Kim No-VAX does DARPA

Kim No-VAX does DARPA

December 20, 2020

A Back to the Future exercise: time-traveling to survey the sci-tech scene in the mid-1980s

by Pepe Escobar with permission and first posted at Asia Times

HAL9000_I’m_Sorry_Dave, Motivational Poster. Wikimedia Commons

I have been going through my Asia Times archives selecting reports and columns for a new e-book on the Forever Wars – Afghanistan and Iraq. But then, out of the blue, I found this palimpsest, originally published by Asia Times in February 2014. It happened to be a Back to the Future exercise – traveling in time to survey the scene in the mid-1980s across Silicon Valley, MIT’s AI lab, DARPA and the NSA, weaving an intersection of themes, and a fabulous cast of characters, which prefigure the Brave New Techno World we’re now immersed in, especially concerning the role of artificial intelligence. So this might be read today as a sort of preamble, or a background companion piece, to No Escape from our Techno-Feudal World, published early this month. Incidentally, everything that takes place in this account was happening 18 years before the end of the Pentagon’s LifeLog project, run by DARPA, and the simultaneous launch of Facebook. Enjoy the time travel.

In the spring of 1986, Back to the Future, the Michael J Fox blockbuster featuring a time-traveling DeLorean car, was less than a year old. The Apple Macintosh, launched via a single, iconic ad directed by Ridley (Blade Runner) Scott, was less than two years old. Ronald Reagan, immortalized by Gore Vidal as “the acting president,” was hailing the mujahideen in Afghanistan as “freedom fighters.”

The world was mired in Cyber Cold War mode; the talk was all about electronic counter-measures, with American C3s (command, control, communications) programmed to destroy Soviet C3s, and both the US and the USSR under MAD (mutually assured destruction) nuclear policies being able to destroy the earth 100 times over. Edward Snowden was not yet a three-year-old.

It was in this context that I set out to do a special report for a now-defunct magazine about artificial intelligence (AI), roving from the Computer Museum in Boston to Apple in Cupertino and Pixar in San Rafael, and then to the campuses of Stanford, Berkeley and MIT.

AI had been “inaugurated” in 1956 by Stanford’s John McCarthy and Marvin Minsky, a future MIT professor who at the time had been a student at Harvard. The basic idea, according to Minsky, was that any intelligence trait could be described so precisely that a machine could be created to simulate it.

My trip inevitably involved meeting a fabulous cast of characters. At MIT’s AI lab, there was Minsky and also an inveterate iconoclast, Joseph Weizenbaum, who had coined the term “artificial intelligentsia” and believed computers could never “think” just like a human being.

Joseph Weizenbaum. Source: Chatbots

At Stanford, there was Edward Feigenbaum, absolutely paranoid about Japanese scientific progress; he believed that if the Japanese developed a fifth-generation computer, based on artificial intelligence, that could think, reason and speak even such a difficult language as Japanese “the US will be able to bill itself as the first great post-industrial agrarian society.”

And at Berkeley, still under the flame of hippie utopian populism, I found Robert Wilensky – Brooklyn accent, Yale gloss, California overtones; and philosopher Hubert Dreyfus, a tireless enemy of AI who got his kicks delivering lectures such as “Conventional AI as a Paradigm of Degenerated Research.”

Meet Kim No-VAX

Soon I was deep into Minsky’s “frames” – a basic concept to organize every subsequent AI program – and the Chomsky paradigm: the notion that language is at the root of knowledge, and that formal syntax is at the root of language. That was the Bible of cognitive science at MIT.

Marvin Minsky at MIT Lab. Photo: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

At the MIT cafeteria, Minsky delivered a futurist rap without in the least resembling Dr Emmett Brown in Back to the Future:

I believe that in less than five centuries we will be producing machines very similar to us, representing our thoughts and point of view. If we can build a miniaturized human brain weighing, let’s say, one gram, we can lodge it in a spaceship and make it travel at the speed of light. It would be very hard to build a spaceship to carry an astronaut and all his food for 10,000 years of travel …

With Professor Feigenbaum, in Stanford’s philosophical garden, the only space available was for the coming yellow apocalypse. But then one day I crossed Berkeley’s post-hippie Rubicon and opened the door of the fourth floor of Evans Hall, where I met none other than Kim No-VAX.

