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tv   PBS News Hour  PBS  July 20, 2017 6:00pm-7:01pm PDT

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captioning sponsored by newshour productions, llc >> woodruff: good evening, i'm judy woodruff. on the newshour tonight, justice under fire. on the six month anniversary of his taking office, president trump goes public with his regret over his choice for attorney general, while blasting the f.b.i. and the special counsel investigating russia. then, stepping back in syria, president trump ends a covert operation arming rebel fighters, a move that eases pressure on both presidents assad and putin. plus, making sense of fears over the rise of artificial intelligence, and how to curb the future power of computers. >> how could you then ensure that you could control what those machines do? that they were beneficial? that they were aligned with
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human intentions? >> woodruff: all that and more on tonight's pbs newshour. >> major funding for the pbs newshour has been provided by: >> and by the alfred p. sloan foundation. supporting science, technology, and improved economic performance and financial literacy in the 21st century. >> carnegie corporation of new york. supporting innovations in education, democratic engagement, and the advancement of international peace and security. at carnegie.org. >> and with the ongoing support of these institutions: and individuals.
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>> this program was made possible by the corporation for public broadcasting. and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. >> woodruff: president trump sounding off again. this time, as he observes the first half-year mark of his presidency, he's vented some very public criticism of his attorney general, and of other top justice officials, past and present. john yang begins our coverage. >> yang: attorney general jeff sessions made it clear today: he's not going anywhere for now. >> we love this job. we love this department. and i plan to continue to do so as long as that is appropriate. >> yang: that came after
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president trump's sharp rebuke of sessions in a "new york times" interview for disqualifying himself from the russia investigation. >> how do you take a job and then recuse yourself? if he had recused himself before the job, i would have said, 'thanks, jeff, but i can't, you know, i'm not going to take you.' it's extremely unfair, and that's a mild word, to the president. >> yang: mr. trump also said sessions "gave some bad answers" in his senate confirmation hearing when he failed to disclose meetings with the russian ambassador. while the white house said the president still has confidence in sessions, mr. trump's comments mark a public break from one of his earliest supporters. it also suggests that mr. trump's anger with sessions is still fresh more than four months after the attorney general recused himself. in the 50-minute interview, mr. trump leveled a new allegation about why fired f.b.i. director james comey told him about the uncorroborated contents of a salacious dossier before
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inauguration day: "in my opinion, he shared it so that i would think he had it out there." he was asked. as leverage? "yeah, i think so, in retrospect." the president also appeared to warn special counsel robert mueller to limit his investigation. >> if mueller was looking at your finances and your family finaces, unrelated to russia-- is that a red line? >> would that be a breach of what his actual charge is? >> i would say, 'yeah.' i would say, 'yes.' >> yang: could mueller's investigation go there? greg farrell is a "bloomberg news" investigative reporter. >> that's what this is all about. they have to look into trump's own finances and see if there's been any unusual benefit beyond the purchase of apartments, if there's anything unusual about all the business transactions that have taken place over many years between russian nationals and him. >> yang: although the white house said the president does not "intend" to fire mueller, his comments still raised red flags for some senate judiciary committee democrats. >> what we're watching is an
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obstruction of justice case unfold in real time with the president of the united states trying to set limits on a legitimate investigation. >> mueller has the right to investigate this and he was given that authority by the justice department, and he reports to the justice department and not the president of the united states. >> yang: committee chairman chuck grassley said he was not worried. >> as i know mueller or 13 years or how many years he was head of the f.b.i., he's going to do his job and that's all that matters. >> yang: grassley said donald trump jr. and former trump campaign chairman paul manafort have not yet responded to his request that they testify next week-- and that he will subpoena them if necessary. for the pbs newshour, i'm john yang. >> woodruff: we'll explore the implications of the president's comments, after the news summary. in the day's other news,
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russia's official r.i.a. news agency reported the u.s. and russia are talking about creating a cyber-security working group. president trump had raised a similar idea during the g-20 summit, but backed off under heavy criticism. this latest report comes amid multiple u.s. investigations of russian meddling in the 2016 election. the "congressional budget" office says a revised senate republican health-care bill leaves as many people un-insured as a previous version. the c.b.o. reported today that under the bill, another 22 million americans would lose coverage by 2026. the measure would also reduce federal deficits by $420 billion over the coming decade. so far, g.o.p. leaders still lack the votes to debate the bill. the health of senator john mccain dominated this day at the u.s. capitol. the arizona republican has been diagnosed with brain cancer, and
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doctors removed a tumor, but mccain may need additional treatment. the news stunned lawmakers from both parties, who said they're hoping for the best for their longtime colleague. >> you think about that kind of courage and bravery and that's >> he may outlive us all. god only knows how this thing ends i just ask god for one thing, that he has a voice and he can use it as long as possible. >> woodruff: mccain is 80, and is a former vietnam war p.o.w. and republican presidential nominee. he's serving his sixth term in the senate, and today, he tweeted: "i greatly appreciate the outpouring of support -- unfortunately for my sparring partners in congress, i'll be back soon, so stand-by!"
