Which country will win the artificial intelligence arms race?
When it comes to sheer military might, it is safe to say the United States Military is among the strongest armed forces in the world. It surpasses every other major superpower when it comes to military funding, technology, and power projection. However, unbeknownst to most people, there is a silent arms race happening right now for a technology that has the potential to change the status quo of military supremacy. That technology is artificial intelligence (A.I.).
A.I., also known as machine learning, is the use of computer systems developed to perform tasks where human intelligence is normally necessary. Modern A.I. is capable of understanding human speech, reading comprehension, visual perception, decision-making, and much more. Some A.I. systems are even capable of learning by interpreting data and can rewrite their algorithms in real time to become more efficient. A.I. has a wide range of applications and can be implemented in many industries. Some examples of these applications include smart assistants, autonomous vehicles, data analysis, medical diagnosis, and robotics.
Military organizations around the world have recognized how A.I. can be an asset to their armed forces, which, in turn, has led to the development of weapon systems that utilize A.I. technology. Examples of these systems are lethal autonomous weapons such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and autonomous turrets. While most of the focus has been placed on autonomous weapons, there are other ways A.I. can be used in a military environment. Other possible applications include improved training systems for pilots, surveillance data analysis, and logistical support.
While these military applications seem impressive, do they justify a race among nations for A.I. superiority? According to a study done by the Belfer Center, A.I. is a transformative technology, comparable to nuclear technology or biotechnology. Exponential growth in computing and advanced machine learning techniques have accelerated the development and progress of A.I. in less than a decade. As A.I. capabilities become more robust, so will their military applications. By analyzing existing technological capabilities and trends, the study states that A.I. will have implications on the United States' military, information, and economic superiority.
Both the Russian and Chinese governments have been aware of A.I. technology's disruptive potential and how it can revolutionize not just modern warfare, but geopolitics as a whole. To gain an edge over the United States, both countries are said to have allocated resources for A.I. research. This raises the question of just how far the A.I. initiatives of these two countries have progressed when compared to the United States.
It is still unknown exactly how much of an investment Russia has made in A.I. research. However, Russian officials have announced the ongoing development of A.I. military hardware such as A.I.-guided missiles and an A.I. operating system that will simultaneously control a cluster of drones capable of interacting with each other and accomplishing missions autonomously. These weapons have not been officially confirmed, but considering Russia's current economic position, it is unlikely they will be developed soon, if at all.
According to a report from the Brookings Institution, Russia's best bet would be utilizing A.I.-driven asymmetric warfare. This involves the usage of A.I. software designed to spread political disinformation campaigns and cyber-attacks. Many of the cyber-attacks range from those that root out of the hands of crafty hackers to attack personal computers, such as malware threats like new and prevalent variations of ransomware. Other cyber-attacks out of Russia are intended to manipulate news cycles, which in the past have been found to be random paid campaigns on large social media networks like Facebook.
China is a more significant concern when it comes to the A.I. race for many reasons. China's State Council has issued an initiative known as "A Next-Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan," with the goal of establishing China as the world leader in artificial intelligence by 2030.
The Chinese government and private sector have invested billions of dollars every year on A.I. research. They are also proficient at executing attacks against domestic and international consumers and entities via system breaches that include hacking, phishing campaigns, ransomware, and distributed denial of service attacks.
The U.S. government has only recently begun to prioritize A.I. research and development and has yet to develop a proper long-term strategy on the matter. It is also far too dependent on the private sector when it comes to A.I. technology. This is a complicated relationship, given that numerous tech giants signed a pledge against developing lethal A.I. weapon systems for military purposes. Nonetheless, any significant gap in A.I. technology can have negative long-term ramifications as we position ourselves against our military and economic rivals.