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Defense wonk, author Peter Singer explores idea of WWIII at ASU lecture.
The next global war will be a mix of high and low tech, Peter Singer predicts.
April 19, 2016

Defense analyst Peter Singer speaks at ASU about 'Ghost Fleet' book, shrinking U.S. military advantage and possibility of WWIII

Land grabs by Russia. Escalating Chinese military dominance in Asia. Superpowers fighting in outer space. The launch of World War III.

It is the stuff of fiction — specifically, Peter W. Singer’s novel “Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War” — but it is also mere moments away from reality, the political theorist said Tuesday night at Arizona State University.

“The global context is changing,” said Singer, strategist and senior fellow for think tank New America Foundation and contributing editor for Popular Science. “What was once thinkable, then became unthinkable, is thinkable once more: the thought of great powers going to war.”

His appearance was the finale in the ASU Center on the Future of War’s Spring Speaker Series, part of a continued effort to “explore the ways war and technology are changing,” said Daniel RothenbergDaniel Rothenberg is also professor of practice in the School of Politics and Global Studies in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, a Lincoln Fellow for Ethics and Human Rights Law, and a fellow at New America., co-director of the center.

Singer started the evening with a “Ghost Fleet” book trailer that looked much like a sophisticated video game set in locales around the world — appropriate for the man who not only has been named one of the top 100 global thinkers by the magazine Foreign Policy but who also served as a consultant to top-selling video game series Call of Duty.

The idea of a world war might seem like a relic from the past or a possibility of the far future, but it is very real and very now, Singer said.

A photograph of Peter Singer

Peter Singer's
"Ghost Fleet" is
a novel about what
WWIII could be like,
and how it may not
seem that far off.

Photo by: Deanna
Dent/ASU Now

“A newly assertive China is engaged in what, if we’re being honest, is an arms race,” he said, and Russia has rewritten its strategy to make NATO its No. 1 threat. Worries about autonomous robot warfare have sparked government task forces and protests.

Fiction is a way to explore future worlds, what-if’s. Though Singer is an author of multiple bestselling books on war, this is his first novel. It is no mere flight of the imagination, however: The book has nearly 400 footnotes.

“We (he and co-author August Cole) grew up reading Tom Clancy, Michael Crichton, and we wanted to re-create that experience for people, that sort of fun summer read,” he said. And as for those footnotes? “We’re defense wonks; we set out to write a very different type of book.”

They chose science fiction because it allows them to move the timeline forward, to see what life would be like, for instance, for a U.S. naval officer facing off against a massively well-armed China in a very different world.

Fiction allows us to explore how our attitudes might change and to wrestle with issues.

“Will 3-D printing do to the defense industry what the iPod did to the music industry, totally disrupt it?” Singer asked. “… What would a state-on-state war look like in the 21st century?”

And fiction also helps with information dissemination: People in power are more likely to read a novel than a white paper or policy report.

The book explores what would happen when a piece of equipment not created to be in a dogfight ends up in one, or when a ship not rated as survivable in high-intensity combat gets into a battle. These are not far-fetched scenarios: Singer said the Navy’s own tester recently said that of a warship currently under consideration..

When it comes to our military today, “I joke that we specialize in the Pontiac Azteks of war,” Singer said. It tried to be all things to all people, but it turned out to be overpromised, overengineered, overpriced. “That phenomenon strikes many of our weapons systems today.

For 70 years, the United States has had a “generation-ahead” advantage over its adversaries. But that is changing as hackers steal our developments and as countries like China conduct more high-speed vehicle tests than us, Singer said. And unlike World War II, our supply of spare parts and raw materials are based in the very countries we would likely be facing off against.

The future of warfare is likely to be a mix of high- and low-tech strategies, much like in “Ghost Fleet.”

“You may have a drone, but because of cyber warfare and GPS being knocked down, you may not have the ability to navigate without an old paper map and a compass,” said Singer, who pointed out that the U.S. Naval Academy, in addition to offering cybersecurity studies, now requires every midshipman to know celestial navigation.

“If you asked any Millennial now, ‘Do you consider yourself part of a war generation?’ — the initial response would be no.”

— Adam Silow, undergraduate research assistant in the Center on the Future of War

His talk Tuesday drew an audience that ranged from Vietnam vets to undergrads. Students today often don’t think of their society as one at war, but it is, Rothenberg said.

Adam Silow, a senior studying global studies and economics and an undergraduate research assistant at the Center on the Future of War, agreed.

