Newswise — Dr. Nitin Agarwal, founding director of the Collaboration for Social Media and Online Behavioral Studies (COSMOS) Research Center at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, has received $5 million from the Army Research Office to evaluate and defend against emerging cognitive threats.
The Army Research Office is a directorate of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Army Research Laboratory.
The project, set to run through 2025, aims to identify research gaps in deviant socio-technical behaviors, shape an agenda focused on developing strategies that can counter emerging threats, and create tools for near real-time analysis of such threats.
“Narratives on social media could be easily weaponized and propagated at frighteningly fast speeds,” Agarwal said. “Such insidious threats that attempt to influence beliefs and behaviors need to be considered as modern weapons of cognitive hijacking. We need to develop scientific approaches to combat these emerging threats in a global context, equip our warfighters with these capabilities, and strengthen community resiliency.”
Agarwal, Jerry L. Maulden-Entergy Endowed Chair and Distinguished Professor in the Department of Information Science, says these threats are increasingly flash mob-type events, where groups self-organize and coordinate in cyberspace, then disperse. Coordinated cognitive attacks can cause stock market frenzy, violent protests, highly coordinated cyberattacks on public infrastructure, for instance. To an outsider such acts may look arbitrary, however intense coordination happens in the background.
“Given the evolving technological landscape and increasing complexity of cognitive attacks, research is warranted to develop multidisciplinary and theoretically grounded capabilities to evaluate emerging socio-cognitive threats that can serve the needs of our military at strategic, tactical, and operational levels,” Agarwal said.
U.S. Sen. John Boozman is a strong advocate for basic and applied research at UA Little Rock.
“The evolving nature of social media and the changing tactics our adversaries use to spread misinformation requires us to develop a strategy to respond,” Sen. Boozman said. “Dr. Agarwal’s research will help create critical tools to combat bad actors on these platforms. I’m proud to support Arkansas’s role in advancing solutions to counter cyber threats.”
“We are extremely grateful to the Army Research Office, UA Little Rock leadership and U.S. Sen. John Boozman for championing this vital research,” Agarwal added. “It helps position the COSMOS Research Center at the forefront of developing capabilities to combat cognitive threats. The investment will help put these capabilities in the hands of our warfighters to ultimately strengthen our national defense and security apparatus.”
When narratives rapidly evolve in an unchecked online environment, the results can be dangerous. State and non-state actors, alike, can use social media platforms to amplify certain narratives and sway public opinion in their favor. Some of Agarwal’s previous research has shown how YouTube’s algorithms can be manipulated to promote positive content about China while crushing negative news like human rights violations against Uyghur minorities in western China, or how the terrorist organization, Islamic State, uses bots to recruit members and for propaganda campaigns.
“There are many popular shows about the use of forensics to solve physical crimes. Somewhat similarly, Dr. Agarwal uses social cyber forensics to determine the sources of scams and influence campaigns, some of which threaten our country and its allies,” said Dr. Lawrence Whitman, dean of the Donaghey College of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. “He works closely with the Army to apply the methods and tools his team has developed to make us all safer. It’s great to have Dr. Agarwal working on these threats, and we are grateful to have this partnership with the Army Research Office.”
Agarwal’s research team investigates governments, groups, and individuals who use advanced communication tactics to orchestrate sophisticated cognitive attack campaigns through a variety of existing and emerging social media platforms, particularly multimedia-rich platforms.
U.S. defense groups are interested in the work because it helps to identify how adversaries are promoting certain narratives via social media, how such narratives resonate with the target audience, and how those narratives can be combated. Training exercises will be conducted to enhance the U.S. workforce with skills in big data analytics, data management, machine learning, and artificial intelligence with applications in security.
The award will provide support for high-speed computational servers that are necessary to support the processing of large volumes of multimodality data, which includes text, image, video, audio, reach, engagement, metadata, and interactions. It is also expected to fund around 15 student research positions, several postdoctoral research fellowships, and data engineer positions.
“The funds will help create exciting opportunities for our students and research staff by exposing them to real world problems and stimulating them to develop science-based solutions,” Agarwal said.
This research was sponsored by the Army Research Office and was accomplished under Grant Number W911NF-23-1-0011. The views and conclusions contained in this document are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as representing the official policies, either expressed or implied, of the Army Research Office or the U.S. Government. The U.S. Government is authorized to reproduce and distribute reprints for Government purposes notwithstanding any copyright notation herein.
The Return of the Giant Pandas: A Symbol of Renewed Diplomacy Between China and the United States
China’s plan to send a new pair of giant pandas to the San Diego Zoo signifies a renewed era of wildlife diplomacy and friendship with the United States.
In a gesture reflecting the enduring bond between China and the United States, the China Wildlife Conservation Association has announced plans to send a new pair of giant pandas to the San Diego Zoo. This move marks a significant renewal of friendship after the recall of iconic bears on loan to U.S. zoos amid strained relations between the two nations.
The recent signing of cooperation agreements with zoos in San Diego and Madrid, along with ongoing discussions with zoos in Washington, D.C., and Vienna, underscores a fresh round of collaboration on panda conservation. This initiative not only highlights the importance of protecting these beloved creatures but also serves as a symbol of unity and shared commitment to wildlife preservation.
