Artificial Intelligence, International Competition, and the Balance of Power (May 2018)
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World leaders, CEOs, and academics have suggested that a revolution in artificial intelligence is upon us. Are they right, and what will advances in artificial intelligence mean for international competition and the balance of power? This article evaluates how developments in artificial intelligence (AI) — advanced, narrow applications in particular — are poised to influence military power and international politics. It describes how AI more closely resembles “enabling” technologies such as the combustion engine or electricity than a specific weapon. AI’s still-emerging developments make it harder to assess than many technological changes, especially since many of the organizational decisions about the adoption and uses of new technology that generally shape the impact of that technology are in their infancy. The article then explores the possibility that key drivers of AI development in the private sector could cause the rapid diffusion of military applications of AI, limiting first-mover advantages for innovators. Alternatively, given uncertainty about the technological trajectory of AI, it is also possible that military uses of AI will be harder to develop based on private-sector AI technologies than many expect, generating more potential first-mover advantages for existing powers such as China and the United States, as well as larger consequences for relative power if a country fails to adapt. Finally, the article discusses the extent to which U.S. military rhetoric about the importance of AI matches the reality of U.S. investments.