August 20, 2018

Artificial intelligence beyond the superpowers

By Michael Horowitz and Itai Barsade

Much of the debate over how artificial intelligence (AI) will affect geopolitics focuses on the emerging arms race between Washington and Beijing, as well as investments by major military powers like Russia. And to be sure, breakthroughs are happening at a rapid pace in the United States and China. But while an arms race between superpowers is riveting, AI development outside of the major powers, even where advances are less pronounced, could also have a profound impact on our world. The way smaller countries choose to use and invest in AI will affect their own power and status in the international system.

Middle powers—countries like Australia, France, Singapore, and South Korea—are generally prosperous and technologically advanced, with small-to-medium-sized populations. In the language of economics, they usually possess more capital than labor. Their domestic investments in AI have the potential to, at a minimum, enhance their economic positions as global demand grows for technologies enabled by machine learning, such as rapid image recognition or self-driving vehicles. But since the underlying science of AI is dual-use—applicable to both peaceful and military purposes—these investments could also have consequences for a country’s defense capabilities.

For example, a sensing algorithm that allows a drone to detect obstacles could be designed for package delivery, but modified to help with battlefield surveillance. An algorithm that detects anomalies from large data sets could help both commercial airlines and militaries schedule maintenance before critical plane parts fail. Similarly, robotic swarming principles that enable machines to coordinate on a specific task could allow for advanced nanorobotic medical procedures as well as combat maneuvers. Military applications will have special requirements, of course, including tough protections against hacking and stronger encryption. Yet because the potential for dual-use application exists at the applied science level, middle powers with strong economies but limited defense budgets could benefit militarily from AI investments in the commercial sector.


Read the full article at The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

  • Podcast
    • March 16, 2020
    The Cyberlaw Podcast: The (Almost) COVID-19-Free Episode

    If your podcast feed has suddenly become a steady diet of more or less the same COVID-19 stories, here’s a chance to listen to cyber experts talk about what they know about – ...

    By Elsa B. Kania

  • Commentary
    • Slate
    • February 19, 2020
    Faux News Articles and Social Media Posts Will Haunt This Election

    Last September, an image of a New York Times headline began circulating online, claiming that Abdullah Abdullah, a candidate for the Afghan presidency, had taken millions of d...

    By Chris Estep & Megan Lamberth

  • Commentary
    • Council on Foreign Relations
    • February 12, 2020
    The Dangers of Manipulated Media in the Midst of a Crisis

    In the immediate aftermath of the U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, the internet was flooded with purportedly real-time information about the circ...

    By Megan Lamberth

  • Commentary
    • Defense One
    • January 28, 2020
    Great Powers Must Talk to Each Other About AI

    Imagine an underwater drone armed with nuclear warheads and capable of operating autonomously. Now imagine that drone has lost its way and wandered into another state’s territ...

    By Elsa B. Kania & Dr. Andrew Imbrie

View All Reports View All Articles & Multimedia