AI race considerations in a report by the U.S. House Committee on Armed Services

by NunoSempere12 min read4th Oct 20204 comments

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AI GovernanceAIWorld Optimization
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Epistemic status: Quick and dirty. A surface level dive into a particular aspect of AI governance carried out over the course of one morning.

Context

The U.S. House Committee on Armed Services is a standing committee of the United States House of Representatives. It is responsible for funding and oversight of the Department of Defense (DOD) and the United States Armed Forces, as well as substantial portions of the Department of Energy.

The Future of Defense Task Force is a subcommittee of the U.S. House Committee on Armed Services. They have released a report, available here, and also as the first item on their latest news page. The task force is manned by an equal number of Republicans and Democrats. Though this seems a priori unlikely, it could both be the case that this report is unrepresentative of the political forces in the US Congress, and that this particular committee holds little power.

References to AI race dynamics in the report

Bold added by me.

Technological advancements in artificial intelligence and biotechnology will have an outsized impact on national security; the potential of losing this race to China carries significant economic, political, and ethical risks for the United States and our free democratic allies for decades to come. Winning this race requires a whole-of-nation approach where the distinct advantages of both America's private and public sector are harnessed and synthesized.

Using the Manhattan Project as a model, the United States must undertake and win the artificial intelligence race by leading in the invention and deployment of AI while establishing the standards for its public and private use. Although the Department of Defense has increased investment in AI and established the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center to assist with the transition and deployment of AI capabilities, cultural resistance to its wider adoption remains.

The stakes are high. Whoever achieves superiority in this technological race will enjoy significant military and economic advantage for decades—and possibly into the next century.

To incorporate the technology necessary to maintain the United States' military supremacy, the Pentagon must continue refining its acquisition process to be more agile and less risk-averse so that it can fully leverage emerging technologies and capabilities at scale. Train and incentivize the acquisition workforce to utilize existing flexible authorities to quickly push innovative technology to war fighters in the field. Incentivize calculated risk by providing funding for emerging technologies through programs of record at scale; allow a less-than-perfect success rate.

History repeatedly shows that technological superiority does not guarantee victory and that new ways of thinking can be more powerful than new weapons.

The Pentagon will further need to refine its acquisition process and improve its ability to incorporate innovative emerging technologies and capabilities at the scale required to succeed in an era of great power competition

The report cites: Michael Brown, Eric Chewning, Pavneet Singh, Preparing the United States for the Superpower Marathon with China, The Brookings Institution (April 2020) (online at https://www.brookings.edu/research/preparing-the-united-states-for-the-superpower-marathon-with-china/).

Still, while China and the United States appear destined to be rivals, they maintain a complex yet symbiotic partnership that would be challenging for either country to upend, at least in the short term. Since restoring diplomatic relations with Beijing in 1979, the United States has deepened its social and economic ties with China, leading to increased prosperity in both countries. Recognizing these shared interests may allow for diplomatic endeavors and financial leverage to drive outcomes and to avoid seemingly inevitable conflict.

Rapidly advancing technologies, which offer tremendous opportunity for civil and commercial applications, are also rife with potential for nefarious use and will exacerbate threat streams exponentially for the United States and its global partners. A sophisticated array of new weaponry is changing the nature of conflict, and, while most of the technologies will require substantial funding and development by state actors, others, such as cyber and electronic warfare, may allow less formidable foes to gain the operational upper hand with limited investment, with potentially limited ability to trace the source of such actions and hold those nations accountable.

Whichever nation triumphs in the AI race will hold a critical, and perhaps insurmountable, military and economic advantage. AI allows a computer to think, learn, and perform in the cognitive ways that humans operate. Soon, advanced AI ecosystems will see machines surpassing human capability in speed, analyzation of large data sets,and pattern recognition. Advancement in AI will shape the global power structure and drive advancements in commerce, transportation, health, education, financial markets, government, and national defense

AI will shape the future of power. The nation with the most resilient and productive economic base will be best positioned to seize the mantle of world leadership. That base increasingly depends on the strength of the innovation economy, which in turn will depend on AI. AI will drive waves of advancement in commerce, transportation, health, education, financial markets, government, and national defense

Discoveries in AI, biotechnology,and quantum computing are on course to upend nearly every aspect human life and will drastically change how conflicts and wars are waged. Therefore, it is essential that democratic nations, who adhere to human rights, lead in their development and applications.

Further, it will be incumbent upon the nations who use these technologies to set strong moral and ethical standards to protect the health and well-being of humankind. Advancements in AI, for example, will likely require a global compact in the vein of the Geneva Conventions, the Chemical Weapons Convention, and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to establish guardrails and protect against a variety of factors, not the least of which is the infringement of personal liberty and freedoms.

