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

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