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New Artificial Intelligence Global Arms Race is ‘Very Bad News’

Exploitation analyst airmen assigned to the 41st Intelligence Squadron have begun using advanced mobile desktop training that uses an environment to challenge each individual analyst in cyberspace maneuvers to achieve mission objectives at Fort Meade, Md. Air Force Illustration by Staff Sgt. Alexandre Montes
Exploitation analyst airmen assigned to the 41st Intelligence Squadron have begun using advanced mobile desktop training that uses an environment to challenge each individual analyst in cyberspace maneuvers to achieve mission objectives at Fort Meade, Md. Air Force Illustration by Staff Sgt. Alexandre Montes

“And now we are heading towards a full-scale arms race of artificial intelligence, which is very, very bad news.”

Artificial intelligence will play a pivotal role in shaping the future global order, as countries compete to develop technology and harness it for military purposes. According to Vladimir Putin, “whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the leader of the world.”

According to Foreign Policy, major powers like the United States, China, and Russia are pursuing different strategies as they develop their AI capacities.

U.S. national security experts appear to doubt AI will match human-level thinking in the immediate future, and the military has focused on specialized AI projects that will assist decision-making rather than make their own. Russia’s goals lie in applying AI to military hardware to make better weapons, such as self-guided missiles.

China, however, sees computers as uniquely capable of synthesizing the vast amount of military-related information available, and seeks to develop AI capable of strategic decision-making.

Who Are the Main Players in the AI Arms Race?

ea Hunter is an autonomous unmanned surface vehicle (USV) launched in 2016 as part of the DARPA Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) program

The Sea Hunter, an autonomous unmanned surface vehicle, gets underway on the Willamette River following a christening ceremony in Portland, Oregon in April 2016.

Historian and popular intellectual Yuval Noah Harari described how rapidly the timeline of the AI arms race has evolved:

“Five years ago artificial intelligence sounded like science fiction. Even though in the academic world and private business people were aware of the potential at least, in the political field and public discourse you hardly heard anything about it. Then a couple of governments realized what is happening. My impression is that the Chinese realized first what was going on. I think this stems from their national trauma from the industrial revolution, when they missed the train and they were left behind and suffered terribly. They will do anything to be in the front of the AI revolution. Over the last year or so, the Europeans and Americans also realized. And now we are heading towards a full-scale arms race of artificial intelligence, which is very, very bad news.”

The New Statesman’s Sebastian Spence believes AI will fortify and legitimize big government, saying “broader harnessing of AI will require the kind of resources and legitimacy that only the state can provide. As governments seek to exploit private sector capabilities, they will become stronger before they become weaker.”

As Axios reports, China’s efforts to develop AI have surpassed the U.S. in numerous metrics. China invested in 31 U.S.-based AI startups in 2018, while the U.S. only invested in 20, and China has published 641 AI patents while the U.S. only had 130. Kai-Fu Lee, former head of Google China, says the U.S. and China are locked in an AI arms race.

China is particularly interested in facial recognition technology, which would aid in state-surveillance, and microchip processing, where it has lagged behind U.S. developers like Nvidia. Last November, the U.S. accused a state-owned Chinese company of seeking to steal trade secrets on semiconductor technology, a crucial aspect of microprocessing.

The Times of India reported that India and Japan are cooperating to implement robots and AI into their defense sectors, fearful of China’s growing capabilities.

AI expertise is in such great demanded that specialists are being picked off for six-figure salaries (some as high as $300,000) immediately out of undergraduate studies. According to Axios, American universities are adding professors and new programs to accommodate the AI arms race, but there is still a significant talent shortage.

Grave Concern Over Prospect of AI Arms Race

Yuval Noah Harari said “no one wins an AI arms race,” and numerous commentators have expressed apocalyptic possibilities of unregulated competition regarding the technology. Perhaps most notably, Elon Musk warns AI could have irreversible negative consequences on society. The Tesla and SpaceX CEO believes that once artificial intelligence reaches a point of surpassing human intelligence, it could subjugate humanity with unprecedented control:

“At least when there’s an evil dictator, that human is going to die. But for an AI, there will be no death – it would live forever. And then you would have an immortal dictator from which we could never escape.”

While the technological progress of artificial intelligence isn’t likely to be reversed, governments and populations can help shape its influence on the world by establishing treaties and regulations now. China’s leader Xi Jinping has called for greater collaboration in sharing AI technology with the “global village,” to assure no single country gains total dominance through a technological breakthrough.

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Peter Castagno

Peter Castagno is a freelance writer with a Master’s degree in International Conflict Resolution. He has traveled throughout the Middle East and Latin America to gain firsthand insight in some of the world’s most troubled areas, and he plans on publishing his first book in 2019.

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