Much of the American public might have been unaware that the United States is currently engaged in an artificial intelligence arms (AI) race with adversaries like China, but also with allies like Israel, until early this week President Trump issued the first-ever executive order prioritizing AI as a matter of national security. “Continued American leadership in Artificial Intelligence is of paramount importance to maintaining the economic and national security of the United States,” the president said in a statement posted to whitehouse.gov.
Following the executive order, The Jerusalem Post published a surprising report acknowledging an ongoing AI “arms race” between the US and Israel, which a key expert and ex-government agent cited in the report said is wrought with risks that include “crises even worse than 9/11”.
The top Israeli cybersecurity consultant who previously worked as a high level expert in the Israeli government, Amit Meltzer, explained in the report “that winning such a competition would not go well with careful oversight of negative consequences and potential abuses” — an observation also echoed by US Senate Vice Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA), who though praising some elements of the executive order, criticized the potential dangers of AI and lack of structures in place for oversight.
Warner warned that Trump’s order “reflects a laissez-faire approach to AI development that… will have the US repeating the mistakes it has made in treating digital technologies as inherently positive forces, with insufficient consideration paid to their misapplication,” according to Bloomberg.
Amit Meltzer backed these concerns in his interview with The Jerusalem Post:
Furthermore, he said that concerns that certain companies would quickly gain domination of the AI sector and abuse their standing economically were possible.
But, he said that it was nearly impossible to square “the national necessity for the US” or Israel to “strengthen and maintain leadership in the industry” with policies that encourage caution and that new technologies should only be rolled out after any danger was carefully examined.
However, he noted that Sen. Warner’s critique stopped short of getting to the heart of the issue. The true dangers of AI lie in the potential for an abuse to lead to a ripple effect across networks and industries with such a rapid pace as to create societal disaster before it’s even realized what’s happening.
President @realDonaldTrump is establishing American leadership, promoting innovation, and developing our workforce on the AI frontier! https://t.co/apHD2vbfu0
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) February 12, 2019
The JPost report continued, citing the Israeli government consultant further:
By raising the specter of a disaster the size of the stock market crash of 1987, he said that economic or social-psychological warfare influence campaigns that dwarf current threats would become possible.
Another nightmare scenario could be using an AI algorithm to make four million Toyota cars all crash at the same time worldwide, leaving countless dead and wounded in a tragedy “that would be worse than 9/11.”
Calling such attacks “infinitely easier” in an AI-dominated world, he noted that the industry is far outpacing the issue of civil liberties and protections necessary to prevent such disasters.
Perhaps the most cynical section of the interview is seen in the following, where Meltzer predicts how this would all unfold as a result of the current global AI race among advanced nations:
Despite these threats, he predicted that the US needs to keep up with China, Russia and Israel’s need to stay ahead of its adversaries, meaning that rapidly developing new capabilities would continue to be put before protecting civil liberties.
“Afterwards, they will fix things and ask forgiveness from the victims,” he said of moving ahead too fast without proper oversight.
Meltzer further noted that unlike the current trend in Washington, the Israeli government has left major AI development in the hands of the private tech industry, without weighing in as the Trump administration just did.
It should also be mentioned that Russia is claiming to be an up and coming mover in the field of AI. We commented previously that the geopolitical fallout of AI proliferation continues to be a major issue with regard to the world’s three major superpowers — the United States, China, and Russia. It has been termed a “Sputnik moment.” Military officials, including former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in 2014, have said the AI arms race is known as “Third Offset Strategy” and is the next generation of warfare.
A key question that bears repeating is, should humans worry about their inept, bloodthirsty leaders handing over the reins of the war machine to… a war machine? Perhaps, but it’s never stopped us before.