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for the first time in the global aids epidemic, more than half of all those infected with h.i.v. are on drugs to treat the virus. a united nations report today also finds that overall aids deaths have fallen to about half the level of 2005. the epidemic has killed 35 million people over the last four decades. o.j. simpson was granted parole in nevada today, after nearly nine years in prison, and could be freed in october. the one-time pro football star had been jailed for an armed robbery in 2007, to snatch back sports mementos. today, in a live-streamed hearing, simpson, now 70 years old, pleaded his case to the state parole board. >> i've done my time. you know i've done it as well and as respectfully as i think anybody can. i think if you talks to the wardens and them they'll tell you i've been-- i gave them my word. i believe in the jury system.
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i've honored their verdict. >> woodruff: simpson's defenders said his 33-year sentence was overly harsh, and that he was really being punished for the murders of his ex-wife and her friend in 1994. he was acquitted of those killings in 1995. the u.s. senate today confirmed a federal appeals judge despite a series of blog posts that democrats condemned. kentucky lawyer john bush was approved 51 to 47. in one on-line posting, under a pseudonym, he called abortion and slavery the "two greatest tragedies in our country". he also linked to articles on a far-right conspiracy website. exxon-mobil was fined $2 million today for violating u.s. sanctions on russia, in 2014. the oil giant said it will challenge the fine in court. the u.s. treasury department says the company showed "reckless disregard" for sanctions by signing deals with the head of russia's state-owned
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oil company. at the time, secretary of state rex tillerson was exxon-mobil's c.e.o. and, on wall street, the dow jones industrial average lost about 29 points to close at 21,611. the nasdaq rose about five points, and the s&p 500 slipped a fraction. still to come on the newshour: a deeper look at president trump's frustrations with jeff sessions. white house plans to scrap a program to arm syrian rebels. how the obama administration tried to safeguard state election systems against russian hacking, and much more. >> woodruff: back to president trump's comments to the "new york times" yesterday. he unleashed broadsides at top officials from the justice department, raising questions about the president's
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relationship with the nation's top lawyer, jeff sessions. for that, we are joined by walter dellinger. he served in the clinton administration as assistant attorney general and acting solicitor general. he's now in private practice. and former u.s. ambassador douglas kmiec served as legal counsel to presidents ronald reagan and george h.w. bush. he is a professor of constitutional law at pepperdine university law school. we welcome you both back to the program. walter dellinger, to you first, how significant are the president's criticisms of top officials at justice? >> well, i think they're unprecedented and they're in-- in their inappropriateness. a president should not be commenting on any particular criminal investigation, especially one that involves people close to him, potential family members, and, yet, here the president said that the attorney general should not have recused himself and should not
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have been appointed unless he had sort of committed himself not to recuse, even though department mental rules would call for it. he then criticized the deputy attorney general for naming a special counsel which was clearly appropriate and, finally, he made it clear that he thought the special counsel should not inquire into any financial dealings outside of the scope of the russian campaign. all of those seem to be inappropriate for a president, unprecedented and something that certainly would send a chill will you the entire department of justice. >> woodruff: douglas kmiec, inappropriate and likely to send a chill through the department? >> i think everything walter said is true. we know of two things as a result of that interview, one that he has a very intelligent and beautiful granddaughter he's very proud of and that, i think, will humanize the president for people who read his interview. but we are very troubled by the nature of how he understands his
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role as president and his ability to intercede into particular investigations. you know, judy, i think he comes from the business world where his perception is where lawyers are hired because they're smart and clever and they can get the best price on property and the best title arrangements and the best closing date, and all these things are subject to negotiation, and what he doesn't realize and it becomes plain at every turn is that the constitution is designed to separate power, to specify limits, to make sure that nobody has the ability to give favoritism to their friends. this is just something he just doesn't grasp. instead, he has a very transactional view of the law, and it's not the view the department of justice has to defend as a matter of the constitution. >> woodruff: so, walter dellinger, given if that's his understanding of the role of the justice department, what are the
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consequences of the department in terms of its ability to do its job? >> well, i think, outside the area of the russia investigation, the department will go forward. i think the president's reputation has suffered enough that his criticism of attorney general sessions is likely only to enhance the attorney general's standing within the department. you know, i think that, in terms of this particular investigation, it will proceed. you know, robert mueller, we have to remember, is like james comey, a lifelong republican, 12 years as head of the f.b.i. under two presidents and two different political parties. robert mueller is known to law enforcement throughout the united states and held in the highest possible regard so that -- and i certainly agree with everything doug kmiec said. if the president were to make a move to try to break through the