A sophisticated array of technologies is emerging to transform society and alter the nature of warfare. The country that can develop and incorporate these technologies the fastest and most effectively will enjoy significant military and economic advantage for decades to come.

Expanding critical investments in innovative technology and programs will require an increased tolerance for calculated risk at the Pentagon and in Congress. It also requires the discipline to invest in systems and operational concepts necessary to succeed and the will to eliminate those that do not. Correctly navigating these difficult trade-offs will determine whether the United States is able to remain in over-match against great power competitors.

This concept of “algorithmic warfare” will pit algorithms against algorithms where information and the speed of decisions will likely be more important than traditional means of military superiority, such as the size of opposing forces or the range of armament. Those with superior data, computing power, information security, and connectivity will maintain the upper hand. This paradigm will require new operational concepts and equipment to adapt and maintain the advantage.

Brief commentary and discussion

The diagnosis in the report — that China will grow in power and technological acumen — seems basically accurate, though the recommendation that the USA should be willing to take more risk and go out with a bang seems more questionable. The language in the report is heavily adversarial, with an emphasis on winning an AI race, rather than with an emphasis on exploring and developing robust mechanisms to avoid Red Queen races.

The committee also seems to assume that AI scenarios will in the short term be multipolar, with the United States, China and Russia competing to develop their AI capabilities, while smaller nations also invest in asymmetric warfare. Europe's capabilities aren't considered at all. Crucially, AI is here seen as only one of many factors to consider in an engagement. Scenarios outside the Overton window, such as intelligence explosions, aren't considered.

I initially arrived at this report while researching this CSET question. Overall, I'd say that the language in this post is a signpost or warning sign of potentially more heated AI races to come.

It's unclear to me what levers there exist to make the US's approach less adversarial. Some brainstorming:

  • Organize a campaign to call your representative: I imagine that very few people call their representatives to talk with them about this particular topic. Form and fund a lobbying group.
  • Study and make common knowledge instances where fading and raising powers have been able to live somewhat peacefully. Examples might include Britain and the US after the Suez Crisis, Portugal and Spain at the height of their respective empires, Greece still being respected after Rome had become the dominant military power, etc.
  • Think long and hard about how to make arms reduction treaties applicable to AI systems.

Best of luck to the folks working on AI governance.


Appendix: All interesting quotes I wrote down.

China represents the most significant economic and national security threat to the United States over the next 20 to 30 years. Because of its nuclear arsenal and ongoing efforts to undermine Western democratic governments, Russia presents the most immediate threat to the United States; however, Russia's long-term economic forecast makes its global power likely to recede over the next 20 to 30 years

As a result of historic levels of government-sponsored science and technology research, and the inherent advantages of a free market economy, the United States emerged from the Cold War with a substantial economic and military lead over any potential rival. However,these gaps have dramatically narrowed. China will soon overtake the United States as the world's largest economy, and despite historic defense budgets,the United States has failed to keep pace with China's and Russia's military modernization.

Advancements in artificial intelligence, biotechnology, quantum computing, and space, cyber, and electronic warfare, among others, are making traditional battlefields and boundaries increasingly irrelevant. To remain competitive, the United States must prioritize the development of emerging technologies over fielding and maintaining legacy systems. This will require significant changes to the Pentagon's force structure, posture, operational plans, and acquisition system and must be complemented by a tough and fulsome review of legacy systems, platforms, and missions.

The Pentagon's emerging operational concepts have the potential to provide the U.S. military a decisive advantage, but they are not yet fully viable. To address current and future threats and deter conflict, the Department of Defense must more aggressively test new operational concepts against emerging technologies.

Technological advancements in artificial intelligence and biotechnology will have an outsized impact on national security; the potential of losing this race to China carries significant economic, political, and ethical risks for the United States and our free democratic allies for decades to come. Winning this race requires a whole-of-nation approach where the distinct advantages of both America's private and public sector are harnessed and synthesized.

Using the Manhattan Project as a model, the United States must undertake and win the artificial intelligence race by leading in the invention and deployment of AI while establishing the standards for its public and private use. Although the Department of Defense has increased investment in AI and established the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center to assist with the transition and deployment of AI capabilities, cultural resistance to its wider adoption remains.

To maintain its global preeminence in scientific and technological innovation and the associated economic and military advantage, the United States should increase its investment in foundational science and technology research by committing to spending at least one percent of the country's gross domestic product on basic government-supported research and development.

Require the military services to spend at least one percent of their overall budgets on the integration of new technologies.

