WASHINGTON — Top U.S. and international security officials called Tuesday for new partnerships to oppose China’s burgeoning influence over emerging technologies and standards for their use.
At an event hosted by the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, senior leaders spanning from NATO to the Pentagon to the Indo-Pacific warned of the threat posed to human rights and security by China’s technological rise and ambition to become the world’s leader in artificial intelligence and shape the way emerging technologies are used by influencing global standards-setting bodies.
“For the first time in many, many, many, many decades, we cannot take our technological edge for granted so we need to move fast and even faster,” said Mircea Geoana, deputy secretary general of NATO. “We need to move together and work together without duplication and without unnecessary competition with like-minded partners who share our values. Because it’s obvious that no industry, no country or organization alone can cope with the risks and challenges that we are facing.”
Geoana’s comments reflected a consensus among leaders at the summit that the U.S. and other democracies across the globe must work together to invest in and shape standards for technologies including artificial intelligence and 5G. Building international technology alliances was a key recommendation of the NSCAI, a congressionally mandated commission that argued that the United States needed to be “AI ready” by 2025 in order to win the ongoing tech race with China.
Allowing China to shape global standard setting threatens human rights, the leaders said, pointing to the Chinese government’s use of facial recognition to target the Uyghur minority group inside the country. Jake Sullivan, President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, painted a bleak picture of global surveillance networks, insecure supply chains and access to sensitive data if authoritarian nations can set standards and shape the norms of AI use.
In his prepared remarks, Sullivan said the first wave of the digital revolution emphasized democracy and human rights but gave way to a second wave that allows authoritarian governments to infringe on those rights. In the third wave, Sullivan said, democratic nations must shape the way technologies like artificial intelligence are used.
“The question before us is whether we have the will and determination to usher in a third wave of this digital revolution. Whether we can reboot and ensure that critical and emerging technologies work for, not against, our democracies and our security,” he said.
He added, “If there’s anything that the first two waves of the digital revolution have taught us, it’s that long-term U.S. leadership in technology is not assured. Large-scale efforts that harness the public, private, and academic sectors can measurably secure that leadership.”
Sullivan highlighted several new technology partnerships the United States has across the globe. In Europe, the Biden administration launched the U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council and is working with the United Kingdom in a new partnership in science and technology. With South Korea and Japan, the U.S. is collaborating on critical and emerging technologies, ranging from quantum science to semiconductors. Sullivan added that the White House is working with G7 countries on digital tools and plans to expand that work in the European Union.
The U.S. and the “Quad” countries — made up of India, Japan and Australia — also kicked off a working group on securing supply chains, technology standards and looking ahead for other emerging capabilities.
“It is critical to understand how to incorporate democratic order and values into our system while respecting privacy, civil liberties and rights in the future use of AI by the government,” said Shinji Inoue, Japanese minister of state for science and technology policy.
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said that the U.S. and its allies needed to establish a multilateral technology alliance and prioritize standards setting to make sure that the world’s democracies stay ahead, adding that “embedded in technology standards often come a country or society’s values.”
Stavros Lambrinidis, the European Union’s ambassador to the United States, echoed the comments. “The first thing that we have to do together is set the standards for these new technologies. They are being set as we speak. ... [We need to] set those standards, or someone is going to set them if we don’t.”
U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said at the event that investment in emerging technologies, particularly artificial intelligence, is foundational to the Pentagon’s joint war-fighting concept, which includes AI to analyze data on the battlefield and aid commanders’ decision-making. Austin noted the Pentagon has 600 AI efforts underway across the department and mentioned the newly launched Artificial Intelligence and Data Acceleration initiative that will help combatant commands prepare their networks for operational AI.
Austin previewed a detail on the department’s effort to ramp up AI spending, noting it wants to invest $1.5 billion over the next five years in the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, an office tasked with accelerating AI adoption across the DoD. In its fiscal 2022 budget request, the department asked for $874 million for AI.
“Tech advances like AI are changing the face and the pace of warfare. But we believe that we can responsibly use AI as a force multiplier. One that helps us to make decisions faster and more rigorously, to integrate across all domains, and to replace old ways of doing business,” Austin said in his prepared remarks.
Andrew Eversden covers all things defense technology for C4ISRNET. He previously reported on federal IT and cybersecurity for Federal Times and Fifth Domain, and worked as a congressional reporting fellow for the Texas Tribune. He was also a Washington intern for the Durango Herald. Andrew is a graduate of American University.