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department and dismiss robert mueller, i think the organized bar would find it incumbent upon itself to take whatever actions they could to brock that. >> woodruff: doug kmiec, the pt said he's not going to do that at this point, but sent a shot across the bow says, if it turns out mr. mueller is looking into his own financial dealings with russia, which they be the case, that he would give it another thought. so what does that mean for mr. mueller and his ability to go forward? >> i don't think mr. mueller will be intimidated whatsoever. as walter said, hes a straight shooter and is being very careful and quiet as he gathers his information, as he should. the concern i have is the president, if he thinks it's only a very narrow question of whether there was a contact with russia, that is just simply not
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plausible because the real concern is that the president somehow has gotten himself into a difficult position with a foreign country where a foreign country has some information perhaps with this reputable memo that talks about terrible practices the president was probably involved in and perhaps something else, perhaps there is undue influence of a foreign nation of his decision-making, it strikes every aspect of his job, foreign and domestic policy, and that's simply not going to be send. to what is going to be the answer if he objections? i think the answer will be a referral to the house of representatives for removal. >> woodruff: for removal of -- the president. >> woodruff: of the president? i think i was saying a referral for impeachment proceedings, yes. every step he's taking are
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further elements of what may well be obstruction of justice against the president. the idea he would be directing special counsel not to inquire into areas regarding the president's personal finances, even though the president has a free speech right to do that and can exercise the power of his presidency, if he does it through corrupt motive those certainly can be elements of obstruction of justice. >> that's certainly right. the one thing we might worry about that the president might have helped himself in an interview is how profoundly he misunderstands the law. an obstruction of justice prosecution, an espionage prosecution, all these things in title 18 require bad intent and specific bad intent, and president trump's knowledge of how the law works with so rudimentary and so different than our history, where harry
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truman was told he couldn't seize the steel mills, where ronald reagan was told he couldn't have a line item veto unless there was a constitutional amendment, where one administration after another said to the president of the united states, yes, you are our chief executive, but that means you must take care that the laws are faithfully executed, not that you take care that your objectives are accomplished irregardless of the law. >> woodruff: i just want to come back to both of you again with less than a minute, and that is -- and that is to clarify that you believe the job of the attorney general, the deputy attorney general, these other individuals the president is criticizing, that they can do their jobs as usual, that their authority is not undermined after these criticisms from the president, walter dellinger? >> you know, judy, i don't because i don't think people take criticisms by donald trump
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the way they would take criticism from any other president. i don't think that affects the attorney general's standing within the department. >> i agree. i also think that, as walter said, jeff sessions, to th the extent he's putting his nose to the grindstone and getting to work and accomplishing the vast number of other tasks that the department handles will be admired by those people in the justice department as it should. i think jeff sessions made a very important -- >> you know, i think you shouldn't -- >> woodruff: go ahead. i was saying, doug, i think he should not resign. i think he should not resign because that's exactly what the president wants him to do so he can install some non-recused loyalist in the department. >> exactly right, and jeff sessions, however awkward it would be to continue his service, is doing a service to maintain the institution of the
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department of justice and that is what's important. >> woodruff: douglas kmiec, walter dellinger, we thank you both. >> woodruff: a c.i.a. program to aid syrian rebels fighting the regime of bashar al assad will soon be ended by the trump administration. hari sreenivasan has that. >> sreenivasan: it was a covert program, started in 2013 under president obama, in the hopes of forcing assad from power. the news that the president would end the operation was first reported by the washington post yesterday. joining me now for what impact this will have on the conflict in syria is faysal itani, a senior fellow at the atlantic council. first, let's talk about what the strategy is behind this move. >> well, this is something -- this is a campaign, a strategy that's actually been rolled back for a long time. initially, it started as under
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the obama administration as a tool to put pressure on the assad regime, military pressure to get them to negotiate. that didn't work. when the russians came into syria 2015, the risk became too high for the administration to keep on pushing with a proxy program like this. this is basically a rollback like that, an indication we've entered a whole different phase of the war. >> sreenivasan: we've seen the trump administration say our focus is on defeating i.s.i.s. does this help in the fight against i.s.i.s.? >> not. so it doesn't have any immediate benefit on the fight against i.s.i.s., but i think what the president was saying and thinking is we don't want anything to potentially distract from the fighting against i.s.i.s., so why are we doing this thing or having this program, why should we be fighting assad. i think it's a matter of keeping one agenda alone. i think some of the people who have been on the u.s. payroll
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for a long time, they will be deployed against jihadi groups in southern syria, not all, but some of them. >> sreenivasan: the rebels affected by this particular operation seem to be in the area now holding tentatively under a cease fire, right? >> yeah, absolutely, and i think it's no coincidence that this cease fire relies on russian good will and russian intention of restraining the regime for breaking that cease fire, and i think part of the calculation is that we're showing the russians that we are serious about no longer escalating militarily against the regime and this is a sign of our good will and our commitment. >> sreenivasan: has the strategy of funding at least in terms of arms these rebel groups, has that worked? >> no, because it was never of a sufficient scale or magnitude or quality that would really present a strategic threat to the regime.