San Diego Zoo officials have expressed great anticipation for the arrival of the two pandas, a male and a female, expected to reach the zoo by the end of summer. Megan Owen, Vice President of Wildlife Conservation Science at the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, shared her excitement, stating, “They’ve expressed a tremendous amount of enthusiasm to re-initiate panda cooperation starting with the San Diego Zoo.”
As these gentle giants prepare to make their return to the San Diego Zoo, the significance of this gesture extends beyond conservation efforts. It serves as a testament to the power of wildlife diplomacy in fostering understanding and goodwill between nations, transcending political differences to focus on shared values and a common goal of protecting our planet’s biodiversity.
The upcoming arrival of the giant pandas symbolizes a renewed era of collaboration, friendship, and hope for a future where conservation efforts transcend borders and unite us in our shared responsibility to safeguard the natural world.
Source: Associated Press
Unlocking the Next Frontier: Odysseus Lunar Lander’s Historic Mission
“Odysseus lunar lander aims to make history with first U.S. spacecraft touchdown on moon in 50 years. A testament to human ambition and innovation.”
In the vast expanse of space, where dreams of exploration meet the harsh realities of technology and finance, Thursday marks a potential landmark moment in the annals of space exploration. The Odysseus lunar lander, a testament to human ingenuity and perseverance, stands on the precipice of making history as it aims to achieve what no U.S.-made spacecraft has done in five decades: a controlled touchdown on the lunar surface.
After a breathtaking lift-off from Florida, Odysseus embarked on its journey towards the moon, capturing awe-inspiring images of our planet Earth along the way. Now, as it hurtles closer to its destination, the anticipation mounts for what could be the most perilous test yet – a soft landing on the moon’s surface.
Intuitive Machines, the pioneering force behind Odysseus, dares to tread where no private company has ventured before. If successful, this endeavor would mark the resurgence of American-made spacecraft landing on the moon since the final Apollo mission in 1972.
However, the road to lunar exploration is fraught with challenges, both technical and financial. While the Apollo program once commanded a budget exceeding 4% of all U.S. government spending, today’s NASA operates on a fraction of that, a mere 0.4%. To stretch resources further, NASA has turned to outsourcing robotic lunar landings to commercial entities like Intuitive Machines, aiming to achieve ambitious goals like the Artemis program’s lunar return with reduced costs.
But cost isn’t the only hurdle. The technical feat of landing a spacecraft precisely on a celestial body a quarter of a million miles away is akin to hitting a golf ball from New York to Los Angeles and landing it in a specific hole – a daunting task even with today’s advanced technology. Compounding the challenge is the time delay of roughly three seconds for signals to travel between Earth and the moon, leaving little room for error during critical maneuvers.
Moreover, the legacy of Apollo-era expertise has waned over the decades, leaving a gap that new technology alone cannot bridge. As Dr. Scott Pace of George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute aptly notes, “These are people doing it for the first time, and there’s no substitute for that experience.”
Yet, amidst these challenges, there’s an undeniable sense of optimism and determination. As Lisa Altemus of Intuitive Machines emphasizes, success in lunar exploration requires collective resilience, collaboration, and a willingness to learn from failures. It heralds not just a scientific achievement but the dawn of a new era – an emerging lunar economy where the moon’s resources could unlock boundless opportunities for humanity.
If Odysseus achieves its mission, it will not only mark the first U.S. spacecraft landing on the moon in half a century but also pave the way for future lunar endeavors, including the exploration of the moon’s south pole, a region rich in potential resources like ice and water.
As we stand on the brink of this historic moment, let us marvel at the audacity of human ambition, the tenacity of scientific endeavor, and the boundless possibilities that lie beyond Earth’s confines. The journey to the moon may be fraught with challenges, but with each step, we inch closer to unlocking the mysteries of our celestial neighbor and forging a new chapter in the saga of space exploration.
NASA Astronaut Available for Interviews Prior to Space Station Mission
NASA astronaut Tracy C. Dyson is available in limited opportunities to discuss her mission beginning at 8 a.m. EST on Monday, Feb. 26. The interviews will take place ahead of Dyson launching to the International Space Station in March.
Interested media must submit a request to speak with Dyson no later than 12 p.m. Friday, Feb. 23, to the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston newsroom at 281-483-5111 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dyson is scheduled to launch aboard the Soyuz MS-25 spacecraft Thursday, March 21, and will spend approximately six months aboard the space station. She will travel to the station with Roscosmos cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy and spaceflight participant Marina Vasilevskaya of Belarus, both of whom will spend approximately 12 days aboard the orbital complex.
During her expedition, Dyson will conduct scientific investigations and technology demonstrations that help prepare humans for future space missions and benefit people on Earth. Among some of the hundreds of experiments ongoing during her mission, Dyson will continue to study how fire spreads and behaves in space with the Combustion Integrated Rack, as well as contribute to the long-running Crew Earth Observations study by photographing Earth to better understand how our planet is changing over time.
After completing her expedition, Dyson will return to Earth this fall with Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Nikolai Chub on the Soyuz MS-25 spacecraft.
Learn more about International Space Station research and operations at:
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