No, that was not the Hitchcock blonde and Vertigo icon; it was an altered hardware computer (No-VAX because it had moved beyond Digital Equpment Corporation’s VAX line of supercomputers), financed by the mellifluously acronymed Pentagon military agency DARPA, decorated with a photo of Kim Novak and humming with the sexy vibration of – at the time immense – 2,900 megabytes of electronic data spread over its body.

The US government’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency – or DARPA – was all about computer science. In the mid-1980s, DARPA was immersed in a very ambitious program linking microelectronics, computer architecture and AI way beyond a mere military program. That was comparable to the Japanese fifth generation computer program. At MIT, the overwhelming majority of scientists were huge DARPA cheerleaders, stressing how the agency was leading research. Yet Terry Winograd, a computer science professor at Stanford, warned that had DARPA been a civilian agency, “I believe we would have made much more progress”.

It was up to Professor Dreyfus to provide the voice of reason amidst so much cyber-euphoria: “Computers cannot think like human beings because there’s no way to represent all retrospective knowledge of an average human life – that is, ‘common sense’ – in a form that a computer may apprehend.” Dreyfus’s drift was that with the boom of computer science, philosophy was dead – and he was a philosopher: “Heidegger said that philosophy ended because it reached its apex in technology. Philosophy in fact reached its limit with AI. They, the scientists, inherited our questions. What is the mind? Now they have to answer for it. Philosophy is over.”

Hubert Dreyfus. Source: Berkeley Campus News

Yet Dreyfus was still teaching. Likewise at MIT, Weizenbaum was condemning AI as a racket for “lunatics and psychopaths” – but still continued to work at the AI lab.

NSA’s wet web dream

In no time, helped by these brilliant minds, I figured out that the AI “secret” would be a military affair, and that meant the National Security Agency – already in the mid-1980s vaguely known as “no such agency,” with double the CIA’s annual budget to pay for snooping on the whole planet. The mission back then was to penetrate and monitor the global electronic net – that was years before all the hype over the “information highway” – and at the same time reassure the Pentagon over the inviolability of its lines of communication. For those comrades – remember, the Cold War, even with Gorbachev in power in the USSR, was still on – AI was a gift from God (beating Pope Francis by almost three decades).

So what was the Pentagon/NSA up to, at the height of the star wars hype, and over a decade and a half before the revolution in military affairs and the full spectrum dominance doctrine?

They already wanted to control their ships and planes and heavy weapons with their voices, not their hands; voice command a la Hal, the star computer in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Still, that was a faraway dream. Minsky believed that “only in the next century” would we be able to talk to a computer. Others believed that would never happen. Anyway, IBM was already working on a system accepting dictation; and MIT on another system that identified words spoken by different people; while Intel was developing a special chip for all this.

Although, predictably, prevented from visiting the NSA, I soon learned that the Pentagon was expecting to possess “intelligent” computing systems by the 1990s; Hollywood, after all, already had unleashed the Terminator series. It was up to Professor Wilensky, in Berkeley, to sound the alarm bells:

Human beings don’t have the appropriate engineering for the society they developed. Over a million years of evolution, the instinct of getting together in small communities, belligerent and compact, turned out to be correct. But then, in the 20th century, man ceased to adapt. Technology overtook evolution. The brain of an ancestral creature, like a rat, which sees provocation in the face of every stranger, is the brain that now controls the earth’s destiny.

It was as if Wilensky was describing the NSA as it would be 28 years later. Some questions still remain unanswered; for instance, if our race does not fit anymore the society it built, who’d guarantee that its machines are properly engineered? Who’d guarantee that intelligent machines act in our interest?

What was already clear by then was that “intelligent” computers would not end a global arms race. And it would be a long time, up to the Snowden revelations in 2013, for most of the planet to have a clearer idea of how the NSA orchestrates the Orwellian-Panopticon complex. As for my back to the future trip, in the end I did not manage to uncover the “secret” of AI. But I’ll always remain very fond of Kim No-VAX.

Pentagon’s Top Spy Agency Turns To AI for Targeting and Operations Planning

By Raul Diego

Source

Reminiscent of the 1983 sci-fi classic WarGames, the DIA’s new MARS program aims to create a system that uses AI to scour volumes of foreign intelligence and make decisions on how to act on it.

