Artificial intelligence (AI), information and communication technology

“The future belongs to artificial intelligence and whoever masters it first will rule the world”

Vladimir Putin

IT and AI

Information technology has already transformed virtually every aspect of modern civilization. The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and the ability of systems to train themselves rather than be programmed, allowing them to perform tasks no human could, is expected to have as much, if not more an impact than the proliferation of computers and the Internet.

Artificial intelligence is already widely used by tech firms worldwide for everything from search engines to social media. It is also increasingly being developed for other applications including monitoring systems, decision making, reviewing medical records and images to diagnose patients etc. There are also autonomous AI agents being developed and tested that carry out and defend against cyberattacks.

A recent study by McKinsey Global Institute suggested that artificial intelligence could boost annual GDP growth by 1.2 percent for at least the next decade. According to the institute’s simulation model, about 70 percent of the world’s companies will adopt at least one form of AI by 2030. Overall, AI could deliver $13 trillion in additional global economic activity within the next decade and its impact could be comparable to the growth brought on by the steam engine.

In November 10, 2018, Head of Sberbank Herman Gref said that the contribution of artificial intelligence (AI) to the global GDP in the next 12 years will increase 16-fold and reach $16 trillion. According to Gref, the number of specialists in demand in this area will also significantly increase, in 10 years their need will reach 10 million people.

Worldwide race for AI

While the US is perceived to hold a large advantage in this crucial and ever-emerging technological field, political leadership of Russia and China have publicly recognized the importance of AI and the need to prevent any one nation from monopolizing it.

Countries that position themselves as AI leaders could capture an additional 20 to 25 percent in economic benefits compared to today. The world’s two largest economies, the United States and China are both racing to invest heavily in AI technology. China prioritized it as part of its five-year plan that runs through 2020 and wants to become a leader in the technology by 2030.

China’s lack of regulatory obstacles and deeply entrenched corporate monopolies is giving China an advantage over the US. While US higher education is producing more and better computer scientists specializing in AI at the moment, China is catching up. Ultimately, for AI, the nation with the most data to train systems is the nation that will eventually dominate the field. Here, China has a clear and uncontested advantage.

Considering the rapid rise of China as an economic, military and geopolitical power upon the global stage, its ability to contest or even beat the United States in this latest technological race should not be underestimated. Both nations fully understand the economic and even military implications of dominating AI and both nations have already openly begun pursuing measures to gain the advantage.

This technological arms race will not just impact the US and China. The technology emerging from this growing competition is already impacting the economy far beyond US and Chinese borders and will only continue to do so as AI matures.

In Russia, President Putin spoke with students about science in an open lesson on September 1, 2018 the start of the school year in Russia. He told students from across Russia via satellite link-up. The open lesson was attended by students and teachers from 16,000 schools, the total audience exceeding one million. He summarized that:

 “Artificial intelligence is the future, not only for Russia, but for all humankind. It comes with colossal opportunities but also threats that are difficult to predict. Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.”

On December 24, 2017, President Putin chaired a meeting of top defense ministry officials at the new Strategic Missile Academy in Moscow. He told to the generals:

“Russia must be among the leaders – and in some areas the absolute leader – in creating an army of the new generation, an army of a new technological paradigm. This is an issue of highest priority for ensuring our sovereignty, peace and safety of our citizens, a stable development of the country, pursuing an open and independent foreign policy that is based on the interests of our country.”

Regarding Beijing’s view on AI, Chinese media reported:

  • China unveiled a national artificial intelligence (AI) development plan on July 21, 2017, aiming to build an AI technologically world-leading Chinese AI industry by 2030. Released by the State Council, the plan formulates the key strategy for the development of China’s AI industry.
  • In the first stage, domestic companies and research facilities are expected to be at the same level as leading countries like the US by 2020, when it could foster more national professional talents and companies for worldwide AI development.
  • Five years later, 2025, the AI technology is tasked to become “a key impetus for economic transformation” in China.
  • In the final stage, China is expected to be the world’s premier AI innovation center by 2030.
  • The value of the country’s core AI industries is expected to exceed 150 billion yuan (22.15 billion US dollars) by 2020 and 400 billion yuan (59.07 billion US dollars) by 2025.

Russia’s and China’s recognition of the importance of AI in both economic and national defense terms have been noted by the US policymakers and industry leaders who seek to maintain what is, for now, a primarily American dominated industry.

