The Race to Being Artificially Intelligent

Written by: Sourish Kundu

We are well in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution, consisting of the development of artificial intelligence (AI). Countries across the world are developing AI in hopes of bettering the lives of their citizens and to expand their footing on the international stage. While President Trump’s campaign slogan was all about putting America first, it seems that in the field of artificial intelligence there is still a lot of progress to be made. Chinese government investment into artificial intelligence dwarfs American investment, leading to us miss out on a gold mine of opportunity by allowing China to stay ahead in the AI race. 

When looking into government action, the Chinese government prioritizes the development of AI more than the US government does. President Xi Jinping has pledged $30 billion into AI through 2030, whereas in America there is an executive order from President Trump 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. This support from the government determines how outside investors deem the future of AI in the country. In fact, in 2017, venture capital into artificial intelligence was higher in China than in the US. Chinese startups received 48% of all capital that went into AI, while US 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, while America’s largest adversaries―China and Russia―are developing technologies that could fundamentally change how a country utilizes its military, more specifically, towards a more unethical manner.

China is currently working on combining surveillance technology with AI to better monitor its citizens. The “Social Credit System” implements a ‘citizen score’ system where “good” actions gain you points and bad actions, like jaywalking, dock your score. This score then determines 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 US military artificial intelligence won’t directly stop Chinese and Russian AI expansion, it allows for us to create a deterrence mechanism that makes other states think twice before deploying their own systems. Also, if they do decide to attack America electronically―like in the case of the 2016 election―we’ll have a better response.

More importantly, the US needs to be the dominant actor in the field of AI, the one at the forefront of innovation, allowing us to create the standard for the rest of the world. For example, as the entirety of Europe was plagued with ruin following World War II, America was able to create the United Nations because we were the global hegemon at the time. We had the ability to found an international organization that stood to preserve global peace and democracy, values that our country is known for. Today, we set the standards for international relations for the globe through the United Nations. 

Lastly, if we can develop AI to the point where we are unmatched by any other state, we 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 for the US 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, but never in our history has America accepted second place. It’s absolutely imperative we acknowledge the myriad of benefits that being number one in AI brings and act on it today.