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

Aug 25, 2019News

We live in times of high-tech euphoria marked by instances of geopolitical doom-and-gloom. There seems to be no middle ground between the hype surrounding cutting-edge technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and their impact on security and defence, and anxieties over their potential destructive consequences. AI, 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 recognised as likely to make early adopters the next global leaders.

Technological innovation and defence technologies have always occupied central positions in national defence strategies. This emphasis on techno-solutionism in military affairs is nothing new. Unsurprisingly, 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. However, this definition is problematic and sets the AI’s parameters as being one-dimensional. In reality, AI 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 defence. In Russia, the US, and China, political and strategic debate over AI revolutionising strategic calculations, military structures, and warfare is now commonplace. In Europe, however, less attention is being paid to the weaponisation of AI and its military application. Despite this, the European Union’s (EU) European Defence Fund (EDF) has nonetheless earmarked between 4% and 8% of its 2021-2027 budget to address disruptive defence technologies and high-risk innovation. The expectation being that such investment would boost Europe’s long-term technological leadership and defence autonomy.

In 2018, Michael Dukakis Institute for Leadership and Innovation (MDI) established the Artificial Intelligence World Society (AIWS) to collaborate with governments, think tanks, universities, non-profits, firms, and other entities that share its commitment to the constructive and development of AI for helping everyone achieve well-being and happiness as well as ethical norms. This effort will be a guidance on AI development to serve and strengthen democracy, human rights, and the rule of law for a better world society.