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the regime understood that fairly well, when we got slightly a couple of years into the conflict, really, and the point is it was never meant to put so much pressure on the regime that it collapsed. it was meant to put so much to bring bashar al-assad to the negotiating table and obviously this wasn't going to happen and it didn't. >> sreenivasan: is bashar al-assad happy now that there is a deescalation of support of arms against the people he's against is this. >> i think it's good news to him. it's going to become official u.s. policy, he knows he's in the clear as far as a u.s. intention to pose a threat to him. without the united states backing one or more to have the groups in syria, there isn't any way to pose arious threat to the regime given that russia and iran are fighting on his side.
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>> sreenivasan: the senate armed services committee said john mccain said, even while recuperating, i want to read his quote, if this is true, the administration is playing into the lands of vladimir putin and making concessions to bashar al-assad and syria is irresponsible and short sighted. >> i think what john mccain is saying is he doesn't agree with leaving bashar al-assad alone, focusing only on i.s.i.s. and letting the russians dictate the way it plays out in terms of cease fire. if you decide that's a course,eth not a concession, it's only our strategy. it's only a concession if our intention is to wrest some other thing out of russia. i think we're just hoping russia delivers on the cease fire agreements. i'm skeptical, but let's see. >> sreenivasan: what about the aggressions that have happened on the parts of the assad regimaged the russians, in
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indiscriminate bombings of civilians and so forth. if we deescalate this, does this h decrease our voice at the table? >> yes, i think our voice at the table starts decreasing when we fail to respond to chemical weapons attacks on august 13, fail to respond to the russian entry and the subsequent escalation. i think the parties on the other side have already started taking measure of us and understood what our commitments are and aren't and that we don't have stomach for a fight against bashar al-assad and also the stomach for these sort of atrocities you're talking about. these will continue until no longer needed and then you will see one opposition area offa another come under regime control and, definitely, there is nothing standing in the way any more in, for example, southern syria. >> sreenivasan: faysal itani, thank you so much. >> thank you.
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>> woodruff: we turn back to the russia investigations and the issue at their core: that government's meddling in the 2016 u.s. election. how russian officials made it happen is the focus of at least three official probes in washington, but information about what they did and didn't do to our voting process, and to our confidence in our election system, has come in fits and starts. a new cover story for "time" magazine takes a deep dive into what we know now, connecting the dots of "how", "why" and "how far they went." it's titled "inside the secret plan to stop vladimir putin's u.s. election plot" and the author, "time" magazine's massimo calabresi is here with me now. welcome to the program, massimo. what you've reported in this issue of "time" is what we went over therefore, how far the federal government had gone last year to prevent damage by the russians. >> in the days leading up to the election, the top federal cyber
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security officials realized that, for the efforts they had taken throughout the election, our voting system was still vulnerable, not to interference with the actual vote count, but to undermining the credibility of the vote, the integrity of the vote, which is the purpose of voting to begin with, to reach a consensus that the democratic will of the people has been expressed. >> woodruff: what was it the government was prepared to do? >> they enumerated extraordinary steps in the 15-page plan. in the beginning, they stipulated under most circumstances the federal government would defer to the states in a cyber incident, but in a particularly bad one, for example, one that halted voting in a voting place, they would go so far as to send federal law enforcement agents to polling places, they were prepared to deploy active and reserve military forces in case of a massive incident, and they're
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also prepared for counter-propaganda efforts in the wake of the vote, should false information be spread to try to undermine its credibility. >> woodruff: and what have tey seen that caused them to go to these lengths before an election? >> so, initially, they saw one or two states back in the summer where the russians had broken into the voter registration rolls and meddled around. but the more they looked, the more they found other states had been compromised. they didn't quite know what the russians were doing. initially, they thought they might be able to swing the vote, but they soon concluded that actual meddling with the vote count was not going to be possible, but they decided that what the russians could do was take certain actions that would call into question whether it had been free and fair, like interfering with the reporting
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systems on election night, meddling with voter rolls throughout the country in ways that would cause long lines or, in swing states, might cause extraordinary number of provincial ballots to be cast. >> woodruff: but there were instances where you have reported because you've written a number of stories were in california, for example. there was a number of instances where people reported trouble voting because how their identity had been changed in voter registration. >> that's absolutely right. primary day in california, june 2016, the local d.a. started getting a bench of calls from voters saying they were not being allowed to vote because their voter registration information had been changed in the statewide voter registration database. the hackers remain unknown in that case because the state of california doesn't record the i.p. addresses of computers that make changes. but looking back, the federal officials who were in chornlg of
