Getting AI right together

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.


The United States and its partners must use the AI moment to renew their commitment to protecting individual rights, restore commercial competition built on fair rules, and strengthen defence alliances that have kept the peace in Europe and the Pacific for 75 years, argue Eric Schmidt and Robert Work.

Dr Eric Schmidt is the chair of the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (NSCAI). Robert  O. Work is the vice-chair of the NSCAI. 

The artificial intelligence (AI) revolution playing out today is shaking the strategic terrain beneath our feet. We are now in an AI-charged technology competition fusing economic competitiveness, great power rivalry, and a contest between authoritarianism and democracy. Strong AI partnerships will be important to all aspects of the competition.

AI is the most powerful tool in generations for expanding knowledge, increasing prosperity, enriching the human experience, and expanding freedom.

The United States and its partners must use the moment to renew their commitment to protecting individual rights, restore commercial competition built on fair rules, and strengthen defence alliances that have kept the peace in Europe and the Pacific for 75 years, and marshal the strength of the transatlantic partnership.

AI presents genuine conundrums for U.S. partners. Many are conflicted about America’s tech dominance and want to forge their own AI futures. Notably, privacy concerns and fear of economic dependence encouraged European leaders to assert their technological sovereignty.

In the Indo-Pacific, China’s looming presence creates obstacles to deepening AI ties among democracies.  Some nations lack not the will but the capacity to work alongside the United States to develop AI.

Nevertheless, most states now see the strategic threat of building their digital future on Chinese infrastructure.  They recognize the risk posed by Chinese companies harvesting data for the Chinese Communist Party. And like us, they abhor China’s use of AI to supercharge surveillance, oppress minorities, and impose ideological conformity.

The issues that divide us must not overwhelm the principles that unite us. The AI future our partners yearn for is not so different from the future Americans seek. The development of AI must be a shared endeavour for shared benefit.

Research collaboration, pools of data to refine algorithms, and principles for employing AI all benefit from collective thought and action. Building partnerships is never easy and sustaining them in the AI era will be even harder.

What will it take to build a new era?

First, we must recognize that China illuminates the risks of one path of AI development. A digital infrastructure built to Chinese standards on Chinese hardware will reflect its authoritarian values and give Beijing coercive leverage over those dependent on it.

We are not advocating for a counter-China bloc; in some instances, China will be an important partner in tackling shared problems with AI. Nevertheless, U.S.-led partnerships should counter China’s practices and present a compelling alternative.

Second, we must resolve the U.S.-EU data privacy issues thwarting a true AI partnership. Data is the lifeblood of AI-based research and digital commerce. Our National Commission recommends a high-level emerging technology dialogue between the United States, the EU and its member states to break logjams.

Partners working in good faith can find reasonable compromises on policies to govern data privacy and other AI issues.

Third, we must strengthen AI ties with partners in the Indo-Pacific region to foster a thriving innovation economy, reinforce shared values, and fashion a bulwark against authoritarianism.  India, as the world’s largest democracy, is a natural centrepiece for a coalition.

We propose a formal India-U.S. Tech Alliance to develop a regional tech strategy and collaborate on joint research and development projects, talent exchanges, aligning regulatory regimes, and using AI to address common societal concerns.

Fourth, the United States must work with allies to build AI-enabled, interoperable militaries. Russia’s employment of autonomous weapons in Syria demonstrates the determination of competitors to field AI capabilities.

US alliances — including NATO and bilateral defence cooperation with Japan, South Korea, and Australia — must develop common data standards and shared principles for AI use. The United States cannot move forward alone in employing AI-enabled weapon- systems.

Countries that can fight together with the best technology have the best chance of deterring aggression, which is the ultimate purpose of U.S. defence alliances.

Fifth, we must work with partners to shape the standards and norms for AI development in international forums. It has been remarkable to see a Western consensus emerge on general principles for developing and using AI securely, responsibly, and ethically at the OECD and the wider G-20.

The United States and partners should bring these principles and technical assessments into the bodies that govern technical standards to ensure they are translated into practice. All states have a shared interest in safe and reliable AI.

The opportunities for AI partnerships are boundless. The opportunity is driven by AI but it is anchored in the American creed. As John F. Kennedy said, “diversity and independence, far from being opposed to the American conception of world order, represent the very essence of our view of the future of the world.”

Subscribe to our newsletters