To maintain the United States' military advantage against emerging threats, the Pentagon must refine its operational concepts by employing new technologies and methods to deter future conflicts and compete in the gray-zone of hybrid warfare.

The Pentagon, Congress, and the Intelligence Community should work in tandem to identify trends and threats 10 to 30 years beyond the normal budget cycle while expanding entities within their respective organizations to incorporate long-term planning

To incorporate the technology necessary to maintain the United States' military supremacy,the Pentagon must continue refining its acquisition process to be more agile and less risk-averse so that it can fully leverage emerging technologies and capabilities at scale. Train and incentivize the acquisition workforce to utilize existing flexible authorities to quickly push innovative technology to war fighters in the field. Incentivize calculated risk by providing funding for emerging technologies through programs of record at scale; allow a less-than-perfect success rate.

The gravity and complexity of threats emerging to challenge the United States is proliferating as technological advancements in artificial intelligence, quantum information science, and biotechnology transform society and weaponry at an exponential rate. This is occurring as adversarial capability is increasing to the point where the United States may soon lose the competitive military advantage it has enjoyed for decades.

A sophisticated array of emerging technologies and new weaponry, in various stages of development, will fundamentally change the nature of conflict along with the very battle space where it will be fought. The stakes are high. Whoever achieves superiority in this technological race will enjoy significant military and economic advantage for decades—and possibly into the next century.

Advancements in artificial intelligence, quantum information science, space and cyber and electronic warfare, among others, are making traditional battlefields and boundaries increasingly irrelevant. To remain competitive, the U.S.must recognize this shift and prioritize the development of emerging technologies while also increasing its ability to defend against them.

The U.S. military, with its adherence to human rights and the rules of engagement, stands as the global model for how a free and open society should protect itself and its interests. Exporting U.S. values through military engagements, with both exercises and train and assist programs, builds trust and interoperability while increasing readiness and resiliency and further protecting vital U.S. interests abroad.

the U.S. and Russia should extend the highly successful Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) while negotiating a follow-on agreement.

The U.S.has long been the global leader in technological innovation because of its investment in government-funded research and development (R&D) that has led to breakthroughs such as the Manhattan Project and the space program. Without increased investment and focus, however, its pre-eminence is at risk.

Historically, the U.S.has outpaced every other country in overall R&D spending, but its lead is quickly diminishing. Over the past two decades, China has rapidly increased its investment in overall R&D, whereas U.S. spending rates have lagged.Today, the U.S.still spends more than any other country, but China is on track to take the lead in global R&D spending by 2030 if current trends continue.

History repeatedly shows that technological superiority does not guarantee victory and that new ways of thinking can be more powerful than new weapons. Future leaders and strategists will need to embrace emerging war fighting concepts such as joint and multi-domain warfare. They will further need a comprehensive understanding of national power and how to integrate military tools into a whole-of-government effort.

The Pentagon will further need to refine its acquisition process and improve its ability to incorporate innovative emerging technologies and capabilities at the scale required to succeed in an era of great power competition

China's economic power continues to grow, and China remains on a glide path to be the world's largest economy by as early as 2030. If the U.S. defense posture maintains its current trajectory, 70 percent of the military's systems will be legacy platforms when that occurs. In contrast, China and Russia adhere to fewer traditional systems, allowing them to more easily field future capabilities

The report cites: Michael Brown, Eric Chewning, Pavneet Singh, Preparing the United States for the Superpower Marathon with China, The Brookings Institution (April 2020) (online at https://www.brookings.edu/research/preparing-the-united-states-for-the-superpower-marathon-with-china/).

According to the latest Department of Defense assessment, China has doubled its defense spending in the last decade and now has more ships than the U.S. Navy, among the best air defense systems globally, an arsenal of long-range ballistic missiles,and a variety of other means to challenge the U.S.A sobering report from the RAND Corporation recently determined that despite significantly outspending China and Russia, the U.S. military could lose a future conflict because it failed to adequately posture and train.

Still, while China and the United States appear destined to be rivals, they maintain a complex yet symbiotic partnership that would be challenging for either country to upend, at least in the short term. Since restoring diplomatic relations with Beijing in 1979, the United States has deepened its social and economic ties with China, leading to increased prosperity in both countries. Recognizing these shared interests may allow for diplomatic endeavors and financial leverage to drive outcomes and to avoid seemingly inevitable conflict.