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defending the vote, in the context of the other russian intrusions, concluded that this might have been a test run by the russians to show what kind of disruption they could cause on election day and, indeed, in this county in california, the voters became quite agitated and the mystery actually fed the doubt. >> woodruff: i want to press you on this because you're saying that the russians were not able -- they weren't worried the russians would be able to change the final vote count -- >> that's right. >> woodruff: -- but they got in, in a remarkable way, into state voter files, into election systems. >> and this is what's so important, because the russians over time had become bolder and bolder about their intrusions and had not tried to hide the fact that they were breaking into systems. the russians are very skilled cyber actors, among the best in the world, so the fact they were remaining in the open was a clue to the larger purpose of the operation, and it's crucial to keep this in mind -- the first
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and primary goal of the russian operation against the election was to undermine american faith in the democratic process. the first and abiding goal. every secondary goal that came had to first fulfill undermining our faith in the democratic process. so what the cyber security officials at the white house and across government at the f.b.i. and intelligence community concluded was that these intrusions were less about the specific effect that they could have than they were on undermining the faith of the americans in elections generally. >> woodruff: and it appears they succeeded, at least in part, in doing that, and you report that there is every reason to think they may still be engaged in this. we have governors' election this year and elections next year. >> that's right. this is an attack on russia by america, not on a particular
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candidate or party. their interests are in weakens the u.s. at home and abroad and that's why it's so important now that we take steps to try and secure our election so that this kind of exercise propaganda influence operation designed to undermine our faith in the democratic process can't succeed in the future. >> woodruff: how high up in the russian government does this go? we know at one point president obama was reportedly telling vladimir putin cut it out. >> that's right. obama confronted him in the photograph of the two staring at each other icily in china in the meeting and told him to cut it out. the intelligence community reported publicly in their assessment in january that the operation had been approved at the highest level and my sources tell me that means putin. >> woodruff: well, it doesn't get any higher than that. >> that's right. >> woodruff: and it's a remarkable collection of stories. congratulations on all this reporting, and i know you're
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continuing to work on it. >> thank you. >> woodruff: massimo calabresi with "time," thank you. >> thanks for having me. >> woodruff: stay with us, >> woodruff: the fears around the development of artificial intelligence. computer superintelligence is a long long way from the stuff of sci-fi movies, but several high profile leaders and thinkers have been worrying quite publicly about what they see as the risks to come. our economics correspondent, paul solman, explores that, part of his weekly series, "making sense." >> i want to talk to you about the greatest scientific event in the history of man. >> are you building an a.i.? >> reporter: "ai": artificial intelligence. >> do you think i might be switched off? >> it's not up to me. >> why is it up to anyone? >> reporter: some version of this scenario has had prominent tech luminaries and scientists worried for years.
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in 2014, cosmologist stephen hawking told the bbc... >> i think the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race. >> reporter: and just this week, tesla and space x entrepreneur elon musk told the national governors' association... >> a.i. is a fundamental existential risk for human civilization and i don't think people fully appreciate that. >> reporter: ok, but what's the economics angle? well, at oxford university's future of humanity institute, founding director nick bostrom leads a team trying to figure out how best to invest in, well, the future of humanity. >> we are in this very peculiar situation of looking back at the history of our species, 100,000 years old, and now finding ourselves just before the threshold to what looks like it will be this transition to some post human era of super intelligence that can colonize the universe and then maybe last for billions of years. >> reporter: philosopher bostrom has been perhaps the most
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prominent thinker about the benefits and dangers to humanity of what he calls" superintelligence" for many years. >> once there is superintelligence, the fate of humanity may depend on what the superintelligence does. >> reporter: there are plenty of ways to invest in humanity, he says, giving money to anti- disease charities, for example. but bostrom thinks longer term, about investing to lessen" existential" risks: those that threaten to wipe out the human species entirely. global warming might be one. but plenty of other people are worryng about that, he says. so he thinks about other risks. what are the greatest of those risks? >> the greatest existential risks arise from certain, anticipated technological breakthroughs that we might make. in particular, machines super intelligence, nanotechnology, and, synthetic biology. fundamentally, because, we don't have the ability to uninvent anything that we invent.