The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) is getting ready for the “next battlefield” and counting on the expertise of private concerns, like Booz Allen Hamilton, to implement what it calls Machine-assisted Analytic Rapid-repository System, or MARS for short. MARS is a critical data management system for “military targeting” and operation planning.

MARS is currently the DIA’s top priority, and according to DIA director Lt. Gen. Robert P. Ashley Jr., the aim is to replicate “the commercial Internet that everybody uses every day,” with the added functionality of providing a “foundational intelligence picture […] at speed and at scale.”

Terry Busch, chief of DIA’s integrated analysis and methodologies division, highlights the difference between the MARS program he manages and the old “stovepipe” data management technologies it is meant to replace: “What comes out of MARS at the end is not data, it’s analysis. It’s finished intelligence.”

Which kind of intelligence, specifically, will be assessed dynamically by the machine’s algorithms in a new kind of database management system using AI functionality. It will revolutionize the way data is received and acted-upon. As it scours and collects vast datasets and volumes of foreign intelligence that support U.S. military operations around the world, MARS will be equipped to handle both large amounts of data, like the storage-intensive images and videos collected by the National Reconnaissance Office and also analyze the information to produce actionable leads in the battlefield.

It is nothing less than the 1983 sci-fi classic “WarGames” come to life. A ‘machine’ that decides when to go to war based on the information it is fed. In the movie, a military drill of a surprise nuclear attack on the United States accidentally goes live after a hacker, played by Matthew Broderick, “unwittingly” puts the world on the brink of nuclear war.

MARS program manager Terry Busch doesn’t discount the possibility. “On the machine side,” Busch stated, “we have experienced confirmation bias in big data,” adding that it was a “real concern” given that they’ve had “the machine retrain itself to error”.

COVID-19, however, has given the top military intelligence department the opportunity to “prove [its] ability to deliver the capabilities of MARS”, as DIA chief of Staff, John Sawyer, said at a National Security Summit that concluded Friday. The “assumptions about the nature of our work,” he claims were challenged during the pandemic, were especially fruitful in regards to the MARS program, which can now benefit from a new modality of military intelligence propagation that will be “the future of how we are going to understand fighting”.

Privatizing war

The massive scope of the DIA’s database retooling can be glimpsed by the size of the multiple-award contract it announced in August of last year, totaling over $17 Billion in contracts to 16 different companies, from large and established military contractors to startups. The largest “individual task orders” went to companies like Booz Allen Hamilton, the long-time private military intelligence-gathering operation that once employed Edward Snowden, and the far less known – but far more significant – Harold Thomas Martin III, who pled guilty in 2019 of stealing classified material pertaining to NSA “source code to break into computer systems of adversaries like Russia, China, Iran and North Korea.”

In September 2019, Booz Allen Hamilton received a $90 Million contract to deliver “services for the production, dissemination, and tracking of DIA’s finished intelligence products, including the development and maintenance of applications and tools used to perform the mission.” Other private defense contractors include aerospace giant BAE Systems, Leidos (formerly Science Applications International Corporation, SAIC), and Vencore.

At the two-day intelligence summit, Sawyer alluded to the importance of the private sector in this endeavor, stating that “We have to rely on our partners and industry,” and “have them help us understand the art of the possible and the cutting-edge technology that is out there and to provide the expertise that will allow us to maintain our qualitative edge.”

This is not a drill

The rationale behind prioritizing the overhaul of the DIA’s data management system, a system that is tasked with the “delivery of intelligence to military planners, international partners and analysts,” is the “re-emergence” of “great powers.,” according to the agency. In addition, the DIA claims that everything “the nation knows about adversaries’ capabilities, tactics and military doctrine” is no longer enough in a “more competitive, dynamic and dangerous” global environment.

Touted by the DIA as a “decision advantage for the 21st century”, MARS, represents a perilous use of artificial intelligence, and program manager Busch’s aforementioned claims regarding “finished intelligence” should be noted, again, as advances in cloud computing will allow MARS to simulate “courses of action, allowing operators to quickly and fully grasp the likely effects of proposed activities or movements.”

