Digital Authoritarian and 2021

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The number of applications that have employed AI is wide and varied. From  projecting  the direction  of wildfires to building the next generation of pharmaceuticals, the possibilities are unlimited. One interesting AI experiment is DARPA’s third and final F-16 combat simulation between an AI-controlled plane and an experienced Air Force pilot. The AI-controlled plane demonstrated that the ability of a computer to out-perform the human in virtual dogfights. These simulations are to be moved to full-scale tactical aircraft in 2024.

The move towards managing huge data sets, applying creative algorithms, and using the results for a tactical advantage is so valued that it will set those apart who can capture its power. This has created a race towards harnessing the value of this new frontier, from Moscow to Beijing. A couple of years ago the United States created the JAIC or the Joint AI Center. The goal of JAIC is to harness the value of AI for the benefit of the country. As the funding for this group continues to grow exponentially, the first order of business was to understand the ethical boundaries they faced. Adopting a code of ethics that compliments the values reflected in our Constitution, JAIC is off to a good start.

As the United States uses the powers of AI to predict shortages during a natural disaster or managing the logistical concerns of distributing a vaccine in times of crisis, China and Russia have employed AI to better control their population. This is done by identifying pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong or monitoring communications – unfettered by privacy laws. Although China and Russia are employing AI for a coordinated battlefield as well, this too is “unshackled” by the Constitutional values that we hold sacred in the United States.

Russian President Vladimir Putin declared the country that leads in the implementation of AI will be the “ruler of the world”. Likewise, the Chinese Communist Party has committed to be the leader in AI by the year 2030. In recent conflicts with Ukraine, Russia employed an asymmetrical battle plan that included AI-driven UAVs, Cyberattacks, and artillery. Russia continues to roll out AI-enabled solutions that now include ground vehicles, aircraft, submarines, and command and control.

If there is any doubt that China will employ AI to influence its agenda, you don’t have to look beyond howtheyemploy AI to manage its population. Beijing constructed a state- of-the-art surveillance capability at home. This includes hundreds of millions of cameras using facial recognition, monitoring of all digital and voice communications along with all suspicious purchases made in the country. This will afford them the ability to identify, track, and monitor anyone within their borders. (And many beyond).

The contrast between the American approach and those of our peers couldn’t be clearer. The need to protect our Constitutionally granted rights and the  power that AI can offer a governing body is alluring. Even as the tracking of a spouse or child can be perceived as a violation of one’s privacy in the United States, foreign governments are not concerned with these taboos. The ability to track individual movements, buying habits, and all communications to identify those that might challenge leadership makes for a powerful weapon for Authoritarian rule.

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