a consequence of trying to destroy a particular military system. But the debris isn’t the only thing that has experts worried.

Security risk expert Andrew Reddie questioned what it would take to convert the technology for a nuclear anti-satellite weapon into a platform that could deploy nuclear weapons from space to targets on the ground. This would require a reentry vehicle, for example, which doesn’t exist yet but could theoretically be constructed based on existing technology. Nukes launched from space would give less warning time than those launched from the surface, threatening thousands or even millions of people.

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It’s not that the deployment of nukes in space is necessarily likely, with no current indication that Russia is developing such a weapon. But it does show how nuclear weapons in space could shift the geopolitical landscape dramatically and why reports of potential space-based nuclear weapons have drawn such condemnation.

“The old fear has come back.”

A matter of global governance

Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied any plans to develop a nuclear anti-satellite weapon and has said that Russia is against the deployment of nuclear weapons in space. And experts agree that Russia takes pride both in its space program and in its role in international governance as a permanent member of the United Nations, though the invasion of Ukraine has shaken the country’s international status and resulted in the suspension of joint space missions with other space agencies. 

For the Russians to develop or deploy such an anti-satellite weapon “would undermine their diplomatic efforts,” Johnson said. Russia has a global leadership role in space governance and was a key negotiator in the Outer Space Treaty, and going against that would be self-undermining. “They take their role seriously,” Johnson said.

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There is also international pressure from beyond the US and Europe. Even China, which has a space program that is notably separate from other nation’s space programs and does not participate in international projects like the International Space Station, has emphasized that it is against the proliferation of weapons in space. US government representatives are trying to recruit China and India in discouraging Russia from pursuing nuclear anti-satellite technology. 

Deploying a weapon in space would be against Russia’s own self-interest, experts argue. Spreading a debris field across an entire orbit limits the ability of everyone to access space, including those who fired the weapon.

However, those effects are not necessarily symmetrical. “The Americans rely on space far more than both Russia and China, so in most domains, if you were to degrade it for everybody, that would be a problem,” Reddie said. “But if you’re degrading space, it’s going to asymmetrically affect the Americans. And the Russians know that.”

This raises the question of what the global consequences might be if — or when — any nation chooses to use a space-based weapon and whether the existing international legal structure could respond to that.

Space debris expert Reddy compared firing such a weapon to flipping a chess board when you’re losing a game: “It’s no longer about winning. It’s ‘I’m losing, so nobody wins.’”

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Drake threatened with lawsuit over diss track featuring AI Tupac

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Drake threatened with lawsuit over diss track featuring AI Tupac

While Drake’s fans have been having a ball with the Canadian rapper’s recently released track dissing fellow rapper Kendrick Lamar, the legal team representing Tupac Shakur is threatening to take legal action if the song isn’t pulled off the internet.

Billboard reports that late rapper Tupac’s legal team is ready to take Drake to court over the release of “Taylor Made,” Drake’s recently released song featuring the AI-generated voices of Shakur and Snoop Dogg. In a statement about Drake’s creation of “Taylor Made,” litigator Howard King called the song a “blatant abuse of the legacy of one of the greatest hip-hop artists of all time” and said the Shakur estate never cleared the use of Tupac’s voice.

“The Estate is deeply dismayed and disappointed by your unauthorized use of Tupac’s voice and personality,” King said. “The Estate would never have given its approval for this use.”

For the past few weeks, a number of rap artists, including Lamar, Drake, and J. Cole, have been pointedly attacking one another (and entertaining everybody else) through their music after years of simmering tensions over — among other things — who’s the biggest in the game. In response to “Like That,” Future’s recently released song featuring Lamar in which he calls Drake out for making previous jabs, Drake dropped “Push Ups,” a track poking fun at Lamar’s height, shoe size, and the details of his old deal at Top Dawg Entertainment. 

Rather than waiting for a response, Drake also debuted “Taylor Made” on April 19th, and the song immediately raised eyebrows — less so for its reference to Taylor Swift and more so for its prominent use of voices from West Coast rappers (one of whom is quite dead) who did not seem to be involved in any of the ongoing beef. Following the release of “Taylor Made,” Snoop uploaded a video to Instagram with an assortment of emoji seemingly indicating bemusement.

