Russian president Vladimir Putin has joined the war of words concerning the international race to develop artificial intelligence. Speaking to students last Friday, Putin predicted that whichever country leads the way in AI research will come to dominate global affairs.
“Artificial intelligence is the future, not only for Russia, but for all humankind,” said Putin, reports RT. “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.”
The development of artificial intelligence has increasingly become a national security concern in recent years. It is China and the US (not Russia) which are seen as the two frontrunners, with China recently announcing its ambition to become the global leader in AI research by 2030. Many analysts warn that America is in danger of falling behind, especially as the Trump administration prepares to cut funding for basic science and technology research.
Although it’s thought that artificial intelligence will help boost countries’ economies in a number of areas, from heavy industry to medical research, AI technology will also be useful in warfare. Artificial intelligence can be used to develop cyber weapons, and control autonomous tools like drone swarms — fleets of low-cost quadcopters with a shared ‘brain’ that can be used for surveillance as well as attacking opponents.
Both China and the US are currently researching this technology, and in his speech on Friday, Putin predicted that future wars would be fought by countries using drones. “When one party's drones are destroyed by drones of another, it will have no other choice but to surrender,” said the Russian president, according to the Associated Press.
Recently, Elon Musk and 116 other technology leaders sent a petition to the United Nations calling for new regulations on how such AI weapons are developed. The group stated that the introduction of autonomous technology would be tantamount to a “third revolution in warfare,” following the development of gunpowder and nuclear weapons.
An AI arms race doesn’t necessarily have to be a winner-takes-all scenario, though. Putin noted that Russia did not want to see any one country “monopolize” the field, and said instead: “If we become leaders in this area, we will share this know-how with entire world, the same way we share our nuclear technologies today.”
Update September 4th, 5:40AM ET: Elon Musk offers his cheery perspective on Twitter: