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November 8, 2019

Veterans, Autonomous Vehicles, Digital Protests: RAND Weekly Recap

This week, we discuss the pressing problem of veteran suicide; how increasing physical activity could boost the global economy; who's responsible when cars get hacked; helping people return from prison; how artificial intelligence could optimize military deception; and what happens when geopolitics and the Fortune 500 collide.

Howard and Jean Somers hold a photo of their son, Daniel, who died by suicide in June 2013, photo by Nelvin C. Cepeda/San Diego Union-Tribune via Zuma Wire

Howard and Jean Somers hold a photo of their son, Daniel, who died by suicide in June 2013

Photo by Nelvin C. Cepeda/San Diego Union-Tribune via Zuma Wire

We Can Do More to Save Veterans from Suicide

After joining the National Guard, Daniel Somers was deployed twice to Iraq. When he returned home, he fought another battle—against severe depression. The veterans health system never got Daniel the help he needed. He wrote in his final letter that he felt “too trapped in a war to be at peace, too damaged to be at war.” Six years after his second deployment, Daniel shot himself. He was 30 years old.

More than 6,000 U.S. veterans die by suicide every year. That's more than the total number of combat deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. As Veterans Day approaches, we're reflecting on a decade of RAND research that has sought to focus the national conversation about suicide on solutions that work. The overwhelming message: We could do more to save the lives of veterans like Daniel.

A group of people walking outside, photo by sataporn_chayawan/Getty Images

Photo by sataporn_chayawan/Getty Images

The Global Economic Benefits of Physical Activity

An estimated 30 percent of the global population is considered to be physically inactive. And with rates of activity diminishing, the costs to humankind are increasing. RAND researchers examined how a more-active population could provide an economic boost. They found that increasing current activity levels could increase the global GDP by $138 billion to $338 billion by 2025. By 2050, these gains could be as high as $760 billion.

Illustration of a large gavel crashing down on self-driving cars, illustration by Chris Philpot

Illustration by Chris Philpot

Who's Responsible When Cars Get Hacked?

Once cars can drive themselves, grand theft auto might involve a few keystrokes. So who will be liable for the damages caused by a hacker who grabs the wheel or cuts the brakes? Potentially billions of dollars ride on that question. While these events aren't likely, they're not impossible. “They will occur,” says RAND's James Anderson. “It's at least worth some serious thought about what the legal consequences will be.”

Eric Holmes, photo by Diane Baldwin/RAND Corporation

Eric Holmes, who volunteered for a study of how to help people when they return from prison, at home in South Central, Los Angeles

Photo by Diane Baldwin/RAND Corporation

Helping People Returning from Prison

One in every 38 adults in America is in prison, in jail, on probation, or on parole. RAND experts studied what it would take to support these individuals at that pivotal moment when they walk free. The researchers relied on the expertise of people who know the system from the inside: the former inmates themselves. “There are a lot of services trying to address the needs of returning citizens,” says RAND's Peter Mendel. “But they're often designed without much input from the very people who need the services.”

Artificial intelligence concept, photo by kentoh/Getty Images

Photo by kentoh/Getty Images

Artificial Intelligence Could Optimize Military Deception

Rather than lifting the “fog of war,” artificial intelligence could lead to the creation of “fog-of-war machines,” say RAND experts. This would enable new kinds of military deception. If this happens, it will have unpredictable effects. In fact, it may lead to a deception-dominant environment in which countries can no longer gauge the balance between offense and defense. “That's a formula for a more jittery world,” they say.

Mei-Ling Zhou, a character in the Blizzard-Activision game Overwatch, photo courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment. ®2016 Blizzard Entertainment, Inc. All rights reserved. Overwatch is a trademark or registered trademark of Blizzard Entertainment, Inc. in the U.S. and/or other countries

Gamers have altered Mei-Ling Zhou, a character from the Blizzard-Activision game Overwatch, to sport logos in support of the Hong Kong protests

Photo courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment

When Geopolitics and the Fortune 500 Collide

One of the world's leading video game companies, Activision Blizzard, was recently drawn into the political controversy surrounding the Hong Kong protests. Blizzard suspended a player who called for Hong Kong's liberation during one of its live-streamed games. Afterward, angry gamers were quick to respond, posting negative reviews and down-voting Blizzard products. RAND's Sale Lilly warns that other companies could be similarly “plunged into crisis-management mode by world events.”

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