The U.S. Must Win the AI Race

The U.S. Must Win the AI Race

Wars are won by the side that manages to effectively utilize the latest technology. Artificial Intelligence is no different. 

With conflict currently present in almost every region of the world, speculation about “World War III” is difficult to avoid. If a calamity of such magnitude were to occur, it would likely be fought partly in the cyberverse. It would also undoubtedly feature the deployment of artificial intelligence (AI). This is one of the many critical reasons that America needs to lead on AI. To paraphrase Mark Zuckerberg’s tech mantra, adversaries are moving fast, and they certainly aren’t afraid to break things. 

As with most other significant innovations in the last century, AI was born in the United States. Rivals are racing to overtake what exists, either through their own efforts or infringing on creation occurring here. Domestic and global regulatory efforts are well underway. The question of balancing innovation and regulation is not new, but it is original in the case of AI. Perhaps the most defining feature of AI is the existential anxiety it has created. 

Such apprehension has been a motivating factor in the new rules of the road for the AI super highway. A group of U.S. Senators put forth a “Framework to Mitigate Extreme AI Risks,” which acknowledges the benefits of AI but highlights that it “presents a broad spectrum of risks that could be harmful to the American public.” Both a notification and licensing procedure, as well as the creation of a new regulatory body to be established by Congress, are contemplated. Although the framework isn’t binding, it does provide insight into the evolving thought process of regulators.

It comes as no surprise that the European Union (EU) has already enacted a dense, onerous law set forth in 458 pages known as the EU Artificial Intelligence Act. The EU AI Act has met with mixed reactions from member state governments. It appropriately addresses concerns about potential abuse, including authoritarian-like facial recognition techniques. On the other hand, French president Emanuel Macron expressed unease that the burdensome law would disadvantage France against American, Chinese, and even British innovation, as EU rules no longer bind the United Kingdom. AI competition is extreme in both the commercial and security spheres. Companies and governments are racing to perfect the face of the future. 

Although enacted in the EU, the effects of its AI Act will be felt by American companies as it’s well established that cyberspace and efforts to regulate it are indeed borderless. As the first of its kind, the EU is heralding its AI Act as a model. U.S. regulators, however, should carefully evaluate the innovation-regulation balance. As noted above, America’s enemies developing AI under state control will place no limits on how quickly or mercilessly they will develop and deploy AI to gain a dystopian advantage. 

Efforts to overtake America happen everywhere all at once. The U.S. military doesn’t currently have the “peace through strength” numbers needed to maintain its defensive might. Meanwhile, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is using AI to perfect targeting and missile guidance systems. Recent International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reports of Iran’s increased uranium enrichment caused alarm bells to ring in both London and Paris. Washington and Brussels should be collectively well beyond concerned by now. Add to the mix the possibility of a new axis of cyber-evil, including both state and non-state actors. China already has an advantage in possession of the natural resources required to create AI infrastructure. Its economy and its military are, at present, second to America. AI is a vehicle through which China can assert dominance at the expense of the Western world. 

The institutions established after the last world war to prevent such a mass catastrophe from happening again are passing resolutions. These are pieces of paper on which dictatorships and democratically elected governments alike agree to use AI for good and collectively police its malfeasance. The United Nations passed a resolution to promote “safe, secure and trustworthy” AI to address the world’s challenges. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) convened an “AI for Good Summit” with aspiration goals as its name implies. 

History dictates that in global conflict, the most powerful tools will prevail. It is, therefore, incumbent on U.S. innovators to win the AI race and achieve the goal of “peace through strength.” Only then can a course be set to maintain stability and prevent global atrocity by actors determined to use AI in a way that will redefine the concept of war.

Manisha Singh is a Senior Fellow for Artificial Intelligence at the Krach Institute for Tech Diplomacy and Former Assistant Secretary of State.

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