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Artificial Intelligence Ends Globalization

27th June 2019


Vladimir Melnikov, Grayling Russia, takes a look at challenges and opportunities in the Age of AI Nationalism.

On 27 March, 2019, President Trump said on Twitter that Google CEO Sundar Pichai had “stated strongly that he is totally committed to the U.S. Military, not the Chinese Military”.

According to US and Chinese sources, Google promised to (radically) reduce its cooperation with Chinese business and government. A Google spokesperson said in a statement on the same day that the company was “pleased to have productive conversations with the President about investing in the future of the American workforce, the growth of emerging technologies and our ongoing commitment to working with the U.S. government,”.

This, indeed, was a landmark development with far-reaching consequences. Participants in the of AI-Sovereignties Parade will now be keen to demonstrate their military strength.

AI Nationalization and Militarization

In 2017, the main AI trend-setters – Japan, Canada and Singapore – began developing national AI strategies. Founder and Chief Technology Officer of Witology, Sergey Karelov, notes that, today, almost every Western country has its own AI strategy. 

The UK’s approach to national AI strategizing appears to be most developed:

  • The 180-page AI in the UK: Ready, Willing and Able? report, published by the House of Lords in April 2018, is largely based on the 77-page Growing the Artificial Intelligence Industry in the UK report by Dame Wendy Hall, Professor of Computer Science at the University of Southampton, and Dr. Jerome Pesenti, CEO of BenevolentAI;
  • Massive amounts of written and oral evidence by professionals and experts which fed into the report (Volume 1 contains 223 pieces of written evidence over 1,581 pages; Volume 2 contains 57 pieces of oral evidence obtained at 22 sessions and outlined over 423 pages);
  • A 40-page UK Government response to the House of Lords Artificial Intelligence Select Committee’s Report on AI presented to Parliament by the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

China, with its National Strategy for Military-Civil Fusion (军民融合), has marked the beginning of the militarization of AI strategies around the world. China prioritizes the development of intellectual (智能化) weapons in order to surpass the U.S. military. China’s leapfrog development (跨越发) approach is mainly about shashoujian (杀手锏). Shashoujian can, ironically be translated into English, as Trump Card. According to a popular Chinese legend, shashoujian was used to unexpectedly disable a stronger enemy by using a clever trick to attack the enemy’s most vulnerable places. 

The United States, India, the United Kingdom and France have quickly joined China in developing AI-based national military programs. The polices focus on ensuring economic and military ‘AI first mover advantages’, preventing others from copying their AI technologies and weakening the stimuli for international trade which automatically results in the global spread of AI technologies.

Russia has recently passed the ‘Sovereign Internet’ Law and produced the first draft of its AI strategy, to be finalized by 15 June 2019. No expert doubts that Russia will develop its own method of ‘military-civil fusion’, and not only in the AI sphere. 

The United States, however, is more concerned with China’s incredible progress in developing AI, fearing its shashoujian. Arguably, a key trade policy goal of the U.S. government is to roll back China’s innovation-mercantilist agenda, which threatens the United States’ national and economic security. Sustaining and strengthening sanctions against Russia to prevent its technological development seems to be a secondary, albeit important, goal of the U.S. government’s foreign policy. 

The AI nationalization and militarization trend means commercial AI giants will no longer be ‘global’ to start with. Over the course of the next two years, we will see more of them cooperating closely with the military in their home countries. Elon Musk et al may continue publicly to argue that  AI-based lethal autonomous weapons should not be developed, but the AI militarization trend is, alas, irreversible.

Gregory Allen, an expert at the Center for New American Security, nicely summarizes the new ethical imperative for AI companies: “Incorporating advanced AI technology into the military is as inevitable as incorporating electricity once was, and this transition is fraught with ethical and technological risks. It will take input from talented AI researchers, including those at companies such as Google, to help the military to stay on the right side of ethical lines.”

The ‘Sinicization’ of Policy

The Constitution of the People's Republic of China states that “The People's Republic of China is a socialist state under the people's democratic dictatorship led by the working class and based on the alliance of workers and peasants. The socialist system is the basic system of the People's Republic of China. The leadership of the Communist Party of China is the defining feature of socialism with Chinese characteristics”..

China’s state model, in conjunction with its fusion of the military and civilianand the massive amounts of data it has accrued, has enabled the People’s Republic to quickly gain the upper hand over the U.S. and its allies in the development and application of AI technologies . The majority of US experts acknowledge that this will remain the case for the foreseeable future.