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Tupac’s estate wants “Taylor Made” pulled within 24 hours, and if Drake made the song without their permission, we might just see it disappear. But as much as this beef has been about garnering attention, Drake could be very willing to go to court to make his case.

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Fox News AI Newsletter: AI predicts your politics with single photo

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Fox News AI Newsletter: AI predicts your politics with single photo

Welcome to Fox News’ Artificial Intelligence newsletter with the latest AI technology advancements.

IN TODAY’S NEWSLETTER:

– AI can predict political orientations from blank faces – and researchers fear ‘serious’ privacy challenges
– Google to provide AI to military for disaster response
– AI could predict whether cancer treatments will work, experts say: ‘A natural progression’

BLANK SPACE: Researchers are warning that facial recognition technologies are “more threatening than previously thought” and pose “serious challenges to privacy” after a study found that artificial intelligence can be successful in predicting a person’s political orientation based on images of expressionless faces. 

Split image of former President Trump and President Biden

Former President Donald Trump and President Biden are seen in a split image. (Getty Images)

DISASTER RESPONSE: An artificial intelligence venture backed by Google is partnering with the military to use AI in responding to natural disasters.

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‘NATURAL PROGRESSION’: A chemotherapy alternative called immunotherapy is showing promise in treating cancer — and a new artificial intelligence tool could help ensure that patients have the best possible experience.

Immunotherapy split

GOOGLE AI MOVES: Google announced on Thursday that it will consolidate a pair of its internal teams that are focused on building artificial intelligence models.

COUNTERING SCAMS: Unfortunately, scammers are using artificial intelligence to mimic the voices of people, potentially turning these fake voices into things like kidnapping scams. This particular scam seems to be rare, but it’s happening.

SCAMMER

An illustration of a scammer. (Kurt “CyberGuy” Knutsson)

 

Subscribe now to get the Fox News Artificial Intelligence Newsletter in your inbox.

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Stay up to date on the latest AI technology advancements and learn about the challenges and opportunities AI presents now and for the future with Fox News here.

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A morning with the Rabbit R1: a fun, funky, unfinished AI gadget

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A morning with the Rabbit R1: a fun, funky, unfinished AI gadget

There were times I wasn’t sure the Rabbit R1 was even a real thing. The AI-powered, Teenage Engineering-designed device came out of nowhere to become one of the biggest stories at CES, promising a level of fun and whimsy that felt much better than some of the more self-serious AI companies out there. CEO Jesse Lyu practically promised the world in this $199 device.

Well, say this for Rabbit: it’s real. Last night, I went to the swanky TWA Hotel in New York City, along with a few hundred reporters, creators, and particularly enthusiastic R1 buyers. After a couple of hours of photo booths, specialty cocktails, and a rousing keynote and demo from Lyu — in which he made near-constant reference to and fun of the Humane AI Pin — we all got our R1s to take home. I’ve been using mine ever since, and I have some thoughts. And some questions.

It might be a little big for some hands, but the R1 fits nicely enough in mine.

From a hardware perspective, the R1 screams “kinda meh Android phone.” Here are the salient specs: it’s about three inches tall and wide and a half-inch thick. It weighs 115 grams, which is about two-thirds as much as the iPhone 15. It has a 2.88-inch screen, runs on a 2.3GHz MediaTek MT6765 processor, and has 128 gigs of storage and four gigs of RAM. It has a speaker on the back, two mics on the top, and a SIM card slot on the side right next to the USB-C charging port. It only comes in one color, a hue Rabbit calls “leuchtorange” but is often known as “brilliant orange” or “luminous orange.” It’s definitely orange, and it’s definitely luminous.

At this point, the best way I can describe the R1 is like a Picasso painting of a smartphone: it has most of the same parts, just laid out really differently. Instead of sitting on top or in the back, the R1’s camera sits in a cutout space on the right side of the device, where it can spin its lens to face both toward and away from you. 

