Credit Image: Henri Kissinger, 5 Nov 19 NSCAI Conference, @MignonClyburn

The National Security Commission for Artificial Intelligence Interim report, published on 4 November 2019, is a must read for anyone interested in international relations, geopolitics, national and international security. All those concerned must consider the U.S. position, strategic foresight, and now AI as an element of power.

A signal for the American response ahead

The National Security Commission appears to benefit from very broad support, from bipartisan backing, to executive power (the White House) and the administration support through business, finance and civil society declared interest (see Message from the Chairman and Vice Chairman). However, the Commission, as well as other proponents of a policy on AI, also face challenges, enemies and factionalism.

As a result, we may consider the productions of the Commission as exemplifying at least one large set of American beliefs on the issue. This does not mean that battles and dissident voices will not exist. Yet, we surmise that this report represents an emerging common set of collective beliefs.

As a result, the report, even in an interim format, prefigures not only vision, strategy and policies, but also, most probably, a country-wide effort. Their final form will result of the battles that will surround the issue.

An emerging U.S. Mindset on AI and National Security in three points

The beginning of the report frames the objectives and mindset of the Commission. It opens with these lines:

“The convergence of the artificial intelligence revolution and the reemergence of great power competition must focus the American mind. These two factors threaten the United States’ role as the world’s engine of innovation and American military superiority. “

p.6

Here we see three major points highlighted, upon which the remaining part of the report will then build.

A moral imperative to remain the leading power

First, the U.S. has no intention whatsoever to abandon its position of superiority. As we identified using the U.S. Intelligence Community quadriennal report Global Trends, whatever attempts at toning it down, the U.S. wants to remain the sole superpower (see Helene Lavoix, Which U.S. Decline? The View from the U.S. National Intelligence Council part 1, 2 and 3). This is perceived as an imperative not only for the U.S. but also as a moral duty for a global greater good (Ibid. for references to the body of work on the topic).

AI as a crucial part of power and stake for power

Second, artificial intelligence is now a major, fundamental and crucial element of power and a geopolitical stake. Hence our focus on AI – and quantum technologies. These are overwhelming components of our future. Thus these are factors in terms of strategic foresight for national and international security.

As repeated in the report,

The development of AI will shape the future of power.

p.9

Realpolitik is back

Finally, the prevalent international relations worldview has switched back from a hegemonic neo-liberal understanding of the world to realpolitik.

This is the return of national interest and power politics. Stiglitz highlighted this change with a recent (4 Nov 2019) article on Project Syndicate, aptly titled “The End of Neoliberalism and the Rebirth of History“.

The presence of Henri Kissinger at the conference organised for the launch of the report is one more signal in this direction.

A rising feeling of threat

As a result, all these elements lead to the rise of a feeling of threat, in case the U.S. could come not to lead in AI:

Without a reversal of current trends, in the coming decade the United States could lose its status as the primary base for global AI research, development, and application. If technological advances and AI adoption elsewhere outpace those in American firms and in the U.S. government, the resulting disadvantage to the United States could endanger U.S. national security and global stability.

p.18

We find again, in the last words of the sentence, the well known moral component and sentiment of global responsibility that characterise U.S. foreign policy (Ibid.).

China is singled out as the main “challenge”. Interestingly, it is not labelled as threat. Indeed, the Commission also wants to point out the complex entanglement of the world.

Download and read the whole report:

Nov 2019 Interim Report - U.S. National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence

About the author: Dr Helene Lavoix (MSc PhD Lond)

Dr Helene Lavoix, PhD Lond (International Relations), is the Director of The Red (Team) Analysis Society. She is specialised in strategic foresight and warning for national and international security issues. Her current focus is on Artificial Intelligence, Quantum Science, and Security. She teaches at Master level at SciencesPo-PSIA.

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