National Security Commission Warns Pentagon of Falling Hopelessly Behind in the AI Arms Race

National Security Commission Warns Pentagon of Falling Hopelessly Behind in the AI Arms Race

An interim report compiled by a national security panel warns the U.S. government of falling too far behind China and Russia in the AI arms race, while calling for new investments to foster innovation.

Released yesterday, the November interim report from the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (NSCAI) advises the U.S. government to get its act together on the development of security- and defense-related AI, lest it fall behind its adversaries, namely China and Russia. Failure to do so would relinquish America’s role as a primary player in AI, while exposing the nation to serious new threats, including a diminishing of U.S. military advantage, unchecked disinformation campaigns, increased cyberattacks, and the erosion of democracy and civil liberties, according to the new report.

“We are concerned that America’s role as the world’s leading innovator is threatened,” wrote commission chairman (and former Google CEO) Eric Schmidt and vice chairman Robert Work in the report’s introduction. “We are concerned that strategic competitors and non-state actors will employ AI to threaten Americans, our allies, and our values.”

The final full report, which will include detailed budget recommendations, won’t be released until next year, but this preliminary version, which will be submitted to the U.S. Secretary of Defense, offered some advice on how the government should move forward. In summary, the government should invest heavily in AI research and development, increase its use of AI for national security purposes, train, recruit, and maintain AI talent, build upon pre-existing U.S. technologies, and work to foster global cooperation on AI-related matters, according to the report.

To assist with the new report, the NSCAI held a conference yesterday (November 5) at the Liaison Washington Hotel in Washington D.C., titled “Strength Through Innovation: The Future of A.I. and U.S. National Security.” The purpose of the conference, which I viewed via livestream, was to discuss the interim report and to kickstart a series of discussions that will lead to the commission’s final report, which will eventually fall into the hands of Congress.

“We are in a competition,” said Schmidt during his opening remarks. “There’s no question the game is set… and we have to win.” He said the U.S. government “is currently unprepared for the potential of AI,” and that a culture change needs to happen in both the public and private sectors. In addition to new investments in education, Schmidt said the U.S. needs to expand public and private sponsorship of R&D, work to keep talented researchers inside the U.S., be the first to reach global markets, and develop ancillary technologies like quantum computers and 5G networks. Schmidt said collaborative discussions will also be needed to ensure AI safety, such that AI will do “what we want it to do.” The U.S. would be smart to work with its competitors on this matter, he added.

Christine Fox, an assistant director at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab, said cultural shifts will be required across many departments, both in the public and private sectors, and that leadership will be key to breaking stubborn bureaucracies resistant to change.

The risks of falling behind in the AI arms race emerged as recurring theme throughout the day.

Lieutenant General John N.T. “Jack” Shanahan, the director of the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, talked about the coming shift to “algorithmic warfare” and how “we are going to be shocked by the speed, chaos, and bloodiness” of future combat involving AI. He said humans pitted against machines will have a distinct disadvantage and that it would be incumbent upon the U.S. to avoid this lopsided dynamic on the battlefield. Shanahan commended the authors of the interim report but cautioned that the findings will take some time to implement. “This is a multigenerational problem requiring a multigenerational solution,” he said.

Shanahan heads the Pentagon

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