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US flag on the left, China flag on the right

Some politicians view international competition in AI as an arms race. That mindset could lead to escalating conflict, experts said.

What’s new: If global powers like the U.S. and China adopt a winner-take-all approach to AI, they will lose out on the benefits of international collaboration, Tim Hwang and Alex Pascal argue in Foreign Policy.

The analysis: The arms-race mentality springs primarily from the notion that autonomous weapons will prove to be a trump card in international conflicts, the authors say. This belief encourages nations to keep research and development to themselves, but the total benefit of collaboration is often greater than that of any particular initiative, they say.

  • Both the U.S. and China would benefit from AI that targets issues like climate change, global health, and disaster response.
  • Powerful nations can use cooperative projects to shape global norms and rules for AI.
  • A national agenda that prioritizes AI for warfare is likely to divert funding from non-defense applications.
  • Countries that undertake arms races tend to escalate conflict rather than tamp it down.

Behind the news: Scientific partnerships between the U.S. and USSR mitigated tensions during the Cold War era. In 1957, the rival nations agreed to send scientists to collaborate on projects. These cooperative relationships influenced diplomatic discussion and helped ease disagreements over issues like nuclear disarmament.

Why it matters: AI’s potential role in warfare is still unclear, and the technology is far from fully developed. The gap creates breathing room for national leaders to establish policies that will mutually benefit their own countries and the world at large. For instance, the National Security Commission on AI advocates that the U.S. engage with China and Russia to control military uses of AI.

We’re thinking: Electricity has uses in warfare, yet countries didn’t keep that technology to themselves, and the whole world is better off for it.

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