The National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, in its final report to Congress and the Biden administration last year, warned that artificial intelligence would soon become “a weapon of first resort in future conflicts.”
This warning, along with the commission’s recommendation to the federal government to increase spending on basic research and development, remains urgent for the United States to remain ready for AI in the years to come, even if the commission does not no longer exists.
The commission was disbanded in October 2021, but many of its top experts moved to a private sector entity, the Special Competitive Studies Project (SCSP).
The name comes from the Rockefeller Special Studies Project, started in 1956 by Nelson Rockefeller and Henry Kissinger following the Soviet Union’s launch of the Sputnik satellite.
SCSP Director General Ylli Bajraktari, a former executive director of the NSCAI, said Rockefeller and Kissinger saw their project as a way for the United States to further define its national defense, security and foreign policy goals.
“It’s not the first time we’ve seen technology play a vital role in great power competition,” Bajraktari said.
This mission, he added, remains urgent today. Unlike the Cold War era, however, when the federal government played a leading role in research and development, the private sector now drives R&D spending.
Bajraktari said private sector R&D spending has obvious impacts on society and the public, but also has major implications for national security.
“That’s why we’re in such a critical time, because of the diffusion of power, the diffusion of technology, and accessibility. The United States government is not alone in having access to these technologies. Anyone can purchase these types of features either commercially or online. It is a new impetus in how conflicts are fought, how geopolitics will be shaped,” Bajraktari said.
To prepare for the next era of great-power competition, Bajraktari said the federal government will need to increase its level of basic R&D spending.
In its final report, the NSCAI urged Congress to double federal R&D spending on AI each year, until it hits $32 billion in fiscal year 2026.
The Biden administration, in its budget request for fiscal year 2023, proposes to increase the federal R&D budget to more than $204 billion, a 28% increase over levels enacted for fiscal year 2021.
Part of this funding would support new and existing national AI research institutes. These institutes bring together federal, state, and local agencies with the private sector, nonprofits, and universities to address challenges in AI research and workforce development.
“If we don’t outsmart and innovate more than China, we won’t be ahead in these emerging technologies. Leadership in emerging technologies ensures that our economy continues to advance, that our society utilizes the full benefits of these technologies, and ultimately that our military has the latest and greatest capabilities, if they need to use them for combat purposes,” Bajraktari said. .
Meanwhile, the National Science Foundation’s National Science Board believes that the United States remains strong in terms of global R&D competition, but global competitors are catching up.
Victor McCrary, vice president of NSB and vice president for research and graduate programs at the University of the District of Columbia, said the United States “still outperforms everyone else in terms of overall global R&D “.
However, McCrary said South Asian and Southeast Asian countries, particularly China, have increased their R&D spending in recent years.
“As the United States leads, that margin between us and our closest competitors is starting to shrink, and I think that’s a concern from the White House to Congress, to many of our businesses, universities, and military,” McCrary said. .
McCrary said grassroots R&D serves as the foundation for breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, quantum information systems, 5G, biotechnology and advanced manufacturing.
The National Science Board, under the National Science Foundation Act, is required to send Congress and the President a report on the state of science and engineering every even-numbered year.
This year’s report shows that in addition to being one of the world’s top R&D spenders, the United States maintains a competitive edge by consistently attracting top talent to its universities and businesses.
McCrary said that talent pool gives the United States an international advantage.
“We still have the best companies in the world when it comes to AI applications and integrating those things,” he said.
Bajraktari said maintaining a high level of R&D spending is also an essential part of developing the STEM workforce needed to stay competitive.
“If these are our comparative advantages, then I think grassroots R&D can help motivate students and PhD candidates in universities to come up with next-generation AI capabilities,” Bajraktari said.
However, Bajraktari said federal agencies need to do a better job of ensuring that private sector technology experts have the opportunity to lend their expertise to the government through short-term assignments.
Meanwhile, he said the Department of Defense and the intelligence community need to develop clearer career paths for experts in artificial intelligence and emerging technology to remain in federal service.
“The career path within a federal agency is unclear if you have a background in technology. Until yesterday, this was considered a computer problem, but it is no longer a computer problem. We need the military to understand that if someone comes with a coding background, you need to incentivize them and create a career path for them to stay there, get promoted and incentivized – not move them all two to three years, as we are doing now. Because otherwise you will lose the benefit of these people coming with these skills,” Bajraktari said.