The Center for Naval Analyses (CNA), a U.S. Navy-sponsored federally funded research and development center, recently released its final report on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Autonomy in Russia.
From the report’s introduction (pp. I-iii; Emphasis added),
The Russian leadership views the ability to innovate as one of the hallmarks of a great power and sees military innovation as essential to Russia’s overall defense posture in a changing threat environment. The goals of Russia’s artificial intelligence (AI) and autonomous ecosystem are best understood within the context of Russia’s economic development and modernization efforts, and include those initiatives aimed at the improvement of the well- being of Russian citizens as well as the conditions for business and entrepreneurial activity.
Governance and legal aspects of AI in Russia
The Russian government is building the structural legal and governance framework necessary to develop and compete in the rapidly growing field of AI and autonomy. It is attempting to implement nationwide strategies with goals and metrics to promote an environment supportive of digital—particularly AI—development in Russia. Implementation of these efforts, however, is largely government driven through state-owned businesses. And while AI initiatives are taking hold across the Russian government, the lack of emphasis on private initiatives could hurt Russian efforts in the future. While many Russians are looking to the benefits of greater digitization across Russia, there is also some criticism of government efforts to increase access to private data. Russian citizens are weary of unchecked AI development and its potential impacts on society.
Russia’s AI ecosystem
Russia’s AI ecosystem consists of clusters of interlinked activities between government, state- corporate, military, academic, and private actors. However, a key feature of Russia’s AI ecosystem is its leadership by state-owned companies and the large portion of federal funding for the AI sector. These state-owned companies include incubators, funders, and initiatives aimed at facilitating AI development. The heavy reliance on federal funding has some in Russia concerned that it undermines initiative and technological risk-taking and growth. While surveys and international rankings (such as article surveys and institution rankings) of Russia’s place in the field of AI suggest that it lags behind other, larger players, it is making some improvement.
AI-related academic entities, training and education
Russia faces a shortage of technically proficient experts across its commercial, industrial, and defense sectors, and this is particularly the case in the field of AI. Causes for this include the exodus of technologically trained professionals to high-paying jobs abroad, lingering impacts from the fall of the Soviet Union and the time after that, and the disparate demographics across Russia’s vast landscape. The Russian government recognizes these challenges and is taking steps to mitigate them. These steps include numerous programs targeting broad sets of demographics, ranging from encouraging trained tech experts to educating the broader populace on AI-related technologies. Despite these steps, education and training weaknesses are likely to challenge Russia’s attempts at technological innovation for some time, depending on how the new measures detailed in this report take effect and how long it takes them to do so.
Private sector AI in Russia
Technological developments and growth in the Russian AI private market are driven primarily by state-backed R&D efforts, although private demand for AI solutions is increasing. In general, the private AI market has been dominated by a focus on exploiting advancements in Natural Language Processing (NLP) and other forms of automated data analysis, although interest in computer vision and other types of recognition and prediction capabilities is growing. Outside of broad automated NLP applications for financial and retail purposes, the most important AI technologies that have gained private market attention are in facial recognition software, facility and perimeter security, driverless cargo transportation and agribusiness, public transportation control systems and railway network integration, automated platforms for training neural nets and other AI methods, and automated medical analysis.
Military AI in Russia
Judging from senior political and military statements and professional military writings, the consensus of Russian security experts and policy-makers is that the development and use of AI is essential to the future success of Russia’s armed forces and key to its military power. While military AI has followed many of the same trends in Russia that it has in other developed militaries, the Russian military establishment does emphasize specifically the areas on which it is already focusing, such as information management for decision-making and autonomy. Russian military strategists have placed a premium on establishing what they refer to as “information dominance on the battlefield,” and AI-enhanced technologies promise to take advantage of the data available on the modern battlefield to protect Russia’s own forces and deny that advantage to the adversary. That being said, there is also an ongoing discussion in the Russian military as to the ultimate goal of military AI. There is a prevalent view that an operator needs to stay in the decision cycle to avoid unintended consequences, both militarily and ethically, but also discussions that predict total autonomy as an inevitable feature of future conflict, in part fueled by interpretations of US AI-related intentions.
Despite the challenges mentioned above, Russia is seeking to be one of the key thought leaders in the field of AI. Russian leaders emphasize the promise AI has for the lives of ordinary citizens, from medical innovations to improved economic performance. However, the Russian leadership also emphasizes the danger AI can pose in the wrong hands or with the wrong intentions. Perhaps more than anyone else, Russian leaders focus on the need to protect traditions and the internal stability of their society, reflecting a longstanding Russian concern over outside interference in Russian affairs. Russia is seeking beneficial partnerships in technology and AI development across the globe; for example, it has entered into substantial agreements with China and South Korea through Huawei and Samsung. However, China and South Korea are more the exception than the rule. The geopolitical interests of working with Russia often do not outweigh the commercial benefits available in other ecosystems such as the United States and the European Union. Despite this, we expect its growing relationships with other mature technological societies to yield some benefit.
Click AI and Autonomy in Russia for a copy of CNA’s report.