“If you asked any Millennial now, ‘Do you consider yourself part of a war generation?’ — the initial response would be no,” Silow said after Singer’s talk. It’s just not a part of their identity, even within the reality of continuing U.S. involvement in conflict around the globe.

Singer urged the students to do something about these issues, whether it’s in the career they choose or the demands they put on their government leaders. The opportunity to discuss the possibilities is one of the good outcomes of the book, Singer said. After all, the goal is to “keep this future world where it belongs, in the realm of fiction.”

Top artwork, titled "Victory Drive," is a WWIII propoganda poster created for Singer's book campaign. It was created by Jordan and Abby Clayton.

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ASU launches partnership to pilot learning tech on campuses

President Crow on accelerator: "One more example of another way we’re engaging."
Technology will be the equalizer, making education accessible to all, Crow says.
April 20, 2016

ASU Draper GSV Accelerator part of university's push for technology-driven innovation

Editor's note: This story is being highlighted in ASU Now's year in review. To read more top stories from 2016, click here.

Arizona State University is launching a new initiative that will help get education technology to the market faster by allowing new ventures to be tested by students and faculty.

The initiative — the ASU Draper GSV Accelerator — will source, fund, pilot and credential new products created by higher-education technology companies.

ASU President Michael Crow said that although the core mission of universities will never change, technology will be the equalizer, making valuable education available to everyone.

“Why do we have this imperative of innovation in higher education? This is an underperforming sector, driven and predicted largely based on family income,” Crow said Wednesday in his keynote address at the ASU GSV Summit, an education-technology conference in San Diego. The new alliance was announced at the summit Wednesday.

“This is a social issue not yet resolved. It’s like we live in two separate countries,” Crow said of the lower college-attainment rates of low-income families.

Crow said that ASU has constantly worked on innovative ways to widen access to higher education. He cited the reimagining of ASU’s engineering college eight years ago, which led to more students with more diversity in demographics, a higher retention rate and an improved graduation rate.

Two recent technology-driven innovations are the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, which allows Starbucks employees to earn full tuition reimbursement as they pursue online degrees, and the Global Freshman Academy, which offers free online classes in cooperation with edX that students can complete before deciding whether to pay for credit.

Crow said the Global Freshman Academy courses have drawn more than 100,000 students from 192 countries.

A photograph of ASU President Michael M. Crow

ASU President Michael M.
Crow addresses the 2016
ASU GSV Summit in San

Photos by Robert Behnke/
Arizona State University

“That’s a whole new way for us to affect the college-going rate, the college-success rate and to break down barriers, break down gaps,” he said.

“This is just one more example of another way we’re engaging,” Crow said of the ASU Draper GSV Accelerator.

“We’re going to bring everyone together on prototyping technology,” he said, noting that ASU has 72,000 face-to-face students, 20,000 online-immersion students and more than 100,000 other learners.

The first company accepted into the project is CampusLogic, a firm based in Gilbert, Arizona, that has developed a personalized, cloud-based tool to simplify the financial aid process. Four more companies will be accepted by Aug. 1.

“We’re very excited to partner with ASU as we build our innovative products,” said Gregg Scoresby, CEO of CampusLogic.

“We’ve had early success with over 50 customer institutions across the nation. This partnership with ASU will accelerate our growth and give us access to additional resources as we vet the next generation of CampusLogic products.”

Companies that successfully complete the highly selective program will receive a certification of market-preparedness — signifying to colleges and universities that their products are ready to use.

ASU will offer access to its campus and faculty in collaboration with Arizona Technology Enterprises, the university’s intellectual property management and technology transfer organization. The other partners are Draper Associates, a California-based venture capital firm, and GSV, a consortium of education-technology investors.

“ASU is a true innovator — ranked the number one innovator in the nation — and an ideal partner to work with to help transform education," said Tim Draper, founder and managing partner of Draper Associates.

“This is just one more example of another way we’re engaging,” Crow said of the ASU Draper GSV Accelerator.

Companies that are accepted into the accelerator will receive training and mentorship through Draper University, an entrepreneurial boot camp in Silicon Valley, and the ASU, Draper and GSV network of experts.

The ASU Draper GSV Accelerator is ideal for companies whose product is nearing commercialization, but any venture that has received seed funding or beyond is qualified to apply. The program will offer demo events, featured space at the annual ASU GSV Summit and, potentially, workspace in ASU’s SkySong innovation center in Scottsdale. There is no geographic restriction, and relocation is not required.

To learn more about the ASU Draper GSV Accelerator, visit Applications to join the program will be available on the site May 1.