The Sinicization of policy in countries with ambitions to be among the leaders on AI is inevitable, however horrible this statement may seem to democratic society in the US and Europe. The first move – AI nationalization – is already being done. The overwhelming majority of government and parliamentary commissions which have considered AI  strategies in Western countries agree that ‘integrating the resources’ of public and private companies, aligning the pace by which AI innovations are introduced, and refocusing strategic objectives to support the state gaining economic, geopolitical and military advantages in the international arena, should be undisputed priorities for their respective countries. 

Sandro Gaycken, Senior Advisor to NATO, paints a picture of the future for AI’s commercial giants and most promising start-ups: If “…these naive hippy developers from Silicon Valley don’t understand – the CIA should force them”.

Any democracy ends when a high-level national security threat emerges. It is only a matter of time before countries’ ruling elites – potential AI leaders – will explain to the electorate and business why the Sinicization of policy will be beneficial for them. Sounds unrealistic? Let’s talk about it five years from now.

From this point of view, the US’s efforts to ‘democratize’ as many countries as possible outside North America makes a lot of sense when you want to have AI-outsiders who you can exploit in your ‘national interest’. The problem is that the ‘democratization’ of China looks much less likely than the Sinicization of the US.

The Major Roadblock to the AI Revolution

… is inefficient energy use and production.

Just three observations prove this: 

  • Swedish researcher and Senior Expert in Life Cycle Assessment at Huawei, Anders Andrae, predicts in his “Total Consumer Power Consumption Forecast” that, by 2025, data centers will use at least 20% of the world’s energy.
  • “Hey, Siri” followed by one question and answer will use the same amount of energy as is needed to boil 1 liter of water (source: Kurchatov Institute).
  • It is a well-established fact that the average power consumption of a typical human brain is only 20watts, whilst a robot with a processor as smart as the human brain would require at least 10 megawatts to operate. That's the amount of energy produced by a small hydroelectric plant.

The AI revolution will necessitate far greater energy production, provided energy use remains inefficient as is the case today. This partly explains the increased military and economic presence of key potential AI leaders in regions rich with fossil fuels.  

To make a real change and prepare for the rapid development of AI, we need to revolutionize our energy use. 

Blockchain technology is one of the promising innovations which could transform energy efficiency. Blockchain technology enables the real-time coordination of data on supply and demand of electricity in the grid. This helps to match a consumer who wants to sell excess energy with another consumer in the same grid who needs more. This is not something theoretical: Platforms like ØNDER operate very well as a test model around the world. Last year, the European Commission introduced the EU blockchain observatory and forum to encourage cross-border engagement with the technology and its various stakeholders across the region. Utilities across the globe are already testing the potential of blockchain, getting ready to become providers of the energy sharing economy platform in the not-too-distant-future.

Businesses selling traditional and innovative energy saving technologies have been very busy repeating the same mantra that their technologies can help save both money and the planet. Now they have a new angle to communicate: The country will be doomed to stay an AI-outsider if no energy saving innovations are introduced at scale – at all levels: State infrastructure, the private sector and households. If an energy saving tech company partners with an innovative energy producer to write and market a report entitled ‘Inefficient Energy Production and Consumption is a Roadblock to the AI Revolution’, it might be a smart move to engage the right stakeholders, resulting in dramatically increased sales.

The Quest for the Best AI Talent

If AI technologies are already being nationalized, growing AI talent is bound to remain a global project for the foreseeable future. The reasoning is simple: Smart countries do not want to miss an opportunity to train an AI specialist abroad – in a country with leading R&D capabilities for specific AI technologies (e.g. China has been training its AI specialists in the US and bringing them back home very successfully for the last 20 years). On the other hand, AI leaders may be keen to build a network of educational and training centers outside their borders to source talent, especially in the country it is competing with in the sphere of AI.

China has made considerable gains by establishing R&D centers with global AI champions, most of which happen to be US-based. Hence Trump’s tweets and unprecedented pressure on US innovative leaders to curtail their cooperation with China. In the long run, however, the US may not be interested in severing educational and research projects with the country which is bound to be one of the global AI leaders.

The war for AI leadership will be won by those countries that do not only have the largest resources of data and money, but rather the most developed innovative AI ecosystem. China is incubating and supporting more and more startups, finding just the right balance between this and focusing its national champions on integrating those start-ups to develop technologies which are most critical to the state. 

Ironically, China may not necessarily win the battle for AI talent. The global IT companies which are headquartered in the US and Western Europe are not true "national" champions, but they do have very developed networks around the world that help them source talent and enter into targeted local partnerships. These networks will inevitably be transformed in the face of AI nationalism, but the companies which have managed to profit in countries under the toughest US sanctions (Iran and Russia) will surely manage to adapt to the new reality.  


Grayling Team

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