This article is by CNA’s premiere expert in Russian unmanned and artificial intelligence developments, Samuel Bendett.
Russian state corporation “Russian Technologies (Rostec)”, with extensive ties to the nation’s military-industrial complex, has overseen the creation of a company with the ominous name – “Kryptonite” will work on creating “civilian IT products based on military developments in information security, including blockchain.” Specifically, Kryptonite’s work will involve “cryptography, machine learning, Big Data, quantum computing, blockchain and the security of telecommunications standards.”
This is interesting due to a fact that when it comes to such key information technology concepts, it’s the Russian state sector that is leading in research and development (R&D), not the civilian sector. In fact, as the announcement indicates, the military achievements will now be available to the Russian private sector, presumably aiming for eventual wide-spread domestic and international use. Russian Ministry of Defense (MOD) has made no secret of its desire to achieve technological breakthroughs in IT and especially artificial intelligence, marshalling extensive resources for a more organized and streamlined approach to information technology R&D. In fact, MOD is overseeing a significant public-private partnership effort, calling for its military and civilian sectors to work together on information technologies, while hosting high-profile events aiming to foster dialogue between its uniformed and civilian technologists.
“Kryptonite”s work is reminiscent of the eventual outflow of the American military information technologies to the civilian space during the Cold War, the Internet and cellular phone being most prominent examples. It also brings to mind the Soviet technological experience, when the military and security services had access to the nation’s best and brightest minds and talent, along with the first pick of major resources needed for advanced technology development. The eventual drawback was that such Soviet achievements were not eventually transferred to the civilian consumer sector that could have definitely benefited from the large-scale domestic adoption of such technologies. MOD’s current work on IT and advanced technologies is aiming to compensate for the lack of funding and development following the dissolution of the USSR and the tumultuous and cash-poor 1990s and early 2000s, when Russia imported numerous Western technologies for domestic and military use. Such policies created an uncomfortable dependence today that the MOD is currently aiming to overturn. While such efforts are at their beginning stages, there is reason to assume that today’s Russian military establishment is willing to experiment with a variety of technological approaches to develop domestic know-how and deliver it to the eventual consumer, military or civilian. One such approach is the creation of an “Era” “technopolis” that will work on various advanced technologies, including IT, blockchain and artificial intelligence – the effort is already underway and will be officially opened in September 2018.
“Kryptonite”’s importance as a military-civilian technological nexus was underscored by “Rostec” leadership, which stated that “…it is obvious that Russian military developments in information security have great potential for civilian use, including hi-tech exports. The creation of (this) joint venture is an excellent example of public-private partnership, and consolidation of efforts will increase synergy…while developing (IT) market competencies, as well as by incorporating the scientific and technical potential accumulated by Russia’s defense industry.” To achieve that, “Kryptonite” will work to “attract investments in order to commercialize innovative solutions and technologies created by the Russian defense industry’s enterprises and research institutes, as well as develop its own information security and Big Data competencies.”
As far as the company name – that probably wasn’t picked by accident. Russian government has long expressed concern that their reliance on imported IT products creates major security vulnerabilities. Developing domestic information technologies will help overcome that, while at the same time allowing Russian technology sector to eventually complete with American, Western and Asian hi-tech leaders. This technology race is only expected to accelerate – and Russian achievements merit close attention.