AI , Geopolitics and National Security

In his book, Superintelligence, Nick Bostrom states:

“ [AI] is quite possibly the most important and most daunting challenge humanity has ever faced. And — whether we succeed or fail — it is probably the last challenge we will ever face.” Nick Bostrom , Superintelligence

While I don’t fully agree with the more pessimistic side of Bostrom’s argument, it has hard to deny the potential that AI has to transform our world, our economies and our daily lives. But AI could also be “weaponised” by nation states and non-state actors. For the past year Nation States have started vocally detailing their strategic investments into AI research and evaluating the implications from a geopolitical, national competitive advantage and national security perspective.

In the 2017 World Threat Assesment of the US intelligence community (highly recommended declassified annual reading), Dan Coates, director of National Intelligence states:

“Artificial intelligence (AI) is advancing computational capabilities that benefit the economy, yet those advances also enable new military capabilities for our adversaries.”

And the report highlights cyberattacks (which we can assume can be amplified via increased computational power and AI-powered vectors of attack) as the top threat in its report:

“These [Cyber] threats are amplified by our ongoing delegation of decisionmaking, sensing, and authentication roles to potentially vulnerable automated systems.”

So if we accept that having, or maintaining a lead not only benefits the economy and companies of a nation state, the above should also lead us to understand that nations are seeing AI as both a risk and a geopolitical opportunity.

China has publicly stated that they want to “increase government spending on core AI programs to $22 billion in the next few years, with plans to spend nearly $60 billion per year by 2025.” Goldman Sachs predicts that by 2020, China will generate 25% of the global lifeblood of AI systems: data.

As the Chinese’s government own ‘nudge’ to the nation, it’s “Guidance on AI Development” states:

“AI should be applied in the public service and social management to build a safer, more comfortable and convenient society… AI should also be applied in public administration, court, urban management, transportation, environmental protection and public security…AI should be applied in national defense, including military command, equipment and drills.”

Meanwhile Russia is a nation-state that has already embraced the use of technology for asymmetric geopolitical campaigns, through what has come to be known as the ‘Gerasimov Doctrine’. Vladimir Putin’s view on the role of AI was clearly laid out in a speech to students earlier this year:

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Artificial intelligence is the future, not only for Russia, but for all humankind. It comes with colossal opportunities, but also threats that are difficult to predict. Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world

And in terms of weaponisation of AI, reading this report (and video below) on what Kalashnikov is doing integrating neural nets with big, big guns makes one vision of what the future of AI as a tool for war looks like.

Meanwhile, after decades of incubating deep-learning during the “Winter of AI”, Canada has unveiled itself as an AI powerhouse with $500 million invested year-to-date by the Government and corporate partners including Google, NVIDIA and Tencent. Prime Minister Trudeau event took to Quora to personally outline why his making Canada a world leader in AI is so critical (and geekily personal for him):

Meanwhile in the UK, just this week, the government released its recommendation for the nation’s AI strategy [PDF]which invokes the spirit of Alan Turing as a call to arms:

“The pioneering British computer scientist Alan Turing is widely regarded as launching and inspiring much of the development of AI. While other countries and international companies are investing heavily in AI development, the UK is still regarded as a centre of expertise, for the present at least. This report recommends that more is done to build on Turing’s legacy to ensure the UK remains among the leaders in AI.”

This independent review followed an earlier announcement in February to allocate £17 million for AI research, which one could argue is hardly the “significant resources [other countries are applying] to growing and deploying AI” alluded to in the new report, but still proves it has become a matter of importance at the highest levels.

And finally there is, of course, the US who, despite Secretary Mnuchin’s statement that he is not concerned about the impact of AI for the next 50–100 years, the Obama administration had put out a comprehensive report on the potential positive impact for AI on the nation and the economy in 2016

The CIA’s head of Technology Development (a job title straight out of a James Bond movie!) shared what the CIA and it’s investment arm In-Q-Tel are focused on with AI:

“The CIA currently has 137 pilot projects directly related to artificial intelligence…These “experiments” include everything from automatically tagging objects in video (so analysts can pay attention to what’s important) to better predicting future events based on big data and correlational evidence.”

From an applied AI perspective in the corporate world the US is currently in the lead in terms of number of patents and AI-focused companies, but the steep growth of the Chinese curve cannot be denied and as The Economist calls out, its deepest asset might indeed be the amount of data it can generate.

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There is no doubt that AI has moved from the lab to the Boardroom to now the Cabinet room as governments begin to recognise the economic implications and actively (and publicly) begin to outline how they seek to maintain, or attain global leadership in AI for both economic and defence reasons.

And one could easily argue that this new arms race has just gotten started!


Christian Hernandez is the co-founder and Managing Partner of White Star Capital, an early-stage Venture Capital fund backing exceptional entrepreneurs with global ambitions.

Partner at @2150-vc backing technologies that make our world more resilient and sustainable. Salvadoran-born Londoner. YGL of the @wef Father ^3

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