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Russian hackers found targeting US election; robots that write?

Nicholas Thompson, editor-in-chief of WIRED, helps us make sense of today's stories in technology:

What are the Russians doing to the US election?

Well, they are trying to hack it. They're trying to hack into the accounts of individuals working on campaigns. They're trying to hack into accounts of nonprofit organizations. They're trying to mess it all up again. They're probably trying to help their favorite candidate, too. How did we find out about it? Well, Microsoft, thank you Microsoft, is running an election security operation and they noticed this. Now, have they found everything that the Russian group Fancy Bear is doing? I highly doubt it. We'll probably learn a lot more after the election, unfortunately.


What's this? Robots can write! Should we be afraid?

So OpenAI has used artificial intelligence to build a text generating system called GPT-3. It's way of computers writing sentences that look almost like human sentences. The Guardian ran a story written entirely by GPT-3 about whether robots will take over the world. Am I afraid this indicates robots will take over the world? I'm not. The article is terrible, confusing, incomprehensible. Not really a big concern. I am concerned, though, that systems like this could be used for the purposes of misinformation and for creating chaos on the Internet. But that's a separate matter.

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It's been four days since Iran's top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, died in a hail of bullets on a highway near Tehran. Iran has plausibly blamed Israel for the killing, but more than that, not much is known credibly or in detail.

This is hardly the first time that an Iranian nuclear scientist has been assassinated in an operation that has a whiff of Mossad about it. But Fakhrizadeh's prominence — he is widely regarded as the father of the Iranian nuclear program — as well as the timing of the killing, just six weeks from the inauguration of a new American president, make it a particularly big deal. Not least because an operation this sensitive would almost certainly have required a US sign-off.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hey everybody. Ian Bremmer here, have your quick take. Plenty going on this week. I could of course talk about all these new Biden appointees, but frankly, there's not that much that surprising there. Moderate, lots of expertise, not very controversial, almost all of which could get through a Republican controlled Senate, presuming that markets are going to be reasonably happy, progressives in the Democratic party somewhat less so. But no, the big news right now internationally, certainly about Iran. The Iranians started this year with the assassination by the United States of their defense leader, Qasem Soleimani. Everyone was worried about war. Now, closing the year with the assassination of the head of their nuclear program and historically the head of their nuclear weapons program.

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Joe Biden has had one of the longest political careers in American history, but his most important act is yet to come. Can decades of experience in Washington prepare him to lead the most divided America since the end of the Civil War?

Watch the GZERO World episode: What you still may not know about Joe


Ethiopia on the brink: After ethnic tensions between Ethiopia's federal government and separatist forces in the northern Tigray region erupted into a full-blown armed conflict in recent weeks, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced his forces had taken control of Tigray's capital on Saturday and declared victory. But the fugitive Tigray leader Debretsion Gebremichael quickly called Abiy's bluff, saying the fighting is raging on, and demanded Abiy withdraw his forces. Gebremichael accused Abiy of launching "a genocidal campaign" that has displaced 1 million people, with thousands fleeing to neighboring Sudan, creating a humanitarian catastrophe. The Tigray, who make up about five percent of Ethiopia's population, are fighting for self-determination, but Abiy's government has repeatedly rejected invitations to discuss the issue, accusing the coalition led by Gebremichael's Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) of "instigating clashes along ethnic and religious lines." As the two sides dig in their heels, Ethiopia faces the risk of a civil war that could threaten the stability of the entire Horn of Africa.

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Reasons for Hope: COVID and the Coming Year. Watch on Friday. Dec 4 2020 12 noon - 1 pm ET

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