WarGames ends like you’d expect a Hollywood movie to end, with all the built-up suspense and danger is resolved by the hero before the credits start rolling. In the film, the human wins and manages to get WOPR, the artificial intelligence machine, to relinquish control of the nuclear trigger and avert a nuclear conflagration. The acronym chosen for its real-life manifestation, named after the Roman god of war, should remind us that real life isn’t like the movies.

AVERTING BARBAROSSA II: THE LIANA SPACE RADIOELECTRONIC SURVEILLANCE SYSTEM

Averting Barbarossa II: The Liana Space Radioelectronic Surveillance System
Video

Written and produced by SF Team: J.Hawk, Daniel Deiss, Edwin Watson

At the end of the Cold War, the level of international tension has considerably declined for at least a decade, thanks to widespread multilateral disarmament bolstered by a variety of arms control regimes for conventional and nuclear armaments. That decade also saw the rapid deterioration of Russia’s early warning and surveillance systems as satellites launched during the Soviet era exhausted their service lives and crashed into the atmosphere without being replaced. At first, this was either not seen as an urgent priority by Russian decisionmakers or, if it was, there were more urgent priorities for scarce defense funding in an era of a prolonged economic crisis.

Fast-forwarding a decade, we find ourselves in a radically different situation. There is no more “end of history” optimism in the air, nor is there a sense of durable US hegemony either that seemed so permanent in the 1990s. Unfortunately, history tells us that such shifts in the global balance of power are fraught with danger, as the fading hegemon has an incentive to resort to extreme, reckless measures to preserve that hegemony. What makes the current situation unprecedented is this being the first hegemonic transition of the nuclear age. In the past, nuclear deterrence existed only in the context of relatively stable bipolar and then unipolar systems. Does nuclear deterrence mutually assured destruction still work under conditions of a multipolar system experiencing a hegemonic transition?

International relations theory has no answer to that question, but the US national security establishment appears to think that it doesn’t, particularly in an era of emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, drone and missile swarms, hypersonic delivery vehicles, and possibly even directed energy weapons. Crash US programs in developing all of the above, far beyond anything that might be termed reasonable defensive sufficiency under conditions of the US spending far more on defense than anyone else in the world, do raise the possibility of long-term plans to prevail in the new round of great power competition through not only covert action and “hybrid warfare”, but also, if an opportunity arises, through good old fashioned strategic first strike which need no longer be delivered using nuclear weapons.

The point of Cold War-era nuclear arms treaties was not to limit the number of nuclear warheads for its own sake. Rather, it was to deprive the two superpowers of their ability to launch a disarming and decapitating strike which, given technologies of the era, could only be launched using nuclear weapons.  That is still the case today, but may not be by 2030 should the US complete its planned rearmament with a large array of land-, air-, and sea-based long-range stealthy and hypersonic weapons. Even the US Army, with its plans for “1,000-mile cannon” is once again getting into the game of strategic strike, to speak nothing of land-based hypersonic missiles. And strategic strike using non-nuclear warheads is a novel scenario in which the old “mutually assured destruction” calculations may not apply. Combined with the explosive growth of US anti-ballistic missile programs, if the rest of the world stands still, by 2030 US decision makers might find themselves tempted to launch such a strategic strike against even a major nuclear weapons state like Russia or China, to say nothing of mid-level powers like Iran or North Korea, particularly if they have no nuclear deterrent to begin with.

Except the rest of the world is not about to stand still, and the Liana space surveillance system is an important component of the Russian response to US initiatives. The imminent era of post-nuclear strategic strike demands strategic defense and stability cannot be provided solely by anti-ballistic early warning systems. They would simply provide warning of an attack once it was underway, and in view of the possibility that large numbers of hypersonic missiles could be launched very close to Russia’s borders from the territory of NATO member-states following a rapid and covert deployment, as well as submarines and stealthy bombers, that warning might come too late to make an effective response possible. To make matters worse still, US drive to destroy the Open Skies Treaty that is supposed to prevent precisely that kind of a covert preparation for a first strike, is also indicative of what the long-term US plans are.