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we don't, as a human civilization, have the ability to put the genie back into the bottle. once something has been published, then we are stuck with that knowledge. >> reporter: so bostrom wants money invested in how to manage a.i. >> specifically on the question if and when in the future you could build machines that were really smart, maybe super- intelligent, smarter than humans, how could you then ensure that you could control what those machines do? that they were beneficial? that they were aligned with human intentions? >> reporter: how likely is it that machines would develop basically a mind of their own, which is what you're saying, right? >> i do think that advanced a.i. including super-intelligence is a sort of portal through which humanity will passage, assuming we don't destroy ourselves prematurely in some other way. right now the human brain is where it's at, it's the source of almost all other technologies we have. >> reporter: i'm relieved to hear that.
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>> and the complex social organization we have. it's why the modern condition is so different from the way that the chimpanzees live. it's all through the human brain's ability to discover and communicate. but there is no reason to think that human intelligence is anywhere near the greatest possible level of intelligence that could exist, that we are sort of the smartest possible species. i think rather that we are the stupidest possible species that is capable of creating technological civilization. >> reporter: and capable of creating technology that has begun to surpass us. first in chess; then in jeopardy; google deepmind now in the supposedly impossible game for a machine to win: go.
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this is just task-oriented software, some have argued, and not really "intelligence" at all. moreover, whatever you call it, there will be enormous benefits, says bostrom. on the other hand, if we approach real intelligence, it could also become a threat. think of "ex machina" or "the matrix." or elon musk's fantasy fear this week about advanced a.i.: >> well, it could start a war by doing fake news and spoofing email accounts and fake press releases and just by you know manipulating information. the pen is mightier than the sword. >> reporter: so this is going to be a cat and mouse game between us and the intelligence.
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>> so that would be one model. one line of attack is to try to leverage the a.i.'s intelligence to learn what it is that we value and that, and what we want it to do. >> reporter: in order to protect ourselves from what could be a truly existential risk. so how do you get the greatest good for the greatest number of present and future humans beings? it might be to invest now in controlling the evolution of artificial intelligence. for the pbs newshour, this is economics correspondent paul solman, reporting from oxford, england. >> woodruff: now, we turn to the grinding civil war in yemen - which has also become a proxy conflict between neighboring saudi arabia, and its archrival, iran. a two-and-a-half-year long saudi-led bombing campaign with iran, has killed thousands. vast swaths of the country lie devastated. compounding the horror: yemen is on the brink of famine; there
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are critical shortages of aid and medical care; and now, an outbreak of cholera is spreading. the country has been essentially closed to journalists for months, but filmmaker martin smith and his team from frontline were able to gain access to yemen in may. frontline has posted a short film on its website documenting what they saw. here is an excerpt, beginning in the capital, sanaa. >> it's not just the jets you hear overhead, or the buildings that are bombed, or the airport that's demolished. it's the knock on effects of the war on infrastructure. when we came into town what struck me right away was the amount of garbage on the streets. the garbage workers hadn't been paid in eight months. the rains came, washing through the garbage. bacteria carried into the water supply. people drinking bad water.
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and, they were hit by a cholera epidemic. cholera simply dehydrates you, quickly. so that anything you ingest any water you drink or food you eat just passes through your system, and you get no nutrients out of it. >> she is very tired because of the exhaustion from the electrolyte imbalance that she has. she can't control herself now until she gets enough fluid. >> the world health organization is saying that there are over 300,000 cases of cholera. 1,600 people have died, many of them children. and the numbers keep going up. the hospital we visited, they were already beyond capacity. the nurses and doctors were suffering from a lack of
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medicines and equipment. and they were there working despite the fact that they hadn't been paid. >> we don't get salary. last salary i got was in september only. >> if i will not work, then they will die. and maybe tomorrow i'll be sick, and nobody will see me because of no salary. >> people often ask why the saudis are bombing yemen. it's a question for the saudis. they'll tell you they're fighting the rebel group that's trying to take over the country, who are backed by their arch rival, iran. yet in the time i was there, it was hard to see really what the iranians were doing. but the impact of the saudi led coalition bombing was very clear. parts of the country have been isolated from bomb strikes on
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bridges. people on the ground are suffering. they're caught in the crossfire of this war. in hajjah, we went to a hospital. and i met a nurse there who showed me pictures she'd taken a day or two before of a young boy who came in severely malnourished, and died. >> ( translated ): i get really affected. all of us here do. we do our job and we love the child. and in the end, they pass away. it's hard. >> she then was called away to go take care of a new severe malnutrition patient. a mother came in with her child, it was a little girl, eileen. seventh month old baby.
