This column was written by a real person, not one of the ChatGPT or Bard artificial intelligence-based bots that have recently taken over headlines and the public’s attention. Although these chat-based AIs have primarily been used for entertainment thus far, the importance of AI in daily life is expected to grow rapidly, and a worldwide conflict over the use of AI for national security purposes is already under way.
The rapid adoption of these American-developed products has prompted immediate responses from China in particular. San Francisco-developed ChatGPT, for instance, became the fastest-growing consumer app in history, blazing through 100 million users two months after launch. Beijing quickly restricted access to ChatGPT and released critical videos about “how the US utilises AI to propagate disinformation” through state media.
Many Chinese businesses have simultaneously improved their own conversational AI capabilities. After finishing internal testing, the “Chinese Google,” Baidu, announced it would launch its Ernie Bot in March. Although a slew of smaller businesses race to promote their own solutions, Alibaba, China’s leading online retailer, is also piloting its own ChatGPT-style tool.
Experts are more focused on the technology’s potential evil uses as the global AI race heats up and beneficial applications for the technology proliferate. Generative AI makes it relatively simple to design malware, as Check Point Software’s CEO Gil Shwed highlighted: You can use a technology like ChatGPT to develop a back-office application that gathers information, then use that information to create a perfect-looking phishing email. You may accomplish all of that without having the best English writing skills or programming knowledge. ChatGPT has already been utilized in a number of cyberattacks just two months after its release.
The most worrisome aspect of artificial intelligence for the West continues to be how quickly it is altering the nature of combat, even while AI-assisted malware is unquestionably disturbing. In order to increase the networked and autonomous nature of military operations and weapon systems, the Chinese military has been aggressively investing in intelligent warfare. AI has already been incorporated into the People’s Republic of China’s military policy, notably in autonomous vehicles, intelligence analysis, decision support, electronic warfare, and cyber operations.
The fact that China is among the leaders in AI research and development and uptake for military purposes, in addition to its commanding lead in 37 out of 44 key technology fields, from defense to robotics and AI, should seriously worry Western policymakers as the gap between Beijing and Washington widens and tensions increase.
In these conditions, EU and Washington must urgently increase their own investments in AI and other essential technologies. To maintain competitiveness in this crucial field, however, companies must also develop the cutting-edge digital infrastructure foundation upon which AI advancements can strive and be successfully implemented.
In the European Union (EU), €1 billion has already been set aside for AI through EU programs like Horizon Europe and Digital Europe; however, the investments required to secure this crucial digital infrastructure are likely in the tens of billions, amounts that national governments are hesitant to spare given the current economic climate. The funds must be located, or else the EU risks jeopardizing its national security by falling gravely behind in the digital arena.
One option put out by the European Commission would allow telecom operators to make the necessary investments in enhancing the infrastructures they manage without using up limited state finances. It would seem acceptable for Big Tech companies to pay a “fair share” of network costs since they are responsible for consuming 56 percent of all bandwidth, including Google, Meta, and Amazon. This would provide the funding required for significant security changes. Unsurprisingly, the internet companies have opposed the concept of establishing such a system widely in Europe—and possibly the United States as well—but other nations, like France, Italy, and Spain, as well as officials at the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, have overwhelmingly backed it (FCC).
The EU and the U.S. may benefit in the long run from an agreement requiring the tech giants to pay their fair share of network expenses. This will lay the groundwork for technological advancement and knowledge, and, perhaps most importantly, will strengthen their readiness to face the oncoming wave of digital attacks and AI-based national security risks.
Although the more traditional combat occurring in Ukraine has dominated security debate in the West over the past year, national security is much more than just tanks and fighter planes. The West needs to be ready—technologically and financially—to defend itself on that battlefield as AI becomes more complex and permeates our daily lives.