Liana is therefore intended to provide that kind of strategic early warning, as well as operational target designation, in the event of an attempted surprise first strike. The satellite constellation is to consist of two types of satellites. The first, Pion-NKS, is a 6.5 ton satellite intended for a 67-degree, 500km orbit, with service life of more than three years. It’s development is nearly complete at the Arsenal Design Bureau. It is a high-resolution radar reconnaissance satellite, capable of positively identifying “car-sized” objects on the Earth’s surface. The second component of the Liana will be Lotos-S, a six-ton satellite operating on a 67-degree, 900km apogee orbit, and performing passive detection, identification, and location of electronic emitters, including radio communications. It was developed by the Arsenal Design Bureau, in collaboration with several other scientific research institutions. Both types of satellites are expected to be launched from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome, using the proven and reliable Soyuz-2-1b launch vehicles. The complete Liana configuration is to consist of two Pion-NKS and two Lotos-S satellites, and open-source information sources suggest the two satellite types have a fair amount of component commonality in order to allow them not only to complement one another, but to perform each other’s primary missions though in a degraded form. So far there have been three Lotos-S launches from Plesetsk, with the first 2009 one being a failure, and the 2015 and 2018 one a success. No Pion-NKS launches have been scheduled yet, but the satellite’s advanced stage of development suggests they will occur in the coming years.

Technological advances mean that once complete, Liana will serve as a replacement for both the Legenda naval surveillance and target designation satellite network, and the Tselina radioelectronic reconnaissance one, thus providing Russian decisionmakers with the ability to monitor troop deployments and electronic activity that would inevitably precede a strategic first strike. Liana will also no doubt prove itself useful in non-Doomsday scenarios as well. The Syria experience revealed the need for reliable detection and target designation of NATO cruise-missile launch assets, including aircraft, submarines, and surface vessels. Liana’s capabilities mean both the assets themselves, other than submarines, and their communications can be monitored to reveal preparations for a strike and provide targeting information as well. It is not clear Russia would have been able to accurately strike at US warships launching cruise missiles at Syria had they been directed against Russian bases. The absence of radar surveillance satellites was a painful gap in Russia’s capabilities at that time, one that will be filled in the coming years.

Save Us From Freedom!

5g-400x226.jpg

Freedom once meant something significant for mankind. It meant ceasing to be suppressed and imprisoned  by forces that endeavour to control one. The word ‘freedom’ conjured a sense of what it means, at least to some degree, to be master of one’s destiny. 

No longer, For many, the new freedom has almost exactly the opposite meaning. Now freedom seems to be associated with having someone or something doing one’s thinking for one; making decisions that one ‘can’t be bothered ‘or doesn’t want to make – and ultimately completely relieving one from responsibility for taking any form of action other than that which enriches one’s pocket and/or one’s narcissist fantasies.

In fact this new ‘freedom’ offers – on a plate – to the oppressor of old the chance to continue his mastery of human control, but under a new guise: the tantalising deception of ‘convenience’. That which by-passes the need for mental creative effort (and often physical effort as well) and which makes one believe that there is really little or nothing to do, other than tap a keyboard and get tuned into a cyberspace virtual reality world which will do the rest for one. This is the great tempter of our age. The one that lays out the red carpet for a soft and sly take-over by nothing less than a non human artificial intelligence.

Yes, the superficial seductiveness of the pocket sized touch-button technology of passivity, the human masters of which sit in Silicon Valley and the Pentagon, monitoring every move that serves the further advancement of the totalitarian central control system.

Did slavery ever loose its grip on the great mass of humanity? Have the majority always preferred the safety of mindlessness to the dangers of consciousness? Was Shakespear on the button when he had Hamlet pose the infamous rhetorical question “To be or not to be, that is the question”. 

It’s a question that should never need to be posed, and indeed never would have been had some  betrayal of the divine nature of humanity not taken place, many thousands of years ago. After all, the spirit infused natural make-up of mankind provided all the fuel needed to guide us on our way to the full expression of our potentiality as universal beings. Yet a deviation from this path was  established, and has proved to be a strong opiate – a formidable obstacle to the spiritual evolution of our species.

This deviation has gone so far, that nothing less than the ability to retain the power of independent thought is now at stake.

I believe that the social psychologist and historian Erich Fromm was right when he said that ‘fear of freedom’ was symptomatic in allowing the rise of fascism before World War Two, and that the prevailing sense of insecurity in society generally leads people to abandon hard won civil liberties, for the seeming safety and protection of ‘strong leadership’, regardless of its motives.