Rapidly advancing technologies, which offer tremendous opportunity for civil and commercial applications, are also rife with potential for nefarious use and will exacerbate threat streams exponentially for the United States and its global partners. A sophisticated array of new weaponry is changing the nature of conflict, and, while most of the technologies will require substantial funding and development by state actors, others, such as cyber and electronic warfare, may allow less formidable foes to gain the operational upper hand with limited investment, with potentially limited ability to trace the source of such actions and hold those nations accountable.

Whichever nation triumphs in the AI race will hold a critical, and perhaps insurmountable, military and economic advantage. AI allows a computer to think, learn, and perform in the cognitive ways that humans operate. Soon, advanced AI ecosystems will see machines surpassing human capability in speed, analyzation of large data sets,and pattern recognition. Advancement in AI will shape the global power structure and drive advancements in commerce, transportation, health, education, financial markets, government, and national defense

AI will shape the future of power. The nation with the most resilient and productive economic base will be best positioned to seize the mantle of world leadership. That base increasingly depends on the strength of the innovation economy, which in turn will depend on AI. AI will drive waves of advancement in commerce, transportation, health, education, financial markets, government, and national defense

Discoveries in AI, biotechnology,and quantum computing are on course to upend nearly every aspect human life and will drastically change how conflicts and wars are waged. Therefore, it is essential that democratic nations, who adhere to human rights, lead in their development and applications.

Further, it will be incumbent upon the nations who use these technologies to set strong moral and ethical standards to protect the health and well-being of humankind. Advancements in AI, for example, will likely require a global compact in the vein of the Geneva Conventions, the Chemical Weapons Convention, and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to establish guardrails and protect against a variety of factors, not the least of which is the infringement of personal liberty and freedoms.

History presages that when the United States competes from the moral high ground, it usually wins.

Simply stated, China needs the United States economically, at least for the short term.

A sophisticated array of technologies is emerging to transform society and alter the nature of warfare. The country that can develop and incorporate these technologies the fastest and most effectively will enjoy significant military and economic advantage for decades to come.

Historically, the United States has led the world in funding tech R&D, which has allowed it to maintain a strategic advantage. China, however, appears poised to challenge the United States as the overall leader in R&D spending. In response, the U.S. government and the Pentagon should consider increasing investment in basic R&D while developing R&D partnerships globally.

Pentagon culture and business practices are rightfully designed to be fair and open and to avoid waste and abuse. However, this can sometimes make them slower-moving, risk-averse, and process-based rather than outcome-based, which can hinder the military's ability to fully utilize private sector innovation. Established practice and culture favor large, traditional business partners, which makes it more difficult for non-traditional companies with innovative technology to compete. The Pentagon knows how to acquire large programs of record like fighter jets or aircraft carriers, but it is less adept at purchasing at scale the types of emerging technologies that will be required for future conflict.

Because of risk aversion and fear of potential failure, the Pentagon often fails to fully utilize its existing authorities to quickly incorporate private sector technology,even when urgently necessary. This hinders its ability to fully leverage outside advances at the necessary speed and scale.

To maintain its strategic advantage, the United States must recruit and develop a workforce with the requisite skills and talent to maintain the country's technological and military advantage. In matters of national security, people are more important than hardware;therefore,the United States must develop, recruit, and retain the most talented science and technology, military, and national security professionals globally. Along with recruiting and growing science, technology, engineering,and mathematics(STEM) talent, the military and national security community must update personnel policies to ensure that they can attract and foster talent

With its global obligations and missions, the United States outspends all its rivals combined in defense expenditures. In 2019, it spent more than $730 billion, while China and Russia spent roughly $260 billion and $65 billion,respectively. This is nearly three times as much as China and ten times as much as any other country. While the United States maintains a global military presence and supports a variety of missions, partners, and allies, China and Russia have historically focused on their respective regions, although both are rapidly working to expand their global reach. China's economy will likely exceed the United States' in dollar terms in the next 10 years.

Expanding critical investments in innovative technology and programs will require an increased tolerance for calculated risk at the Pentagon and in Congress. It also requires the discipline to invest in systems and operational concepts necessary to succeed and the will to eliminate those that do not. Correctly navigating these difficult trade-offs will determine whether the United States is able to remain in over match against great power competitors.

Now, in both conventional warfare and gray zone tactics, Russia and China are able to challenge the United States in multiple arenas. Indeed, it is what they have been preparing for over the last two decades while the United States was focused on countering terrorism

This concept of “algorithmic warfare” will pit algorithms against algorithms where information and the speed of decisions will likely be more important than traditional means of military superiority, such as the size of opposing forces or the range of armament. Those with superior data, computing power, information security, and connectivity will maintain the upper hand. This paradigm will require new operational concepts and equipment to adapt and maintain the advantage.

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