The Worldwide Race for AI: Will the U.S. Continue to Lead in 2018?

The rise of artificial intelligence has received widespread discussion in recent times and has been predicted to play a huge role in business and financial institutions in 2018. However, its impact is likely to go well beyond the business world with AI expected to play an important role in international relations and warfare.

The rise of AI has been compared to the Cold War space race. Russian President Vladimir Putin said to Russian students in late 2017 that whoever becomes the leader in artificial intelligence will control the world.

Race for AI

The race for AI has intensified between three of the world’s major powers: Russia, China and the United States. All three countries have said intelligent machines are vital to the future of their national security because of the ways AI will alter warfare.

AI can be used to build specific technologies like computer vision, facial recognition, augmented reality, and natural language processing. And it has already been implemented to build full-blown autonomous weapons like the X47 Stealth Drone, which can independently make life and death attack decisions.

As far as the race goes, China has announced a multi-billion dollar AI development plan to become a world leader in the field by 2030. Russia is developing a next-generation fighter jet with AI technology. While the Pentagon has the “Third Offset”, a Defense Department strategy seeking to achieve military superiority through technology in order to deter warfare from breaking out in the first place.

Who is Winning the Race?

AI technology was pioneered in America, but critics have suggested the U.S. might lag behind in the race for AI technology for three reasons: AI remains off the high-level national agenda; there has been a reduction in national funding for science and technology; and strong regulations add barriers to innovation.

For example, regulations have made it difficult to build AI-based solutions in the U.S. and export them to other countries [pdf]; this has created a greater market for foreign competitors.

Pundits argue the U.S. needs to invest more in AI research, give more green cards to AI workers, allow more federal grants, support AI labs at public universities, and invest in educational programs.

Use of AI in Warfare

A key difference between the space race and the race for AI technology is that AI technology can be used for both commercial and military purposes. AI could change warfare as much as nuclear weapons did.

How will that work? Well, there is potential for autonomous robots to support (or replace) troops on the ground. Technology like drones, unmanned vehicles, robot hackers, and software that generates photo-real fake video will change the military landscape and make the world’s leading military powers even more powerful.

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

While the use of AI in warfare can greatly enhance the power of the world’s leading military powers, it will also make it easier for smaller nations, rogue states and terrorist groups to target large military powers.

It is clear that there needs to be some dialogue, rules and accountability at the international level to prevent things from getting out of control. In this vein, more than 3,000 researchers signed a letter in 2015 addressed to the Obama administration asking for a ban on the use of autonomous weapons.

Experts have recommended that the National Security Council, the Department of Defense, and the State Department should start looking at what international limits should be placed on AI-based weapons systems.

AI’s Role in International Relations and the Future

Critics of AI and supporters alike can agree on the fact that AI will be a huge part of international relations in the coming years. AI technology has the potential to increase productivity, improve living standards, as well as making the world a safer place. However, to reach these goals, we’ll have to work together. Powerful new technology must go hand-in-hand with deliberate efforts to foster international collaboration.

Nathan Sykes enjoys writing about technology and business online. He is the founder of Finding an Outlet, a tech blog he runs out of Pittsburgh, PA.

Image: Pexels

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