But this type of capitulation plays directly into the hands of those who are best at manipulating peoples’ fears; bringing about an ever greater centralisation of power in the hands of the despotic few. A deft slight of hand, that while giving the impression of providing security and leadership, is actually a calculated step towards the totalitarian take-over.

So now, in 2018/19, we find a similar sense of insecurity gripping those who have repeatedly put their faith in cardboard cut-out political figureheads who subsequently proved to be puppets of the deep state and masters of deception. Public confidence in the old way of doing politics has steadily drained away, leaving a vacuum which has not been filled. However, the deep state has long anticipated the arrival of such a vacuum, and indeed has been instrumental in creating just the right circumstances for it. 

The present state of malaise, shaped as it is by a growing despair in ‘human leadership’, offers a particularly ripe moment for bringing forward a ‘non human’ technological solution to the organisation of day to day life on this planet. An increasing dependence on artificial intelligence as a ‘solution’ to human failings.

Day to day solutions to the needs of society were once dealt with on the ground, at community level, in a hands-on approach which drew on a shared pool of human skills, inventiveness and judgement. But such qualities have been all too quickly sidelined and the responsibilities that went with them are now left in the hands of those who design computer programmes, algorithms and internet control systems. Systems that side-step collective human participation altogether, in favour of the absolute predictability and complete uniformity of artificial intelligence. 

It is the fear of freedom that makes this abdication of human responsibility to the machine such a temptation to large swathes of mankind. Much of humanity still remains conditioned to a parasitical need to be led. Once it becomes apparent that political and corporate leadership is deeply corrupted and not remotely concerned with supporting the health and welfare of human beings, nor the wider environment that supports all living matter, a state of deep insecurity is provoked within society.

A society composed of those who cannot envision what it might mean to take unto themselves a level of actual responsibility for the future and the will to reset the direction of daily life away from dependence upon a figurehead. A figurehead carefully schooled in the art of deception.

People start looking around for someone or something to rely upon to relieve them of their anxiety; when what is actually needed  is a robust examination of their lack of self motivation and the sort of inner responsibility that leads one to face reality square-on. To start taking control of one’s destiny.

However, such a task clearly remains a tall-order for for much of mankind. And so, led by the agenda of the top down control pyramid, people start abdicating their last human survival instincts in favour of the ‘comfort’ of a state of mindlessness. A voluntary paralysis of the power of thought that subsumes the normal activities of the neocortex to the programmed agenda of a robot. A sort of contractual abdication of all normal responsibilities, which denies the God given gift of a working brain and sentient heart in favour of ‘leadership by cyborg’.

Not so long ago, such an act would have been considered unthinkable. It would have been seen as going against the very nature of a humane value system. A state in which people freely express love, laughter, sadness and pain, as well as empathise with animal and plant kingdom surrounding them. 

So,  I am led to consider the likelihood that the deep state’s planned check-mate move in all this, is the role-out of 5G WiFi. 5G, with its determination to create a global satellite array designed to cover every last square inch of the planet, is designed to power this take-over by artificial intelligence. The AI take-over, in turn, is designed to power the global control system, and the global control system is to power the ‘internet of things’ which in turn is to power the ‘internet of everything’. It may not be in exactly that order, but what emerges are the preplanned moves of the final take-over. The New World Order. 

Remember Dr Faustus, selling his soul to the devil?  Well, the price of this 21st century contract is the end of humanity as we know it. People, unnacustomed to questioning or challenging authority and fearful of the vacuum created by its absence, want to create robots so they can be led by them; thus opening the way to perpetual slavery to a synthetic god of their own creation, while abandoning altogether any ties with the God who created them.

We stand right at the edge of such an abys. But paradoxically, it comes at a time of rapid awakening. Mankind will either fall or be party to the creation of a beautiful new dawn. A quantum expansion in the evolution of the species. Every one of us is faced by the choice of seeking to make manifest our God given attributes or going into denial of their existence. 

The present awakening has, at a critical time, provided us with a new sense of awareness. An awareness of the fact that our future lies in our hands and nobody else’s – and so does the planet’s. So let us have no hesitation in rising to the occasion, by drawing deeply upon our still accessible God given qualities of courage, dignity and perseverance. We have everything it takes to come through – and this is our ultimate test.

By Julian Rose
Source

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