UMass ‘IoTB’ grant contributes to American imperialism

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UMass ‘IoTB’ grant contributes to American imperialism

(Collegian File Photo)

(Collegian File Photo)

(Collegian File Photo)

(Collegian File Photo)

By Joshua Raposa, Collegian Staff

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In 1961, President Eisenhower delivered what would come to be known as the “Military-Industrial Complex Speech.” Addressing the general public, he warned of the “grave implications” of an ever-growing military establishment on the various sectors of society.

On the effect of the military-industrial complex on the educational sector he wrote, “historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity.” Moreover, that “the prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded.”

The University of Massachusetts is an integral part of the Massachusetts higher educational system. As conscientious students and political activists, we ought to analyze how UMass is engaging with this system, what are the broader implications of our engagement and whether we have fulfilled or rejected Eisenhower’s observations.

According to Janet Lathrop of UMass News Media Relations, “A team of computer science researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, part of a four-institution consortium, have been awarded $4.5 million by the Army Research Labs (ARL) to develop the scientific foundations of a next-generation Internet of Battlefield Things (IoBT) that is intended to enable new, predictive battlefield analytics and services.”

The function of this so-called IoBT program is “defensive.” Lathrop, quoting Prashant Shenoy, one of UMass’ computer science professors involved in IoBT, states: “Shenoy explains that in the future, military operations will rely less on human soldiers and more on interconnected technology, using advancements in unmanned systems and machine intelligence to achieve superior defense capabilities.”

Various aspects of Shenoy’s statement require careful thought. First, consider the phrase “superior defense capabilities.” The term “defense,” as it has been used by Shenoy and as it is routinely used by the State Department, legitimizes acts of imperialist aggression. Contrary to the popular belief that the United States is “exceptional” in its “commitment to peace and democracy,” U.S. foreign policy is designed to ensure global domination.

The most recent Department of Defense Risk Assessment, titled “At Our Own Peril: DoD Risk Assessment in a Post-Primacy World,” offers some idea of how the military and foreign policy apparatus looks at the world, and the United States’ role in it:

“The post-primacy reality demands a wider and more flexible military force that can generate advantage and options across the broadest possible range of military demands. To U.S. political leadership, maintenance of military advantage preserves maximum freedom of action… Finally, it allows U.S. decision-makers the opportunity to dictate or hold significant sway over outcomes in international disputes in the shadow of significant U.S. military capability and the implied promise of unacceptable consequences in the event that capability is unleashed.”

Apparently, the “maintenance of military advantage” over “all potential state rivals” is a “defensive” action.

It is to this imperial cause that the College of Information and Computer Sciences contributes to and evidently praises. So it is with great excitement that the UMass Vice Chancellor of research and engagement Michael Malone declared, “This is a terrific collaboration of top institutions that will greatly expand the opportunities for innovation and impact, not only in the envisioned applications, but I am sure in areas that no one has yet imagined.”

It would appear, according to the new 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS), there will be endless “terrific” potential for UMass to “greatly expand the opportunities for innovation and impact.” The strategy states, “[W]e will continue to prosecute the campaign against terrorists that we are engaged in today, but great power competition, not terrorism, is now the primary focus of U.S. national security.” In other words, the Pentagon is anticipating another Cold War on top of continuing its War on Terror.

Furthermore, the NDS argues for a “technological advantage … [in] advanced computing, big data analytics, artificial intelligence, autonomy, robotics, directed energy, hypersonics, and biotechnology.”

One can imagine how universities like UMass will function in this world. It will be the state of perpetual conflict, of illegal warfare, of monumental destruction that will provide the necessary conditions for UMass to, according to Dean Laura Haas of CICS, “showcase our college’s long-time strengths,” “combin[ing] expertise to develop methods that will safeguard data and lives on and off the battlefield”. It is of particular note that Dean Haas does not mention which “lives” will be “safeguarded.”

The IoTB, in sum, is yet another tool in the arsenal of imperial global domination; similarly, it is just one part of the “prospect of domination” to which Eisenhower cautioned in early 1961.

UMass’ willful, even gleeful, participation in the U.S. imperial project belies the self-righteousness and moral authority we confer to ourselves with proclamations like, “Hate has no home at UMass.” On the contrary, at UMass our hate is exported, compressed into nano-technology, manufactured over coffee and in-between COMPSCI 240 lectures.

Such hypocrisy calls us as students, as educators and as administrators to reevaluate how UMass can positively contribute to the educational sector and, consequently, contribute to the vision of a more just society.

Joshua Raposa is a Collegian contributor and can be reached at [email protected]