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The R1 is like a Picasso painting of a smartphone

After spending a few hours playing with the device, I have to say: it’s pretty nice. Not luxurious, or even particularly high-end, just silly and fun. Where Humane’s AI Pin feels like a carefully sculpted metal gem, the R1 feels like an old-school MP3 player crossed with a fidget spinner. The wheel spins a little stiffly for my taste but smoothly enough, the screen is a little fuzzy but fine, and the main action button feels satisfying to thump on. 

When I first got the device and connected it to Wi-Fi, it then immediately asked me to sign up for an account at Rabbithole, the R1’s web portal. I did that, scanned a QR code with the R1 to get it synced up, and immediately did a software update. I spent that time logging in to the only four external services the R1 currently connects to: Spotify, Uber, DoorDash, and Midjourney. 

The Rabbithole app is for managing your logins and seeing your notes. It needs some work.

Once I was eventually up and running, I started chatting with the R1. So far, it does a solid job with basic AI questions: it gave me lots of good information about this week’s NFL draft, found a few restaurants near me, and knew when Herbert Hoover was president. This is all fairly basic ChatGPT stuff, and there’s some definite lag as it fetches answers, but I much prefer the interface to the Humane AI Pin — because there’s a screen, and you can see the thing working so the AI delays don’t feel quite so interminable. 

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Because there’s a screen, the AI delays don’t feel quite so interminable

Almost immediately, though, I started running into stuff the R1 just can’t do. It can’t send emails or make spreadsheets, though Lyu has been demoing both for months. Rabbithole is woefully unfinished, too, to the point I was trying to tap around on my phone and it was instead moving a cursor around a half-second after every tap. That’s a good reminder that the whole thing is running on a virtual machine storing all your apps and credentials, which still gives me security-related pause.

Oh, and here’s my favorite thing that has happened on the R1 so far: I got it connected to my Spotify account, which is a feature I’m particularly excited about. I asked for “Beyoncé’s new album,” and the device excitedly went and found me “Crazy in Love” — a lullaby version, from an artist called “Rockabye Baby!” So close and yet so far. It doesn’t seem to be able to find my playlists, either, or skip tracks. When I said, “Play The 1975,” though, that worked fine and quickly. (The speaker, by the way, is very much crappy Android phone quality. You’re going to want to use that Bluetooth connection.)

The R1’s Vision feature, which uses the camera to identify things in the scene around you, seems to work fine as long as all you want is a list of objects in the scene. The device can’t take a photo or video and doesn’t seem to be able to do much else with what it can see.

The R1 has a camera, but it’s not a particularly useful one yet.
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When you’re not doing anything, the screen shows the time and that bouncing rabbit-head logo. When you press and hold the side button to issue a command, the time and battery fade away, and the rabbit’s ears perk up like it’s listening. It’s very charming! The overall interface is simple and text-based, but it’s odd in spots: it’s not always obvious how to go back, for instance, and you only get to see a line or two of text at a time at the very bottom of the screen, even when there’s a whole paragraph of answer to read.

Rabbit’s roadmap is ambitious: Lyu has spent the last few months talking about all the things the R1’s so-called “Large Action Model” can do, including learning apps and using them for you. During last night’s event, he talked about opening up the USB-C port on the device to allow accessories, keyboards, and more. That’s all coming… eventually. Supposedly. For now, the R1’s feature set is much more straightforward. You can use the device to play music, get answers to questions, translate speech, take notes, summon an Uber, and a few other things. 

The back of the R1 has its speaker, scroll wheel, and camera. And fingerprints.

That means there’s still an awful lot the R1 can’t do and a lot I have left to test. (Anything you want to know about, by the way, let me know!) I’m particularly curious about its battery life, its ability to work with a bad connection, whether it heats up over time, and how it handles more complex tasks than just looking up information and ordering chicken nuggets. But so far, this thing seems like it’s trying to be less like a smartphone killer and more like the beginnings of a useful companion. That’s probably as ambitious as it makes sense to be right now — though Lyu and the Rabbit folks have a lot of big promises to eventually live up to and not a lot of time to do so.

Photography by David Pierce / The Verge

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