The US position in AI

The US is still a leader in this particular strategic know-how but its lead is now challenged seriously.

In the US, Center for a New American Security (CNAS) has recently rolled out its Artificial Intelligence and Global Security Initiative. The initiative seeks to bring together technology experts, policymakers and the media to explore the impact AI will have on all aspects of security from more indirect threats to infrastructure, the flow of information and economics, to AI deployed directly on the battlefield in the form of autonomous weapon systems.

CNAS organized in November 2017 Artificial Intelligence and Global Security Summit, where in a series of talks and sessions, the summit discussed the current state of AI, the potential benefits and threats the technology presents and the best way to remain competitive as other nations adopt and develop the technology further.

The military and security experts are calling this development option as “the US Military’s Third Offset”. AI is included among the list of potential technologies that may offer the US military its third offset.

  • The first offset was the United States military’s use of nuclear weapons to counter Soviet numerical superiority during the Cold War.
  • The second offset involved the use of long-range guided weapons, stealth and new intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance technology as demonstrated during the Gulf War.
  • The third offset then would focus on, “the fields of robotics, autonomous systems, miniaturization, big data and advanced manufacturing, including 3D printing.”  

China’s national policy regarding AI and Beijing’s ambitions to become a world leader in the field by 2030 represent a problem for the US who lacks any sort of comparable, unified policy.

The US military experts have made a series of recommendations including:

  • Creating a national AI institute comparable to US government nuclear labs created during the Cold War;
  • recruiting foreign coders to build AI systems in and for American instead of in and for their respective native nations and;
  • the cultivation of tech firms with an affinity for the military to displace the current distrust of and disinterest in the US military shared by many in America’s existing tech community.

In addition to cyber warfare enhanced with AI agents, there is also the potential threat of AI being used across a wide variety of unmanned vehicle platforms (i.e. unmanned aerial, surface, underwater and ground vehicles). The use of such vehicles en masse is considered a potential means of creating a 3rd offset for US military superiority.

Unlike nuclear weapons, the tools and human resources needed to develop AI systems are more easily available, particularly for nations with even modest defense budgets. For Russia and China, the ability to pour larger amounts of resources into preventing any “third offset,” AI or otherwise, will result in novel defense systems and create a new defense industry that could potentially boost their respective economies.

AI as a geopolitical value asset

The year 2018 seems to be a watershed year regarding the comprehension of AI’s value as a geopolitical factor expressing that “Sputnik Moment” has finally arrived in AI sector. Technological inequality has always had a major impact on global politics and the world economy. The most technologically advanced states became the most successful, gained undisputed military superiority and begin to impose their will onto less developed countries.

In the 20th century, two world wars and the extraordinary acceleration of scientific and technological progress made this impact even greater. With the third decade of the 21st century approaching, the avalanche-like growth of machine learning capabilities has forced experts to talk about the spectrum of IT technologies, unified by the metaphorical term “Artificial Intelligence” (AI) as the key factor in economic, geopolitical and military power of the coming decades.

Former US Secretary of State, the 95-year-old Henry Kissinger has issued a stark warning to humanity: advances in artificial intelligence could lead to a world which humans will no longer be able to understand — and we should start preparing now.  His recent paper, published in July 2018, under the apocalyptic headline: ”How the Enlightenment Ends”, is contemplating the issue of AI mainly from philosophical point of view.

Politicians and the military of the great powers became aware of the transformational trends in the general globalization that can be provisionally termed: AI nationalism and AI nationalization. These trends may be highlighted by the fact that many developed countries simultaneously started to change their attitudes towards two basic principles that had previously seemed unshakeable:

  • instead of comprehensive international cooperation, the global division of labour, the introduction of open platforms and the mutual overflow of talent, countries are now placing an emphasis on AI nationalism, which proclaims the priority of the economic and military interests of one’s own country as the principal objective of its national AI strategy;
  • instead of the separation of state and business that is traditional for many Western democratic countries, the course has been set for AI nationalization, i.e. integrating governmental and private resources, aligning the pace of introducing AI innovations and refocusing strategic objectives on the state gaining economic, geopolitical and military advantages in the international arena.

The strengthening of these trends promotes the shift of state priorities in developed countries away from the globalized, private economy and business towards geopolitics by nation states. If this trend continues, as it clearly seems to do, the world will undergo major changes in the near future. The topic of AI is closely examined on this website from the economic, political, military and general point of view.