“Artificial intelligence is the future not only of Russia but of all of mankind … Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin made this statement to a group of students two weeks ago. Shortly thereafter, Tesla’s Elon Musk, who has worried publicly about the hazards of artificial intelligence (AI) for years now, posted an ominous tweet in response to Putin’s remarks.
“China, Russia, soon all countries w/ strong computer science,” he wrote. “Competition for AI superiority at national level most likely cause of WW3 in my opinion.”
It’s tempting to dismiss Musk’s tweet as alarmist, but is it? The comparative advantages that the first state to develop AI would have over others — militarily, economically, and technologically — are almost too vast to predict. So the stakes are as high as they get.
To dig a little deeper into Musk’s concerns, I reached out to Peter W. Singer, a strategist and senior fellow at New America. The author of Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century, Singer is a leading expert on 21st-century security issues and has even written a novel about what the next world war might look like.
I asked him if he thinks the race for AI superiority might lead to actual conflict. He’s more measured than Musk, but he concedes that the arms race is underway and the truth is that we simply don’t know what’s coming. “I think of AI technology as comparable to the printing press,” he told me. “It’s going to change the world, but we can’t possibly understand how and when.”