The Race to Becoming Artificially Intelligent

By Sourish Kundu

We are well in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution, which consists of the development of artificial intelligence (AI). Countries across the world are developing AI in hopes of bettering the lives of their citizens and expanding their role on the international stage. While President Trump’s campaign slogans claimed he would put America first, there is still a lot of progress yet to be made in the field of artificial intelligence. Chinese government investment in artificial intelligence dwarfs that of the United States, leading us to miss out on a gold mine of technological opportunity.

President Xi Jinping has pledged $30 billion into AI through 2030, whereas President Trump has put out an executive order encouraging government agencies to consider implementing AI. In September, the United States allocated a mere $1 billion to government agencies to develop AI, which industry executives say isn’t enough. Government support, or lack thereof, determines how outside investors deem the future of AI in a given country. In fact, venture capital into artificial intelligence in 2017 was higher in China than in the United States. Chinese startups received 48% of all capital that went into AI, while U.S. startups received only around 30%.

One of the most important applications of AI on the international stage is within the military. The United States spends more on its military than the next seven countries combined, but America’s largest adversaries ― China and Russia ― are developing technologies that could fundamentally change the ways in which a country utilizes its military. More specifically, these technologies might encourage more unethical use.

China is currently working on combining surveillance technology with AI to better monitor its citizens. A “Social Credit System,” to be operational by 2020, would implement a ‘citizen score’ system where “good” actions gain you points and bad actions, like jaywalking, dock your score. This score would then determine what utilities or opportunities one might have access to, such as loans or mortgages. This direct invasion of privacy will only be accelerated by AI.

Russia, another adversary whose intention is laced with power consolidation, has also been using AI to develop very threatening technologies. The “Dead Hand” was a piece of military technology from the Cold War that could preemptively launch a missile, and today the Russian government is attempting to revive this missile system with the integration of AI. This means that should the Dead Hand system predict an attack on Russian territory, the system will automatically and preemptively launch an attack. Thoughts of the system predicting an action incorrectly, or a bug in the AI, should have global citizens worried.

While investing more in U.S. military artificial intelligence won’t directly stop Chinese and Russian AI expansion, it would allow for the United States to create a deterrence mechanism that makes other states think twice before deploying their own technologies. Also, if these states did decide to attack America electronically, such as in the 2016 election, the United States would have a better response.

More importantly, the United States needs to be the dominant actor in the field of AI, the one at the forefront of innovation, allowing it to create the standard for the rest of the world. When the entirety of Europe was plagued with ruin following World War II, the United States was able to stand at the forefront as the United Nations was formed, an international organization that stood to preserve global peace and democracy across the world. Now, the United States should do the same for technology development.

Lastly, if the United States can develop AI to the point where we are unmatched by any other state, it will have the ability to dictate the ethical standards that the world must adhere to in order to utilize this technology. Being the pioneer of AI will allow the United States to stand up to Russia and China and combat the threat that their AI poses to human rights and peace.

The United States may not be in first place right now with respect to AI technology, but it’s absolutely imperative that it acknowledges the myriad of benefits that being number one would bring and acts on that knowledge today.

Photo courtesy of Jpatokal (WikiMedia Commons).

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