Dealing realistically with the artificial intelligence revolution
Excerpts from John Mecklin’s introduction to the May/June issue
The world is engaged in a competition for leadership in the array of technologies and applications often grouped under the umbrella of artificial intelligence. This competition has often been compared to the nuclear arms race of the Cold War, but the comparison is misleading on many fronts. Artificial intelligence is not one technology but many, and those technologies may be used in a wide variety of classifying, optimizing, and predictive applications, many and probably most not military in nature.For this issue, we asked four highly regarded experts for their views on the global AI competition.In “The frame problem: The AI ‘arms race’ isn’t one,” University of Cambridge researcher Heather M. Roff explains why using an arms race orientation when discussing the global competition in the AI field is not only fundamentally inaccurate, but potentially dangerous.”
[T]alking about technological competition–in research, adoption, and deployment–in all sectors of multiple economies and in warfare is not really an arms race. Indeed, to frame this competition in military terms risks the adoption of policies or regulations that could escalate rivalry between states and increase the likelihood of actual conflict,” Roff writes.
Cyberspace scholar Chris C. Demchak agrees that AI competition does not qualify, in itself, as an arms race. But in its rivalry with the United States, a rising, authoritarian China focused on technological supremacy may threaten freedom of expression, human rights, and democratic self-government around the world, Demchak suggests in her article, “China: determined to dominate cyberspace and AI.”
“The rise of AI, a subset of cyber—as well as machine learning, quantum computing, and other new technologies—does not herald a new arms race so much as an enhanced, possibly exponentially accelerated, underlying competition between rising China and the United States,” Demchak notes. “Given the dual nature of most cyber tools, those worried about an AI arms race should rather be more concerned about the profound disruption to the existing global order that China’s rise to the top of the cyber pack could pose.”
Brenda Leong, senior counsel and director of strategy at the Washington, DC-based think tank Future of Privacy Forum, sees a more generalized threat to privacy and fundamental freedoms in the global use of facial recognition applications based on AI. In a world of closed-circuit video cameras and ubiquitous digital tracking devices—from radio frequency identification chips to electronic toll collectors to smartphones with location tracking—governments and large private corporations have “vast power to keep track of, manipulate, and potentially repress entire populations.” China’s censoring of its internet and broad use of facial recognition constitute perhaps the most well-known efforts of this sort. But, Leong notes, “even democratically elected governments have shown a tendency to want to digitally profile and analyze their citizens without sufficient respect for individual privacy. And just as rampant industrialization had to be reined in to protect human rights and individual dignity, information technology and digital systems must be controlled to prevent abuse and exploitation.”
Read more of John Mecklin’s introduction to the May/June issue.