National Security Commission delivers rallying cry for the US to prioritise AI

Profile picture for user ddpreez By Derek du Preez November 8, 2019
The National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (AI) warns that US government R&D funding is not sufficient and that the threat from China is growing.

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This week the National Security Commission on AI submitted a report to Congress that for all intents and purposes is a rallying cry for government and industry in the US to prioritise, focus in on and invest in AI development. The interim report warns that if this does not happen, America could lose its title as the “world’s engine of innovation” and no longer hold “military superiority” on a global stage. 

In a document that’s filled with definitive phrases such as “AI will change how we defend America” and “AI will change how we fight”, the Commission pulls no punches in outlining the threat of AI to America, particularly set within the context of China’s progress and investments. 

A message from the Chairman of the Committee, and former Google CEO, Eric Schmidt, said: 

How the United States adopts AI will have profound ramifications for our immediate security, economic well-being, and position in the world. Developments in AI cannot be separated from the emerging strategic competition with China and developments in the broader geopolitical landscape. 

We are concerned that America’s role as the world’s leading innovator is threatened. We are concerned that strategic competitors and non-state actors will employ AI to threaten Americans, our allies, and our values.

We know strategic competitors are investing in research and application. It is only reasonable to conclude that AI-enabled capabilities could be used to threaten our critical infrastructure, amplify disinformation campaigns, and wage war. China has deployed AI to advance an autocratic agenda and to commit human rights violations, setting an example that other authoritarian regimes will be quick to adopt and that will be increasingly difficult to counteract.

Given the robust and diverse views within the United States and the gravity of the challenge, we have developed seven consensus principles to guide our work and national discussion.

The basic principles

The Commission’s report is very detailed and worth reading in full, but central to it is it’s proposal of ‘agreeing on basic principles’ in order to “guide us towards a better future”. It hopes that by building consensus around these seven principles, a focused discussion can be had around AI going forward. 

The principles include: 

  • Global leadership in AI technology is a national security priority - The Commission urges that the US government pursue an investment strategy that extends America’s technological edge. While American companies play a significant role in advancing AI research and development, the government retains a core responsibility to steer advancements in ways that protect the American people. 

  • Adopting AI for defense and security purposes is an urgent national imperative - Accelerating applications of AI to national security missions is an intelligence, war fighting and organisational necessity. The Commission notes that the US must examine AI through a military lens, including concepts for AI-enabled autonomous operations. 

  • Private sector leaders and government officials must build a shared sense of responsibility for the welfare and security of the American people - American companies’ investments in AI dwarf federal R&D. As such, industry must help government discern trends, act against foreign threats, and identify experts willing to help. 

  • People are still essential - The US must prioritise cultivating homegrown talent by making long-term investments in STEM education. In the near term, high-skilled immigration is important for rapidly growing America’s talent pool. 

  • The power of free inquiry must be preserved - The open and collaborative AI innovation environment rests on the principles of free inquiry, free enterprise, and the free flow of ideas. The Commission states that other nations are exploiting the US’s open society and that it must protect intellectual property and sensitive technology. 

  • Ethics and strategic necessity are compatible with one another - Defense and national security agencies must develop and deploy AI in a responsible, trusted and ethical manner to sustain public support, maximise operational effectiveness, maintain the integrity of the profession of arms, and strengthen international alliances. 

  • The American way of AI must reflect American values: including having the rule of law at its core - For federal law enforcement agencies conducting national security investigations in the US, that means using AI in ways that are consistent with constitutional principles of due process, individual privacy, equal protection, and non-discrimination. 

My take

‘AI the American Way’ has a nice ring to it. However, despite the reports checks and balances, there’s no denying that there’s an underlying sense of dread that the US is falling behind China and it needs to take action. And quickly. This is an interim report and the full report is expected in the first half of next year, which is when we will get the Commission’s full list of recommendations.