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>> ( translated ): for sure it's a consequence of the war. the war is behind the malnourishment. and it is only getting worse. the cases have increased. there is a food shortage. >> ( translated ): how are your living conditions at home? >> ( translated ): terrible. >> there were always malnutrition cases in yemen, but the nurse told us that the number of cases had more than doubled since the war. and maybe an hour later, another mother came in with her daughter. ruqayah her name was a five- year-old girl. ruqayah had come from an i.d.p. camp, was quite a ways away up near the saudi border. traveled several hours. because the hospital up near her had been bombed.
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>> ( translated ): as a result of these catastrophes, they don't have the means to travel from their areas, which are usually very far from ours. so they wait >> woodruff: for more on the conflict and the people caught in between, we're joined from new york by david miliband. he is president and c.e.o. of the international rescue committee, a global aid agency, and served as foreign secretary of the united kingdom from 2007 to 2010. david miliband, welcome back to the "newshour". that was an horrific film we've just seen an excerpt of. tell us more about just how bad things are right now in yemen. >> i think horrific is the right word for the tragedy that's unfolding in yemen. it is the modern face of humanitarian catastrophe because
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yemen represents a political emergency as well as a humanitarian emergency. yemen is one of four countries threatened by famine at the moment, and the numbers in yemen are absolutely staggering, 20 million people in humanitarian need, over 300,000 diagnosed with cholera, already, and our teams on the ground have 150, 200 staff on the ground in yemen, and what they report is direct danger to civilians from bombing as part of the war that's going on, and indirect danger from the consequences of war that are impeding access to humanitarian workers and have destroyed about half the hospitals in the country, so it really is complete meltdown in yemen at the moment. >> woodruff: if i were to ask you what are the main needs people have, it sounds as if you're saying everything. >> yes, it is everything, but i think one can be specific. first of all, that the war needs to be conducted within the confines of international
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humanitarian law. international humanitarian law which defends civilians from attack needs to be observed. secondly, the bombing needs to be arrested and stopped. thirdly, the access for humanitarian aide workers needs to be supported rather than impeded. there's a threat to the hadada port in yemen, a threat to bomb the port. it needs stronger u.n. presence there so that food is able to enter the country because the agriculture has been completely ruined over the last few years of war. fourthly and critically, there needs to be support from the whole international diplomatic and political humanitarian community from some kind of political settlement that can put ahold of the fighting. nearly two years ago at the united nations, i attended a meeting of foreign nations of gulf countries who said they were committed to finding a political settlement, but frankly it's no nearer now than then, and civilians in yemen are paying the price. >> woodruff: why has it gotten
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to this point? you describe a situation that, by stages, has got ton a point as you're describing, it's going to be very difficult to put this back together again. >> you're absolutely right. i mean, there are two main reasons, i think. first of all, the war itself has seen a significant upping of the ante, first of all, by the saudi-led coalition, the u.s. supporting that, then the iranians getting involved, then retaliation against the iranian involvement, and you see escalation upon escalation, neither side willing to compromise for fear of losing face. the second thing that's been happening is the humanitarian tragedy and the failure to protect civilians and deliver humanitarian aide has, i'm afraid, fueled the political emergency, it's provided fuel for radicalism, entrenched both sides. the blood letting, both the houthi rebels and the government who have the support of the saudis and the american side, have got further and further
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apart. a million refugees have left the country, including some fleeing so somalia. you've got a situation where somalia is safer for them than yemen, and those are the two main reasons. there is one other thing to further enlightened the audience, yemen is suffering terribly from climate change and will be the first capital city in the world to run out of water. so you have chronic long-term problems and acute problems as well. >> woodruff: a number of guilty parties including the united states. what politically can be done? you said a moment ago, david miliband, this is even more a political crisis than humanitarian, as bad as it is on a humanitarian level. what has to be done? >> i think the diplomatic and political muscle needs to be applied to ensure that there is a cease fire, that that then is built on with a proper negotiated settlement because the truth is that the current trajectory of the war is in the interest of neither side.
