Does artificial intelligence technology foreshadow a new arms race?

EDEBALI MURAT AKÇA
Published 27.01.2020 01:37

Elon Musk, Tesla's CEO and one of the most prominent figures working in the field of artificial intelligence (AI) technology stated in a tweet: "China, Russia, soon all countries w strong computer science. Competition for AI superiority at national level most likely cause of WW3 imo." Musk is not the only one concerned about the adverse effects of technological advancements that might have profound impacts on our lives if used in the wrong way.

The arms race between the great powers during the Cold War, particularly in the acquisition of a greater number of nuclear weapons, created a dangerous environment. The race was contained thanks to reduction treaties.

Today, the race for AI technology is beginning to replace the old arms race of the Cold War. According to most experts, states are increasingly investing in AI technology while seeking ways to apply it to military purposes. In the past decade, this has appeared as a new type of arms race requiring the collaboration of academia, media and decision-makers to address its potential side effects.

On the one hand, some experts assert that the arms race agenda is wrong and triggers an upside-down process. Furthermore, it is said that the arms race in AI technology is built on a narrative. The arguments advocated by experts underline the necessity of the U.S., Russia and China, which stand out especially in AI technology, pay attention to cooperation and dialogue as well.

There have been many developments in AI technology that show that states have turned it into a part of the arms race. For instance, the "Summary of the 2018 Department of Defense Artificial Intelligence Strategy" report prepared by the U.S. Department of Defense highlighted Chinese and Russian investments in AI weapons technologies and stated the steps to be taken within the framework of such competition. Moreover, the Pentagon's budget for AI arming, worth $2 billion, and the "Executive Order on Maintaining American Leadership in AI" published by U.S. President Donald Trump reveal the importance of arming in AI technology.

Recently, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that the growing threats posed by great power competitors such as China and Russia warrant refocusing on high-intensity conflict across all of the military services. Esper also stressed the necessity of modernizing the military in AI, robotics, directed energy and hypersonic technologies. He also said Russia and China were actively developing the potential of AI for the military, and the U.S. should not fall behind these countries.

Likewise, China and Russia have paid similar attention to weaponizing AI. Chinese leader Xi Jinping claims that AI technology will become global military competition in the future. In this sense, China published an AI strategy report in 2017 and claimed that it would be the leading country in AI technologies by 2030. Russia also attaches importance to weapons of AI technology and is investing in many related projects. Russia President Vladimir Putin stated that the leader in artificial intelligence will rule the world; this demonstrates Russia has realized the significance of AI.

The goal of global leadership in AI technology has become strategic precedence and is prioritized by governments. The U.S., China and Russia have come to the forefront in the global leadership race. China and the U.S. especially have a higher level of competition. In this context, the U.S. and China have made large investments, research and publications on the AI race. The U.S. considers China to be the competitor in AI weapons technologies.

The possibility of an AI arms race poses a threat to international security similar to that of a conventional or nuclear armament race. Another issue is that AI weapon systems are even more unpredictable and hazardous than conventional and nuclear weapons.

States usually want to have more power to survive in the international system. However, the desire to have power can create many problems such as a security dilemmas, material damages and a lack of trust between states. In this regard, states have to be careful in their weaponizing of AI technologies.

Although data on the AI arms race are restricted, it seems that this competition is accepted by states and steps are being taken. Therefore, states should come together to initiate negotiations on the possibility of speeding up the AI arms race. Otherwise, the world may face a new type of arms race. As in world political history, such as the NPT (Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons), INF (Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty) and SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) treaties, states should protect international security by limiting the use of AI weapons technology. Just as states were able to achieve arms restraint in the Détente term of the Cold War, they should take the necessary steps to regulate the weaponizing of AI, sooner rather than later.

* Deputy Researcher at TRT World Research Centre, Ph.D. candidate at National Defence University

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