US "unprepared" to defend against AI threats

AI on a screen with other words
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

The US is unprepared to defend itself against artificial intelligence (AI) threats, according to a report from the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (NSCAI), which has the government to increase its AI investment as a matter of urgent national security.

The document singled out China as a primary threat to America due to its advanced use of AI. "China possesses the might, talent, and ambition to surpass the United States as the world’s leader in AI in the next decade if current trends do not change," it said.

The report also warned of AI-based attacks extending beyond the technology's use in weapons systems. "AI is deepening the threat posed by cyber attacks and disinformation campaigns that Russia, China, and others are using to infiltrate our society, steal our data, and interfere in our democracy," it said. "The limited uses of AI-enabled attacks to date represent the tip of the iceberg."

The Commission recommended $40 billion in federal government AI investment, calling it "a modest down payment on future breakthroughs".

However, the report refused to call for a ban on AI-based weapons. "It is neither feasible nor currently in the interests of the United States to pursue a global prohibition of AI-enabled and autonomous weapon systems," it said, instead recommending international standards to manage their development and use. It also called for a ban on AI-triggered nuclear weapon launches.

The document also called for a democratic model of AI use for national security and a task force that would assess the effect of AI on privacy and civil liberties, and encouraged the oversight and auditing of AI tools using AI itself.

Other recommendations included scaling up digital talent in the military. The report called for a Digital Service Academy based on the five current military service academies. This would encourage the growth of technology talent, it advised.

The government formed the NSCAI in August 2018 as part of the National Defense Authorization Act. It is an independent body tasked with developing strategies for advancing the development of AI for national security and defense purposes in the US. It is chaired by former Alphabet executive chair Eric Schmidt and includes commissioners from Google, Oracle, Microsoft, and Amazon Web Services. Also on the committee was a representative from CIA-affiliated venture group In-Q-Tel. There were no privacy or civil rights advocacy groups on the list of commissioners.

The report arrived just days after Senator Chuck Schumer promised a legislative package to strengthen domestic competitiveness in a range of technology areas, including AI. That legislation will be based on a bill Schumer proposed last year that would have earmarked $100 billion for investment.

In the final days of the Trump presidency, the White House also launched an AI initiative office to coordinate federal AI activities.

Danny Bradbury

Danny Bradbury has been a print journalist specialising in technology since 1989 and a freelance writer since 1994. He has written for national publications on both sides of the Atlantic and has won awards for his investigative cybersecurity journalism work and his arts and culture writing. 

Danny writes about many different technology issues for audiences ranging from consumers through to software developers and CIOs. He also ghostwrites articles for many C-suite business executives in the technology sector and has worked as a presenter for multiple webinars and podcasts.