Beyond the Hype: The EU and the AI Global ‘Arms Race’

Written by | Monday, September 30th, 2019

The future of made-in-Europe Artificial Intelligence (AI) is being written and the EU could become a leader in ethical AI, setting the stage for global standards, while also helping avoid the AI “arms race” narrative. Artificial Intelligence, arguably one of the most important and divisive inventions in human history, is now being glorified as the strategic enabler of the 21st century and next domain of military disruption and geopolitical competition. The race in technological innovation, justified by significant economic and security benefits, is widely recognized as likely to make early adopters the next global leaders.

While Artificial Intelligence is often discussed as a potentially disruptive weapon and likened to prior transformative technologies such as nuclear and cyber, placed in the context of national security, in reality, IA has broad and dual-use applications, more appropriately comparable to enabling technologies such as electricity, or the combustion engine. Growing competition in deep-tech fields such as AI are undoubtedly affecting the global race for military superiority. Leading players such as the US and China are investing heavily in AI research, accelerating use in defense. In Russia, the US, and China, political and strategic debate over AI revolutionizing strategic calculations, military structures, and warfare is now commonplace.

In Europe, however, less attention is being paid to the weaponization of AI and its military application. Despite this, the EU’s European Defense Fund (EDF) has nonetheless earmarked between 4% and 8% of its 2021-2027 budget to address disruptive defense technologies and high-risk innovation to boost Europe’s long-term technological leadership and defense autonomy. Differing approaches aside, in order to avoid the AI ‘arms race’ narrative in policy and political debates, there must be a shift in how AI is framed by international organizations, governments, tech corporations, media, civil society, and academia. In turn, the ‘arms race’ framings of AI are helping to cultivate a culture of insecurity premised on antiquated Cold War rhetoric, further normalizing such bellicose narrative in respect to AI-enabled weapons systems. In this regard, the EU could play a significant role in shifting the debate by putting forward policy and research frameworks and initiatives for the responsible design and governance of AI in Europe and the world, thus potentially mitigating great power competition.

The EU arguably lags behind in AI-related research and innovation when compared to American, Chinese and, to a lesser extent, Russian counterparts. Both the US and China have developed wide-ranging roadmaps for global AI leadership, are the most active countries in AI research and development, and have concentrated the highest levels of external and internal investments in AI. Recent policy and funding initiatives at the EU level are shaping a distinctive European governance approach to tackle such challenges: both through increased cross-border financing opportunities to address research and development gaps at a European level; and through preventive governance mechanisms for AI’s responsible technological design and uses. Overall, concrete and decisive actions taken at the EU-level by promoting various AI-focused policy initiatives and projects ensures that the EU’s own framing of the global AI ‘race’ will lead to future advances in this domain on the EU’s terms, and according to EU values, fairness standards, and regulatory conditions for the benefit of European citizens.

European industry recommendations that follow the April 2019 release of guidelines for the ethical development and uses of ‘Trustworthy AI’ prioritize lawful AI and respecting applicable laws and regulations; ethical AI and respecting ethical principles and values; and technically robust AI that takes into account its social environment. Thus, in contrast to global competitors, the EU has put forward a unique and proactive entrepreneurship approach in harnessing its market and regulatory power to define accepted standards of research, innovation, and usability for AI. Grounding R&D of new and emerging security technologies in ethics may be one way to ensure it does not exacerbate a ‘global AI arms race’ or only benefit privileged groups or states. The future of European AI or ‘made-in-Europe’ AI is being written, and the EU could indeed become a leader in ethical AI, setting the stage for global standards.

However, if the EU seriously envisions itself establishing a human-centric and value-based global governance of AI, as well as galvanizing a common AI effort in Europe, it should focus more on consolidating its agenda-setting power both among its member states, and in the wider world. The aim should be to avoid empty rhetoric and over-regulation that could impede innovation and commercialization. With a ‘Trustworthy’ AI branding, the EU may indeed have a unique selling proposition to distinguish itself from competitors. However, the reality is it is unlikely that global powers will constrain their pursuit of AI-enabled weapons systems whilst they believe them to deliver strategic advantage. As long as the EU’s AI leadership is limited to providing ethical guidelines and not leading in its funding, research, and legislation, it runs the risk of providing empty statements, while others continue the pursuit of the next shiny, deadly, AI-enabled weapon.

‚Beyond the Hype: The EU and the AI Global ‚Arms Race‘‘ – Article by Raluca Csernatoni – Carnegie Europe.
The Article can be downloaded here

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