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no one is winning but the civilians of yemen are losing very big time. i'm pleased to say that there are some senators speaking up on this. i was in washington on monday and there is growing concern, i think, in the senate to call on the u.s. administration to persuade the saudis to call a halt to this bombing campaign, which, as i say, is fueling the insurgency rather than curbing it, and to give time for the humanitarian ai aid to get ther. it tells you we in the humanitarian sector are calling for no bombing of the main port till 90% of the food gets into yemen. yemen is one of four countries threatened by famine, a unique coalition of eight american-led n.g.o.s have come together to form a global emergency response coalition to call on the american public to support us in trying to staunch the bloodshed, to staunch the humanitarian suffering, even while the war going on, but it's for the
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diplomats and the politicians to try to bring the war to an end. >> woodruff: what's at stake if that doesn't happen? >> suffering and further fuel for the insurgency. this is a downward spiral to hell that real will you needs to be arrested. >> woodruff: david miliband of the international rescue committee. thank you very much. >> thank you very much. >> woodruff: now to another in our brief but spectacular series, where we ask people to describe their passions. tonight, we hear from academy award-winning documentary filmmaker laura poitras. her latest film "risk," which looks at wikileaks and julian assange, premieres this saturday >> it's a bit surprising that i do documentaries because i consider myself to be a really shy person. there's something about the documentary form that i guess it sort of-- it kind of gives you an invitation maybe to go places
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you wouldn't go, otherwise to take risks you wouldn't take otherwise. my filmmaking is kind of comes in a tradition of observational cinema or cinema vérite, where legendary founders of it, d. a. pennebaker, albert maysles, frederick wiseman, they capture human stories, they capture drama, and they capture history as it unfolds, when you talk to people and who they tell you who they are is oftentimes different than act- than their actions, so i'm interested in people's actions and choices, so, for instance, sitting in a hotel room with edward snowden as he's making this monumental decision to leak this information, is an example of the type of cinema like, that i'm interested in doing. the last two films i've done," citizen four" and "risk", i became a participant, there were things that were happening that were happening because of work that i was doing, reporting on the n.s.a. i mean, if you expose what- you know, as the deepest levels of
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the intelligence agencies, they do tend to pay attention to what you're doing. i was placed on a government terrorist watch list in 2006, and was detained at the u.s. border for probably 50 times. questioned, interrogated, i've had computers confiscated, i've had notebooks photocopied, they've subpoenaed my records, um, they would send f.b.i. agents to my film screenings to see what i said in q and a's. okay so there's a filmmaker as i became really interested in wikileaks and julian assange in 2010 like a lot of people. first, when they published the video of collateral murder, the apache helicopter footage that showed the killing of iraqis, by u.s. military, and having made a film about the war in iraq, i knew this was the kind of thing that was happening everyday there, and-- but it was finally
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i reached out to, to wikileaks and, and assange during that time and then started filming in 2011, and i was interested in how they were changing journalism. somewhat of a falling out with him over the film where he wanted me not to use the scenes in the film that where he's one of the scenes that julian wanted removed from the film is the scene where he hit one of his, his lawyer was giving him advice about how to speak publicly of-- around these allegations of sexual assault it's a thoroughly tawdry radical feminist political positioning thing. it's some stereotype. >> i still have enormous respect for, for like the project of wikileaks and, and, and its importance, because i think they've done extraordinary publishing. i'm always interested in access, like, you know, like i would love to have access to robert miller's investigation into donald trump, james comey, i
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think those are, you know, that'd be pretty tough to, to get access to that, but yeah, i'm, i'm really looking forward to like the, the, the really good documentary that's capturing what's happening right now in, in our, in our politics, so i hope it's being documented by someone. my name is laura poitras and this is my brief take on documentary filmmaking. >> woodruff: you can watch additional brief but spectacular episodes at pbs.org/newshour/brief. on the newshour online right now, teens from all over the world, including an all-girls team from afghanistan, were in washington this week to participate in a robotics competition. on wednesday, a six-person team from the war-torn african nation of burundi went missing. but now two of the teens have been found safe, crossing into canada. read more on our web site, pbs.org/newshour. and that's the newshour for
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tonight. i'm judy woodruff. join us online and again here tomorrow evening with mark shields and david brooks. for all of us at the pbs newshour, thank you and see you soon. >> major funding for the pbs newshour has been provided by: >> this program was made possible by the corporation for public broadcasting. and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. captioning sponsored by newshour productions, llc captioned by media access group at wgbh access.wgbh.org
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this season of "martha stewart's cooking school" explores treasured recipes from an extraordinary part of the world -- the arabian gulf. join me in my kitchen as i celebrate its regional ingredients. we'll make rustic breads, mouthwatering desserts, and hearty stews with spices made famous by historic trade routes, learn new culinary techniques and creative tips for serving arabian gulf classics, from preparing small bites to showstopping dishes fit for any festive occasion. with its bold flavors and strong traditions, i've been inspired to get into the kitchen and add what i like to call a good thing to an already delicious cuisine. enjoy. "martha stewart's cooking school" is made possible by... ♪ announcer: al jazeera.

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