Whoever Predicts the Future Will Win the AI Arms Race – Foreign Policy
A screen shows visitors being filmed by AI security cameras with facial recognition technology at the 14th China International Exhibition on Public Safety and Security at the China International Exhibition Center in Beijing on Oct. 24, 2018.
NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
The race for advanced artificial intelligence has already started. A few weeks ago, U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order creating the “#American_AI_Initiative,” with which the United States joined other major countries pursuing national strategies for developing AI. China released its “New Generation Plan” in 2017, outlining its strategy to lead the world in AI by 2030. Months after that announcement, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared, “Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.”Russian President Vladimir Putin declared,
But it’s less clear how much AI will advance, exactly. It may only be able to perform fairly menial tasks like classifying photographs, driving, or bookkeeping. There’s also a distinct possibility that AI will become as smart as humans or more so, able to make complex decisions independently. A race toward a technology with such a range of possible final states, stretching from banal to terrifying, is inherently unstable. A research program directed toward one understanding of AI may prove to have been misdirected after years of work. Alternatively, a plan to focus on small and achievable advances could be leapfrogged by a more ambitious effort.
China, the United States, and Russia are each negotiating this fraught landscape differently, in ways responsive to their unique economic and military situations. Governments are motivated to pursue leadership in AI by the promise of gaining a strategic advantage. At this early stage, it’s tough to tell what sort of advantage is at stake, because we don’t know what sort of thing AI will turn out to be. Since AI is a technology, it’s natural to think of it as a mere resource that can assist in attaining one’s goals, perhaps by allowing drones to fly without supervision or increasing the efficiency of supply chains.
But computers could surpass humans in finding optimal ways of organizing and using resources. If so, they might become capable of making high-level strategic decisions. After all, there aren’t material limitations restricting the intelligence of algorithms, like those that restrict the speed of planes or range of rockets. Machines more intelligent than the smartest of humans, with more strategic savvy, are a conceptual possibility that must be reckoned with. China, Russia, and the United States are approaching this possibility in different ways. The statements and research priorities released by major powers reveal how their policymakers think AI’s developmental trajectory will unfold.
China is pursuing the most aggressive strategy, focusing on developing advanced AI that could contribute to strategic decision-making. The U.S. approach is more conservative, with the goal of producing computers that can assist human decision-making but not contribute on their own. Finally, Russia’s projects are directed at creating military hardware that relies on AI but leaves decisions about deployment entirely in the hands of generals. In all three situations, the forms of AI these governments are investing their resources in reveal their expectations of the technological future. The country that gets it right could reap huge benefits in terms of military might and global influence.